Wednesday, April 4, 2012

What a trip

  Here's a promise: I will not be taking the boat back to Holland.
  Or the boat to anywhere on any ocean. No, thank you. I've done my time.
  Thinking back to late 1955, we should have insisted on an airplane trip to the United States, no matter how scary. But that wasn't the economic reality then. My parents were grateful for any way to leave Holland for a new life, a new chance in the new country.
    So on Dec. 28, 1955, welcome to the SS Ryndam, the big ship that was part of the Holland America Line, leaving out of the port of Rotterdam.
    Ten days on that boat. Ten long days. You'd think this adventure would have been a joy for an 8 1/2-year-old (me) and his 4 1/2-year-old sister (Elsa). It was ... for Elsa.
Our ride to America, the SS Ryndam
     Don't remember much about the boat, except it seemed big. Here's what I do remember ...
     I was sick -- seasick. So, for much of the trip, were my mom and dad. That tiny cabin holding four (tiny) people, that little porthole, that rolling sea, always rolling. Remember, this was the middle of winter, the Atlantic Ocean was rough.
     We went from Rotterdam to stops in LaHavre, France, then across the English Channel to Southampton, England, then the endless ocean ... days and days to Halifax, Nova Scotia. At that point, when we docked for a while, my dad just had to get off the boat and walk around on land.
     Then the relatively short cruise to the New York City harbor ... and the sight of the Statue of Liberty. My mother insisted we go to the upper deck to see her standing there ... how many immigrants had done that?
     And I was clueless (not unusual). Had no idea what she symbolized.
     Remember this: I spoke very little English ... just a word here and there -- table, chair, desk, door, please, thank you. We were Dutch; we spoke Dutch. I could read Dutch at a third-grade level.
    Until my parents told us we were moving to the United States, the only thing I knew about this country was from my Dutch sports book ... V.S. (Verenigde Staten) showed up a lot in the Olympic Games history/results. The only baseball I knew was that it was honkbal, a minor sport -- very minor -- in Holland. Had never heard of Louisiana (or any of the states), much less Shreveport.
      We sailed into New York on Jan. 7, 1956. Jewish Federation officials were there to meet us; they might've had a Dutch interpreter, but I'm not sure. My mother spoke just enough English to get by. But arrangements had been made for us to take a cab from the harbor to the middle of Manhattan for a three days/nights stay at an older hotel.
      Amsterdam was a big city, but nothing like this. New York City was awesome, busy, intimidating. Elsa and I both remember that the hotel had a spiraling outside staircase, and we had to use it repeatedly.
     We also remember that we went to Radio City Music Hall to see the famed Rockettes; my mother thought we might never get a chance to do that again (but we all did).
      On Jan. 10, it was time to take the train for the ride south to Shreveport. Now, I loved riding the train, loved it then and love it now. Wish I could do it more often. So that part of the trip was OK.
       We went through St. Louis, then down to a stop -- of all places -- in Hope, Ark. (you might have heard of it). At midnight, again my dad had to get off the train and take a walk. Elsa remembers that she lost her doll on the train; I remember thinking how big this country must be. (Compared to Holland, most countries are.)
        At 7 a.m. on Thursday, Jan. 12, we pulled into the old Union Station in Shreveport, right there on the southwest edge of downtown. The SPAR building at Princess Park -- which would play a part in my life just a year or two later -- was nearby.
       It had been 15 days since we left Amsterdam.
       Officials from our sponsors, the Shreveport Jewish Federation, were waiting for our arrival. No Dutch interpreters this time, but somehow we got in a car for a short ride to our new partially furnished home, a duplex at (I think) 625 Jordan Street. It was an older house and not particularly clean (my mother hated that), but they had stocked some food for us -- and, for the first time, we had a refrigerator.
      We didn't have much with us, other than clothes; most of what we were bringing was crated up and en route; it would arrive in a few weeks.
        It was, if I remember, a nice day, with sunshine, warmer than most winter days in Amsterdam, where the weather can be harsh.
      We had been in Shreveport for only a few hours. By 1 p.m., I was being enrolled in Line Avenue Elementary, only a couple of blocks away. I was about to start being Americanized.
      Soon: Shreveport, 1956 


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