1939: Just Before the Storm...
At long last we were en route. The first couple of days fully lived up to my original Technicolor expectations. I met Stan, a tall, blond Polish-American sophomore returning from a pilgrimage to the shrine of the Black Madonna of Czestochowa, but not so devout that he turned down an opportunity to dally with a girl more or less his own age, if not faith. So I had the necessary shipboard romance, complete with dancing. And I preened myself in the knowledge that I, and no other, had saved the day.
But later in the week everything changed. On September 1, I came down to breakfast to find a room full of white-faced people being impeccably served by waiters in tears.
"Has something happened?" I asked idiotically. The lady next to me, red-eyed, nodded. "Don't you know?" she said. "The Germans have invaded Poland. Warsaw has been bombed."
That night we sailed under blackout. Our course changed. The dancing ended. On the day we should have docked in New York, longshoremen in Nova Scotia held up newspapers so we could read the headlines: War had been declared.
Finally we got to New York. Customs and passport control came aboard, and passengers began to disembark. It wasn't the arrival I had fantasized, but at least my uncle (Why was he late? Could it be that I didn't recognize him? After all, I was 3 when we'd last met) would collect me, and at last we'd get in touch with my parents, who had no way of knowing where I was. Glued to the rail of the deck, I tried to find him in the diminishing knot of greeters below, thinking I'd be better off down there, with less chance of missing him.
"No, Miss," said a kindly passport control officer, "if no one meets you, since you're not yet 18, you can't leave the ship except in the care of the Travelers Aid Society. It's the law."
Nothing availed: no pleas, no brimming eyes, no quivering statement that I would be 18 the very next day. And, alone in the lounge, eventually the only passenger onboard, I began to discern a distinct lack of warmth on the part of the crew members going about their cleanup work. Only that morning everyone had been so attentive and polite. Now they looked at me balefully, as though they resented my still being there and wanted their ship to themselves. I don't know how long I sat there, all by myself, feeling like a public nuisance, all bravado gone.