My brother Raymond had been getting more and more involved in foreign sales with Bowser Pump Company in Ft. Wayne and they finally decided to make him head of their London office and send him overseas. I had been thinking that I would like to spend my next summer's vacation in Paris and the news that Raymond and Leeta were in London cinched the matter.
Anna Thayer, the gray haired Latin teacher who took her meals at Mrs. Siney's loaned me her folding Kodak and Horace Hollister gave me his brother's address in New York and made arrangements for me to get the key to his apartment. His brother, Carol, was a pianist who earned his living as an accompanist playing accompaniments for well known concert artists - that summer John McCormick - who were making tours about the country. I never got to meet him but when I got to New York I slept in his bed. As I had on my two previous trips, I traveled as light as possible, putting everything I had along in my small club handbag. I took only one pair of shoes, the pair I had on, which were bright yellow in color. Bright yellow shoes for men had just come in style in the United States but not elsewhere, making it easy to spot Americans all over Europe.
I would have liked to have spent some time in New York, as I had never been there, but one of my objectives in making the trip was to improve my French by living where I would hear French spoken. Becoming familiar with New York had to wait a few years, until I went there to study for my master's degree in music. That was the year after Yolande was born.
I had a tourist class ticket on the Belgenland, one of the largest Cunard Line steamers crossing the Atlantic. It had four red funnels, one of them a fake, used for storage. My cabin, which I shared with a couple of men from Eastern Europe, none of whom spoke English or French, was at the stern and almost at water level. On deck, tourist class passengers were restricted then to the lowest level which was really the best as we had more room. Second class passengers were one deck above us and first class at the top. Before the boat sailed there were no barriers and by going on board early I was able to explore all three classes. There was also a fourth, or steerage class where the cabins were all below water level and I don't think they had any deck space at all where they could exercise or lounge. I don't suppose any of the rich folks on the upper deck came down to mix with the hoi-paloi but a man from second class introduced himself to me and told me he preferred tourist class because there was more room to walk and the people were more friendly. He took me back with him to visit his cabin and look over the second class lounges. We had to climb over the rail to get there and one of the stewards saw us and told us to stay in our own class but he showed the man that he belonged there and that was the end of it. The steward didn't bother to ask me for identification.
I wanted to watch the New York skyline and the Statue of Liberty as the boat left the harbor but got sidetracked into a line of people waiting to get deck chairs and by the time I got mine, which I hardly used at all - I could have done without it - we were out in the open ocean.
Before the first meal of the day we were required to go to the dining room and sign up for our table and sitting. Being a British ship there were four meals a day, breakfast, lunch, tea and dinner. Tea was about four o'clock in the afternoon, dinner between seven and nine depending on whether you were in the first, second or third sitting. I had the second sitting and when I went down to lunch the first day I found I had a seat next to one of the prettiest girls on the ship. Unfortunately, however, she had already made friends with a girl who had a third sitting and had her place changed almost immediately so she could eat with her.
Like everyone else, I spent a lot of my time during the voyage walking the decks. In tourist class we could walk the farthest point forward where we could look over the bow to the rail at the stern where we could look down into water bubbling up from the propeller. I would walk forward on one side of the ship then to the rear on the other side, meeting the same people over and over as I went around and around. At night the phosphorus in the water made sparks like Fourth of July fireworks. There was also shuffleboard and table tennis for exercise but it was hard to get a chance to play. In the evening a small string orchestra with a piano played for dancing and many people played cards. It was the year that Valencia was a hit tune and the orchestra played it to death. I heard it all over Europe that summer but have never heard it since.
One morning the throbbing of the engines stopped just as it was getting daylight. I got dressed and went on deck to see that we were some miles off the English coast on a quiet sea, which, like the clouds overhead, was a brilliant red from the rays of the morning sun just below the horizon. I don't know why we had stopped out there unless it was to pick up the pilot. There were a few sailboats becalmed near us and a flock of seabirds fighting over our garbage but otherwise everything was very still and peaceful. It's a picture I'll never forget.
We docked at Plymouth from which the Pilgrims had sailed to the New World and there was a boat train waiting to take us on to London. With so little baggage, I was one of the first thru customs so I went to the head of the train where the engineer was oiling his locomotive and struck up a conversation with him. It was a much fancier-looking machine that black engines that pulled American trains; it had fancy red and green designs painted all over it. The cab was much smaller and I didn't think it would be as comfortable. Also the engine looked incomplete without a cowcatcher at the front.
Raymond and Leeta were living in a small row house at or near Wimbledon, south of London. Their first child, Grace, was only four months old - she was born in March of that year - and I spent much of my time pushing her in her pram while Leeta did her shopping. According to British law, Grace was to be vaccinated before she was six months old but both Leeta and Raymond thought she was too small and we went to the doctor to get an exemption. The doctor had to swear that she was too frail. He signed the slop but as we left his office he said to me, "I never saw a healthier baby." Raymond's office was in downtown London and he commuted by the underground. With the small maps issued by the transit system I found it easy to get around London by myself. Above ground it was not so easy. The streets not only changed direction continually but changed name every few blocks. I did a lot of walking but also used the double-decker buses, riding on the top deck so I could observe the life of the city. The money system took some getting used to. I never was sure I was getting back the right amount of change. Besides pounds, shillings, pence, haypennies and farthings, I would often get hold of a crown or a florin which didn't seem to have any relation to the others. Before you got on a bus too, you had to know where you were going as the fare depended on how far you went.
I had been at Raymond's only a few days when he received a telephone call from a small hotel near the Victoria Station. It was Robert and Mahlon Barnes from Paulding. There were on their way to a YWCA convention in Helsingfors, Finland. Of course Raymond invited them out to the house. They were very much surprised to find me there. They had planned to visit Paris too so we made our plans to travel together, leaving two days later. The next day the three of us went to visit Windsor Castle which is west of the city on the Thames River, and from there went on by bus to Stoke Poges to see the churchyard where Gray is supposed to have written his "Elegy." We shouldn't have tried to see both places the same day as Leeta had told me not to be late getting home for supper. When we started for Wimbledon we couldn't get a bus so we started walking along the country road toward the next town. In a few minutes a sports car came along with a well-dressed young man in it and we decided to thumb a ride. Hitch-hiking was something new at home and we were not sure whether it had reached England or not but the young man obligingly stopped and took us on to the next town where we could get the bus. We were late getting back and Leeta bawled me out.
Last modified on 22 July 2009 @ 00:49