A house is not a home without a family…starting the move via SS France to Brooklyn..part 1

In 1967 through 1968 so many things were going on at home, but also throughout the world. Vietnam was at its worst along with racial violence. We weren’t allowed to go to the movies but were allowed to see “Oliver!”. That was my favorite movie of all time. I memorized every song and would actually go home and remember the songs and hum all day! My mum would later say “D sings and sings all the time at home, only after hearing the song once”. I had such a crush on Mark Lester who played “Oliver” that I actually had Mummy write a fan letter to him. The world was a mess, even at my age I could see that through my parents concerns.

Daddy and all of the family were continually traveling in our green Dodge Van. It was a time in my life that has memories I’ll never forget. We went from church to church, place to place. Daddy reached out to so many poor communities that staying in a small Pastors church meant sleeping on their floors because they didn’t have any room to spare. I was once asked, “What does it feel to have no house or a home to live in all the time?” I was only 8 at the time and said, “A house is not a home unless you have a family to put in it”. When my Daddy hugged me for saying that I didn’t know any different, our van was our home, caring people from all walks of life shared their home with us. That was our life.

Then things changed, Daddy and Mummy wanted us to have a place to go to school for a long time, friends that we call friends for more than a few months, a church he could stay for a long time. For a long time Daddy would preach in the states by himself in Brooklyn, NY, at a church called “Salem Gospel Tabernacle” the name itself made me think of the Bible. He would come back to our little part-time church in England with stories of NY, how the crowds were so big and people would be lined up to listen to him.

Preaching at a revival..

Preaching at a revival..

For a while my sister and I were still going to school in Loughborough. Then one day Daddy received a telegram saying “Pastor Johnson died preaching at Salem of heart attack. Please call long distance.” The Pastor and his wife were a wonderful, older couple that were so warming and practically baptized, married, and raised everyone in that mostly Norwegian/Scandinavian church. In Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, many were from that region, along with Italians. Oh the cultures! It was a pot full of many cuisines.

I don’t exactly remember when Daddy was asked to move permanently to the states with all of us, but when he announced that he would be the new pastor in Salem and we wouldn’t be living in England any more, I remember Mummy wasn’t thrilled. This was her home, she may have traveled because that was what she knew, it was our lifestyle; but we were leaving Daddy’s church in England which was a very short time. She had been a pastor’s wife, and we also traveled, but she could see her family any time in Sussex and my Daddy’s parents in South-End-on-Sea, she was so sad and afraid to tell them. I remember being beyond excited. We had 6 months to sell most of our items in our parsonage in order to travel, but then Daddy gathered us together and told us, “We’re not going by airplane, we’re taking the SS France to New York. It will take 7 days, that’s a whole week! You’ll have fun, Mummy can relax, that’s why we can’t take a lot of things with us. The new parsonage will already have furniture in it and you all can take a few of your toys, clothes, only things we can fit into steamer trunks. It’s going to be so much fun!” I was jumping around, I couldn’t believe we were sailing for 7 days, on the largest ship, at the time, to the United States. My sister Ka was crying because she didn’t want to leave our playroom, we would spend hours upon hours in that playroom, and we kept asking question after question about what we could bring. Most of the time the answer was no, so the tears would continue, but I was like my Daddy, it was another new home, we were used to that, I don’t think I actually realized it was in another country, for good. I didn’t understand we weren’t coming back to see Nana and Grandad for a long time. It didn’t matter during that time I was so happy to be taking this long, long trip.

We were going to eat like we were rich!

We were going to eat like we were rich!

SS France Ticket

Finally after 6 months of selling Mummy and Daddy’s furniture, their bedroom set, paintings, kitchen ware, and our stuff, which wasn’t a lot, except for the toys we gave away and my beloved bicycle that we sold, is when I cried. I would ride that bicycle everywhere. Mummy would send me to the market, which was always in the street on Saturdays, and the regular market and butcher to pick up things she couldn’t because Ya, my baby sister was either sleeping or she couldn’t find anyone to watch her. It was never a lot of things since they had to be put in my basket, but I would go with a bit of money, a pound here, a shilling there, and a list. I would give that list to the owner, the butcher, fish n’ chips guy, magazine shoppe for special sweets, Cadbury, crisps, whatever Mum needed I got it. Except one rainy day mummy only needed a loaf of bread, one item, I got on my bicycle, and took off. Got the bread and didn’t notice the baker didn’t close the bag tightly. I’m riding my bike and realized bread was coming out of the bag. I started crying, we didn’t have money to go back for more bread. So I picked up the bread from the ground and started to pick off the dirt from each slice. I actually managed to pick off a lot of dirt, I was proud, but a few pieces went to the wayside. Mummy didn’t even notice or ask.

The journey to New York was taking longer to get booked. The last thing we had to sell was Daddy’s beloved roll top desk, he loved that desk, it had every special draw and a key so we couldn’t get in. He wrote all his sermons on that desk. We may have not had a lot of things but when we traveled in the past all of these things were put in storage, we couldn’t store now. When Daddy sold that desk he didn’t get what it was worth or what he asked but we couldn’t keep it. I think when it was finally sold a bit of Daddy went with it and stayed in the UK, that was his treasure.
It wasn’t the furniture that took the longest time, it was getting our permanent resident alien cards for the USA, our visas. From listening to my parents and going to London to wait in lines for hours to permanently move was the most agonizing part. Many people were let down, not allowed to leave, crying all the time, while me and my sister just ran around and played, waiting and waiting with my family.

The last month in England was the hardest for Mum and Dad, mostly my Mum. My grandparents and her sisters and brothers didn’t know about it until a month or so before. My Nana, Daddy’s mum, was so angry with Daddy because she felt like he was so into the move and still preaching in England, but didn’t find enough time to bring her only grandchildren to her and visit. We did see her, Grandad, and Great-Auntie Ann, to say goodbye but it wasn’t long enough and I would always hear her crying from
behind closed doors. I was her favorite and even though the US wasn’t the end of the world, to them it was, because we weren’t going to be in the same country. It broke her heart. Daddy wasn’t an emotional person, he was moving and we had to move with him, I don’t think he ever thought how it would affect Mummy as it did. She was excited but she too didn’t say her goodbyes the way she wanted too either. When all was said and done, the visas were given to us, the smallpox, painful, immunizations were injected, the steam trunks were packed and all the items were sold, it was time to travel to South Hampton for our voyage.

Uncle Ca and Auntie Viv traveled with us, along with our grandparents to South Hampton. We had a couple of days of loving on each other, reminiscing, and crying. The night of our departure for the SS France we stayed at a hotel and I remember having dinner like it was no other night. I remember seeing that huge ship dock in the port. We were going to be on that ship within hours, sailing to the United States of America! I couldn’t keep my excitement in, I was so out of control my mum kept trying to calm me down, “D you’re getting too excited, you’re eating too fast, I know you’re thrilled about the trip but calm down, calm down” I think she repeated this for hours. We finally boarded the ship, Nana and Grandad came abroad to say their last goodbyes, Nana and my mum cried and cried. My Grandad was like my Daddy, tears were in his eyes, he would always turn his head to blow into his handkerchief, yet I never saw him really cry. Nana and I had our own special bond, we never, ever said goodbye, deep down I was always a mush, I never let anyone see me like that in my family. So instead of saying goodbye to Nana, I would always say, “See you later”. Nana would say, in-between choking back her tears, “I love you D! Be a good girl, see you later too.” I remember seeing those tears, her face as red as scarlet, brought up all the emotions I refused to let my parents see. I hugged them as if I’d never see them again. As they were leaving the ship due to its departure, mummy was still crying but got it under control, daddy held his back the way he always did, Ka was crying, and I wiped mine away to begin my complete and ultimate adventure on the SS France.

We were finally alone as a family, leaving the country I was born in to another country where we only visited while traveling. We were taking a tour of the ship with the purser and passed the First Class dining room, where the captain was eating. I was so excited I thought we were leaving right that moment but we still had a little time before the launch. While Mummy and I were “oohing and ahhing” the ladies in the dining room, thinking they had millions of dollars, we both saw a beautiful French lady. To this day I remember that she had on the most beautiful baby blue, sequined, bust enhanced gown. She was a knockout and at the same time Mummy and I exclaimed “Look at that ladies dress!? She’s beautiful.” We looked at each other, smiled and knew, we were both excited. Daddy and Mummy wanted a snack while the ship was getting ready to depart, so they asked the purser if someone could watch us. “Oui!” He said in French. We arrived in our 3rd class room, about the size of a walk in closet.Bunk beds were other side!

It didn’t matter if it was a shoe box I stared outside the porthole for what seemed a lifetime. My sisters were asleep before they hit the pillow, I was jumping in place, since there wasn’t anywhere else to jump, all of a sudden a strange sensation started in my belly and my mouth started watering. It had finally caught up with me, we still hadn’t left but my stomach felt like we had. My excitement had reached the point of no return, and all I remember was running to the smallest bathroom anyone could get in. My inward and outward excitement had turned “outward”. I threw up and we hadn’t even left port! It didn’t last long but the one thing I remember most about that moment were my parents smiling, trying to be sympathetic and saying, as sweet as possible, “D. you got sick and we haven’t officially left yet? You’ll be fine now..look out the port-hole.” I managed to get to the bunk bed and looked out the port-hole. We were being pulled to sea by 2 tug boats! We were finally leaving the dock, arriving in New York in 7 days! I screeched, clapping my hands “Look we’re leaving! I can see the tug boats, and the water, oh goody! Yeah!”

We were on our way to a far away place, on the biggest ship I’ve ever seen or been on…I was in heaven.


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