I was seventeen, working seven days a week as a temporary female assistant for the department of the Australian Army, my wages with overtime twelve dollars a week. Times were difficult for my mother, my sister and me. Daddy died when I was fifteen and in my first term at art school. I had to leave the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology and go to work to support us. The twenty year illness of my father (Thomas Cunningham MacLeod-Sharpe) had left my mother destitute and a government widow’s pension would not be paid to her until two years after dad’s death.
There was never enough money. I would come home from work often to find my mother in tears, not enough money for food the next day. This was terrible for a proud woman. Invariably the doorbell would ring and somebody would have money for mother. “Mrs. Mac, Tom lent me a pound and I want to repay it”. This never failed to happen and we would eat the next day. Mother was respected and I knew that these repaid loans were charity, given because of people good opinion of her. Finally my mother received a small pension and we were just able to manage. I went to work each day with three pence in my pocket but I never spent it.
There were no new clothes so the rationing of these articles did not mean anything to me. I had to ride a bus every morning, then catch a train for a half hour journey, a tram ride of twenty minutes followed by a ten minute walk brought me to the office. Pleasures were few but I was able to spend one shilling and sixpence a week as I pleased. I stood in a queue every Thursday for the one hour of my lunch break to buy hand made chocolates. 1/4 pound was the ration, the cost one shilling. A florist shop at Flinders Street Station sold me a fine bunch of flowers for sixpence. These and the sweets were carried home to my mother. We lived one block from a white sand beach on Port Philip Bay where I spent my leisure hours. Dating was free and I enjoyed it if it meant a simple meal or a movie.
I was poor but blessed in my friendships. Valerie Hellier and Marie Carr were friends who would invite me to dinner in the city. Mother always wanted me to go and would always manage two shillings somehow, for my dinner. I never saw the bill, just was told what I owed. It took me years to realize that Marie and Val were paying most of my tab. Another dear friend was Margaret who was engaged to Roger Goldie, a British Naval officer. We spent lunch hours together helping each other over the rough spots in our long distance relationships. There was Margaret Freeman, the sweetest girl I have ever met, and Alison with the twinkling eyes and a sense of humor to match; and other good friends who was wise in her good advice to me.
I hoped never to lose these women as friends, and I never have. They are all twelve thousand miles away, but as important as ever in my life.
I met a boy I liked very much. His name was Max Silver; he was Jewish. When I told my mother his name she was startled. No wonder, Max was the son of an older couple. My mother had dated his father. Max was older, which I preferred in a man, not caring too much for boys of my own age. My friend, Jean Langley and I made a date one night with Max and a friend to go to a party in the city, and as we lived a half hour train ride from Melbourne, decided that we would meet the men at Flinders Street Station. We attended that party, had a good evening, and our dates took us to the station and saw us safely through the gates to our platform to catch the last train to our area.
When we got to the station we were astonished to see hundreds of khaki clad young men filling every available inch of space. I had no idea that these were the American boys who had fought on Guadalcanal, the battle against the Japanese that Australians felt had been the turning point for our country; had in fact saved us. All I heard were American accents, All I saw was a parting of the waves as a path opened up for us to walk to the front of the platform where we could be first to get on the train. The crowd closed in behind us and a young voice said something to my pretty blonde friend. I couldn’t help myself, I made a rather caustic reply to the voice and heard other voices laughing and his voice laughing too.
The train came in. Jean and I sat right beside the door. The carriage filled up and the last person to get in was the tallest man. He was also the handsomest boy I had ever seen in my life and I knew this had to be the voice. The man knelt down in front of me and folded his arms in my lap. I wanted to open the door and push him out on the platform. I couldn’t do it. There was an older Australian soldier sitting nearby. He was obviously feeling no pain and kept saying, “Oh go on love, give the Yank a go”. Jean obviously thought this Yank very attractive and when he asked for my address told me to please give it to him because she would like to date him. She thought that she could meet him at our home as she wasn’t sure how her dad would react to her going out with a Yank. Who was I to prevent this? I gave him the address. He gave me his name and he said he would drop by my house next Tuesday.
As I was leaving the train I dropped my precious lipstick and had to turn around to retrieve it. I knew I couldn’t get another. I was mortified. I knew the cheeky man would think I’d planned that move. He winked at me. Rats!
Jean’s brother met us and walked us home. I rushed into my mother’s house babbling that I had met a mad American who said he was coming to our house. Mother said quietly that she would handle everything. I went to bed.
The evening came for the American to visit, but he did not appear. This not only angered me but aroused my interest. I was quite used to choosing the one I would date and had never been in a situation like this. Just who did he think he was? Two nights later I came home and there he was, and he was still tall and handsomer than ever. My mother, the strictest of women where her daughters were concerned, seemed to like this man and told me that Fred had her permission to take me to a movie. After the movie Fred told me that he never dated a girl more than twice, so I handed him his hat and invited him to leave. He didn’t leave just then.
He did explain why he didn’t keep the first date, something called maneuvers. I said fine, whatever maneuvers were. From then on we saw each other constantly. My mother saved the meat ration for my American, and he was good and kind to her in every way possible. He put up with my little sister who was a pest and a tease. She cried as much as mum when he left.
Early in our relationship I realized that I was in love. Not a quiet love. I knew what passionate love was now. It blinded me. Fred never used the word love, I never mentioned love. After all, what future did we have? I was seventeen, he was nineteen. How could we ever be sure of a life together? He would have to leave Australia to fight again and would never return.., So, I made the most of every moment and never worried about the outcome.
I had made up my mind to forget Fred. He was just gone, gone from Australia, gone from my life, gone! I had no address for him. He was gone.
A letter came. It was from HIM: “I know we probably never meet again, but a little voice tells me that we will”. The letter writing years began. Me, “Today I have a blue ribbon in my hair”. I wrote of the simple things in my quiet life. I drew pictures of pretty girls on the envelopes that I sent his letters in and waited. I dated a lot, but always I compared the men to him and I left them.
Waiting for letters became the main part of my life. Mail was slow, irregular and heavily censored, and Fred was not a man who wrote in detail. One page full of his writing was a windfall and he always ended simply, “Love, Fred”. After we became engaged and “I love you” ended his letters I was happy. I believed him. My best friends Val and Marie were long suffering when the mail was delayed for weeks at a time. I would barge into the carriage of the train each day during these times swearing that my engagement was off. “He doesn’t write anymore”.
One day a number of letters would arrive, and the next morning my friends would breathe a sigh of relief as peace descended once more...until the next time.
I began to write to Fred’s mother and sent her a picture of mother, Heather and myself. “I have another son at home” she wrote after seeing my sister’s picture. I wanted to see her and she asked me to try and “get here soon”. It was not possible. She died before I arrived. A loss to me in every way, I was to find out.
Fred’s proposal of marriage came to me by letter. Funny how you can really get to know someone through an exchange of letters, and how a marriage proposal can be just as thrilling when the person you love and long to be with writes it to you. I wrote Fred so many letters, and swore I wouldn’t write letters after I married him. But my correspondence to Australia was huge and I wrote more letters after I married than I thought was possible.
As soon as I became engaged the search for a passage to America began. I don’t remember how I met Grace, but we became good friends. Grace was engaged to Floyd, so she was also trying to get to America. Together we haunted the offices of Thomas Cook travel agency. We always saw the same clerk, a quiet young man who was kind, and sorry when he told us “no passage yet”. When the day finally arrived and he was able to tell us That we were to sail on the S.S. Monterey he seemed almost as pleased as Grace and I.
We began to apologize for pestering him for so long, but he explained that we were a relief to him as we never took our disappointment at another “no” out on him personally, so he had now been able to do us a favor. “What favor”? I had been waiting a very long time for my passage, Grace, for 18 months. My name came up for Monterey, hers did not. The clerk moved her name to the Monterey list.
I was so grateful to him. I would sail with Grace who had proved over and over what a true friend is. Of course I had some bad moments thinking of the girl who had been dropped from the list, but that was soon forgotten in the excitement of knowing that years of waiting to get to the United States would soon be over. On then to Sydney where the Monterey was berthed.
Grace and I were to travel to Sydney by train. Mr. Groves, the father of a good friend of mine, would drive me into Melbourne to catch the train. Mr. Groves had one of the few private cars on the road at this time, and it was not a fast moving vehicle. It was powered by a big charcoal burner on the back and like most Australian cars it chugged along at a slow and dignified pace. So the 20 mile ride into the city would be endless but sure. So much for the best laid plans. Just before our departure, the Victorian Railway Employees staged a massive strike. The morning of my planned departure we were awakened at a very early hour to be told that a private limousine had been provided to transport some of the passengers all the way into Sydney to be in time for the Monterey’s sailing. I was to be picked up first because I lived the farthest from Melbourne. I had my few precious belongings packed in one of my fathers old wooden foot lockers from his days as an Army officer in Palestine, and also a suitcase. We were allowed no more luggage because the ship was small., one of three sister ships, the others the Lurline and the Mariposa; whose regular run was between San Francisco and Honolulu. These ships usually carried 200 passengers. Now they crossed the limitless and not so peaceful Pacific and they carried 400 to 500 people, so “not so much luggage please”.
I had no time to make proper farewells to my mother and younger sister, and that was very bad. My mother was able to give me a box in which she had packed a special lunch, which was to have been for Grace and me on our comfortable train trip. My mother went back to bed after I left and did not get up to resume her life again until a week after I had gone. My cousin Bill and his wife Cecil were at the house and looked after her.
The limo driver kept me up front beside him. He could see that I was in a sad state. At each of the stops we made I had to see the other passengers say goodbye to their families. At least they had been prepared a few hours ahead. I was so glad to have Grace. Somewhere on our hectic trip the box mother had prepared for us was lost. That’s when I really cried and cried. I kept seeing Mummy walking down the street to our house wearing her old, shabby, neat and clean black coat, and carrying the favorite foods of mine for that lunch; having spent a lot of her money for that week to feed us on our trip. There would have been big, fat and crisp bread rolls. Special ham off the bone to fill them and farm butter. Rich crumbly cakes and bunches of big grapes with a bloom on their skin, seeds inside them and sweet smelling flesh, passion fruit and violet crumble bars. I lied to mother about losing our lunch, discovering that I had guessed correctly about the contents, but I have never ceased to cry about losing that box and can always taste it.
Soon afterward we crossed the Murray river at Albury it was funny to see a train steaming into the station ‘till we realized that because Victoria has a railroad strike New South Wales doesn’t necessarily have one too.
Trip Diary, October 24th 1946-- We left Melbourne by private limousine via the Hume highway en route to Sydney, New South Wales at 8:30 in the morning, and I was sick three times. Our driver stopped at a hotel and bought a bottle of brandy and gave me a drink; it helped, and I felt better. I can drink the stuff I’ve discovered, but I don’t want to.
1 pm -- Arrived at Chiltern. I really hadn’t taken notice of anything. Too tired and feeling anxious, but I did say hello to Wangaratta for my friend Val Hellier whose family are from that area, and I said hi to Benalla where I stayed once as a child. I tried hard to eat lunch but I wasn’t very successful. I wasn’t car sick again.
2pm, -- We were well acquainted with our driver by this time.; his name was Hughie Dick. He was nice and told us we were traveling in the car that Ron Randall and Muriel Steinbeck used when in Melbourne making the film “Smithy”. Of course Hughie wore a uniform when driving them. He was only a civvie to us but we liked him that way. We crossed the border between Victoria and New South Wales at the hour mentioned. We made the crossing in time to beat the strikers who were stopping cars at the border and turning them over. Charming!
3:25 pm.-- Must mention here a tiny place called “Little Billabong” no fooling either. Only one house as far as I could see. We couldn’t help laughing.
4:45 pm -- Arrived in Gundagai, a lovely town set down in a valley. It was pretty. The fields were covered with purple clover, so Mummy and Heather, you can imagine how that looked for yourselves. Just out of town we saw the “Dog” sitting on his tucker box . He sits in a garden all of his own looking important. We arrived in Yass and had tea, and I ate a little better this time. Steak and eggs!
After that effort we drove by night a peaceful journey “till we reached Goldburn. We had driven 450 miles at 55-60 miles per hour. Grace was tired, I was tired when we got out of the limo at our hotel. When we finally got upstairs we stumbled into the big bathroom at the end of the hall, bathed etc. and came out to find we had been in the “Gentleman’s”. Australian hotels did not have private or “en suite” baths as they are called in Oz now; everyone shared but one was expected not to use the bathroom of the opposite sex. Weren’t caught though!
Friday 25th -- We dragged out of bed, no breakfast, only soda water; then began the rest of our journey. The road twisted over Razorback Mountain. Happily was not ill again. My first glimpse of Sydney was the tip of “the bridge”, a thrill.
Before we arrived in the city Hughie stopped for petrol and phoned the press, so instead of going right to the wharves we went to the Sun newspaper offices (this was about 12 noon) and we had our pictures taken. A nice young reporter interviewed us, and I liked the fuss. It’s good to be a bit important sometime in your life.
We arrived at the wharf to find that the Australian longshoremen had also decided to join the Aussie pastime of striking. Great! That meant nobody to carry the luggage aboard the ship as no souls dared cross the picket lines. Somehow we managed to get our own luggage on board but we were very unhappy. We were very interested in seeing all the African American people in the ships crew. We had never been near people of color before.
Hugh’s last kind act was to present a picture of himself taken beside the car with Steinbeck and Randall. Ron Randall will autograph them, he will be on board. Just missed lunch so Grace and I went into Sydney to eat.
That night on the ship we ate in the third class dining room. It was too hot. I didn’t like it. After the meal we went to buy newspapers and looked at our pictures and felt important! When we got back to our cabin along came two reporters from the Daily Telegraph. They stayed quite a while but our “story” next morning was cut to a long paragraph, so we didn’t save it for the family scrapbook.
By this time I had a chance to see a little of our cabin through all the luggage scattered everywhere. Quite nice, I like the bathroom best. I’m sure I’ll never get used to someone sleeping in a bunk over my head.
There were six of us in our cabin, Grace and I and an older lady named Lois. Of course Lois wasn’t old at all, just older than the rest of us. She was quiet and nice and I’m sure we drove her mad with our constant chatter. Noreen was a lovely girl as was Joan, really the sweet one of the group, kind and placid. Then there was Kitty. I promptly named her Cat as she often displayed a provoking and prickly personality. I remember how Joan’s father cried at their parting. Joan had recently lost her mother. Oh that poor man.
Our cabin was on the promenade deck, lots of windows, no glass in them, bunks in place of beds. Scrawled on the wall by mine was WATCH OUT FOR LOUIE THE LOUSE! Grace was as ever, patient in explaining to me the meaning of louse and what kind of life form it was, too. We would lie in our bunks at night very quietly until a voice would whisper, “I’m afraid, I’m really scared. What am I doing here?” and everyone else would give words of comfort while they were afraid too.
Saturday -- 26th-- Still no sailing date which is awful. Oh these strikes! Went to breakfast but couldn’t eat a thing. A pity because the food is delightful. I did drink iced tomato juice, new to me.
Grace and I went to Manley by ferry during the afternoon. The harbour is truly lovely but we were teased a lot about our Melbourne accents. That evening Mr. Scott, the ships special policeman introduced to a member of the crew of the neighboring ship, the English “Raranga”, a nice person who took four of us from our cabin to the theatre. We had a fine time with him and enjoyed riding on the rattling Sydney trams. We came home by comfy Sydney taxis. Didn’t get to bed ‘till 2 am and two of the lasses kept chattering, but we did sleep all the same.
Sunday-- 27th-- We set sail at 7am on Tues. next, that’s the news so far. Didn’t mention that I got four telegrams, one from Mummy, and Mum I also met your old friend Hazel Dennis. She came to the dock gates. Made an appointment to meet her today at 1:30.
Sunday evening-- A beautiful day in all ways. Slept through breakfast and dressed in readiness to go out. In was writing to Mummy, Grace and Phil were chatting, when a photographer popped his head through our window and persuaded us to get into swim suits. He trotted us up to the boat deck and photographed us. Imagine skinny me in a swim suit. I forgot to mention that previous to this a radio broadcasting unit three of us from “our car” plus two wives of Americans. We persuaded one of the ship’s officers to let us listen to the rebroadcast on his radio. I never knew I had that voice. What a thrill! I was even able to eat some lunch after all that excitement.
Grace and Phil went off to Toronga Park Zoo because I was going out. While I was waiting I sat outside on a steamer chair and began to finish my letter home. Another reporter collared me and we chatted. I left to meet Hazel Dennis and baby Diana, a sweet baby. We went by ferry to Toronga park. I enjoyed every minute, but oh I was sorry not to be back on board for dinner. We had a snack in Sydney, but the girls had turkey on the ship. Grace and I are sharing a table in the writing room. We intend to get to sleep early so my writing for the evening is over.
Monday--28th-- We went to Sydney this morning, then Grace and I tidied up our part of the cabin. For the very first time we had to sit separated at dinner at 4 pm. I missed her so much. She always orders for me.
Tuesday--29th--We sailed today. When the ship sailed we were able to eat in our first class dining room, much comfier than the one below decks that we’d dined in while waiting to sail.
Wednesday 30th--A little seasick.
We sight New Zealand tomorrow.
Thursday--We did not sight land. Still seasick.
Friday, 1st November--When we woke this morning we had our first sight of Auckland, New Zealand. Rain! Rain! Rain!
When we docked Grace and I were on deck, and I became interested in watching a crowd of young women and girls who were calling out to the shop’s crew members. I stood open mouthed when many of the girls began to unzip the front of their slacks and walk up to the crewmen as they walked ashore. By this time Grace had grabbed the back of my shirt saying “you’ll fall overboard, come away and I’ll explain what you are seeing”, and she did just that.
We missed breakfast and went ashore. Shopped around a little for some pictures for Mummy, then had a glass of ale. Ate lunch at a small cafe, delicious fish for which New Zealand is famous. After lunch we visited a lady friend of Noreen’s and had a chat. Auckland is a beautiful city, but the people obviously do not care for Aussies. A streamer farewell when we sailed and a party in our cabin.
Saturday 2nd--Hazy again! Up in time for luncheon at 11am to 11:30 and I am thankful to say that my appetite has returned. After lunch I wrote letters and Grace and I walked a mile. Six times around the promenade deck makes that distance. After dinner (which was very substantial to me) we sat on deck and I wrote letters to Heather and Cecil. Meals are much pleasanter in this dining room.
When seas were rough and we had our sea legs we would sway along the corridors to the dining room The doors would swing open, and the smell of black and green olives and dill pickles would rush out and make me feel dreadfully sick. I had never eaten these foods before so I stubbornly learned to do so, and to like them, and had no more odor problems.
When the Monterey had left Botany Bay, Sydney, and was in open water we had 90% of the passengers suffering from sea sickness. In our cabin five of us were in our bunks. Not Grace, who stayed on her feet and looked after me, and helped with the others. I had never seen her so white faced and green cheeked. All the stewards could do was offer dry biscuits, which they called soda crackers, and pieces of fresh lemon.
Finally the order came for everyone to dress and put on life jackets and get out on deck. Easily said but not easily done. I wanted to die and was afraid that I would do so. Jack, our kind steward removed my pajamas, dressed me and put on my life jacket while assuring me that he had done it all before and not to worry. I did worry. I was truly embarrassed. Jack handed me over to Grace who somehow got me onto deck. Magic! Very soon I was beginning to recover and was never seasick again no matter how rough the ocean became.
Our cabin mates had another party and got Grace and I to join in. They went to a dance later but we let that go, and I am on my bunk writing while the other girls get ready for bed.
Sunday 3rd-- Got up in time for luncheon and if Mummy had been able to see what I ate and how much, she would be amazed. I have been very thin so I can take it. We took snapshots this afternoon, sun frocks and shorts. Visited the library. I took out Jane Eyre and Grace and I went up to the boat deck, read and sun bathed. By 3 pm we came down, bathed and dressed ready for the dinner gong. Life is boring on a ship. After Tea (dinner in America) we are going to the pictures, movies in America. It is an old Laurel and Hardy film but we hope to have some laughs.
Because of the crowded conditions on this ship, feeding people is a problem. We have to eat breakfast at 6 am, luncheon at 11 am and dinner at 4 pm, and we are constantly hungry all night. The food is excellent and plentiful and often different to us. I ordered a pot of tea. There was some sort of a paper on the end of a string hanging out of the pot. I carefully lifted the lid and picked up the string to find some kind of a soggy bag thing hanging from it, a shock. The waiters were laughing so much at the horrified look on the Australian faces, but recovered enough to explain tea bags. They were very good to us but refused to let us eat in the Australian style if we could be persuaded to eat like Americans, and they often took our knives away. This was fun of course and the cause of much giggling and general carrying on as we tried to cut food with our forks and take it to our mouths in our right hands.
Monday 4th-- Got up at 6:30 am and Noreen and I went onto deck in our dressing gowns, to watch the ship docking at Suva, Fiji. Unfortunately it was raining and continued to do so all day to our great discomfort. Grace and I went ashore early and found our way to the township. We were really scared of the native people at first, but they were so delightful and friendly that we soon got used to seeing them.
We did a little shopping for cards and small things to send home, but the heavy rain drove us back aboard ship. So we bathed again and went back ashore. The heat was terrible, very steamy. I liked it after I got used to it, but poor Grace disliked it intensely. We took pictures of the local people, including one of me buying water lilies, but the atmosphere was dark and rain filled. We have little hope of any decent results.
We dropped into a lounge and drank island beer. Two glasses were enough for me. The beer was tasty and icy cold. Because of the hard rain we had to return to the ship by taxi, bathed again and are waiting for dinner.
Monday 4th----------”Just Some Memories Of Fiji”
The long unbroken line of foam over the reefs. The tiny islands in the channel, like puffs of swan’s down, and the excited native people on the wharf as the ship drew in. The Fijian policemen in their immaculate white lap laps and their waterproof capes. Indian people holding huge umbrellas to shelter people waiting outside their shops while a taxi was called. and the rain came down.
The shops themselves, funny little places all mixed alongside large modern department stores. Broad streets.
Cleanliness everywhere. The filigree work and hand carved tortoise shell for sale. The shop front worked entirely in cowry shells. The strange coinage. The helpful and polite native and Indian salesmen and girls. The stunning beauty of the Indian women and above all the persistent smell of copra in the air.
More observations-- The fine and handsome tree lined avenue leading to Government House, the gigantic flowers everywhere and the children calling out their quaint good mornings.
The Fragrance of crushed frangipani blossoms and the gleam of water from a stream or the sea. The happy faces of the people when one asked if one could photograph them, and the drink waiter in the hotel lounge, immaculate in white jacket, trousers and bare feet. The pure pleasure of buying the purple tinted water lilies from a street stall and a slow stroll through the streets, sighing over the carvings and the paintings on display. The Indian Tailor and the beauty of an Indian girl wearing a blue sari caught at the breast with a filigree brooch and falling in a hundred folds to her bare brown feet. The caste marks and the nose rings, and the glossy smooth black hair of the Indian ladies.
The tall strong Fijian policeman standing in the center of the road under a white cone shaped canopy, directing traffic with a style and grace unknown to our police. His uniform jacket, white lap lap and those bare feet.
The island people lining the roads leading to the wharf selling rainbow tinted coral in banana leaf baskets and knives made from some strange and elegant polished wood.
The women carrying baskets with brightly polished beads spilling from them, and the Fijian policemen who were so pleased when Grace asked to photograph them that they left the entrance gate to the ship and trotted in perfect line after her onto deck to pose. They gave Grace their addresses and she will send them the pictures. Their unfailing politeness and chorus of thank yous when we had thanked them left all four of us laughing.
The last glimpse of the native people on the wharf as the ship drew away and their smiling faces as we threw streamers to them. The young boys singing as they scuffled for the pennies thrown to them as we all exchanged last good-byes and smiles and the coastline fading into the mist of steadily falling rain. I loved every minute of my time in Fiji. I liked and admired her fuzzy haired people and one day god willing I shall go back there.
Monday 4th ??-- Yes, today is Monday, and the same date again as yesterday. We are crossing east of the international dateline. I wrote to the family in the afternoon and evening but the sea became very rough, and I had to lay down. I had one half hour of sleep during the evening and night.
Tuesday 5th--Today we docked at Pago Pago and were on deck at 6:30 am, to see ourselves sail into the harbour. The island is very spectacular, wild and mountainous. The clouds rest on hilltops. We bathed and went ashore early, and Grace and I had a job finding the post office because it is on the U.S. Naval Base. We sent our mail on it’s way and walked along the harbour road and watched the native people selling flowers, wood carvings and grass skirts. I badly wanted a flower lei but considered the price ridiculous and the woman seller too sharp for me to bargain with.
Our first venture onto American soil proved too much for Grace and for me. The heat forced us to return to the ship.
I can’t imagine how we will look in the pictures we took. Wilted! While on ship waiting for lunch we threw a few coins to the local boys who were paddling their canoes along side. One young man in particular took my attention. He was startlingly handsome, had a fine physique and was obviously of white and island blood. He was wearing an emerald green lap lap which he changed to cover his back whenever the sun bothered him. I admit that this fellow got all my small change. He finally called to me asking if I would like some coconuts, and as I relish the darn things, I found our steward, Jack and borrowed some string from him, returned to deck and lowered it down over the side. The young man fastened something onto the string and a Samoan native policeman pulled it in for me. It was a handsome basket made of plaited palm leaves and inside were two coconuts newly husked. The policeman lowered the basket again with five one cent pieces wrapped in paper, and when the brown man received it he sent the basket up to me again for keeps. We amused ourselves watching the young men until lunch hour then Grace and I ventured ashore again for a little while.
It had been raining, everything was drenched, and the flower perfume I had smelled as the ship drew into the island in the morning was heavy. I bought a model of an outrigger canoe like the ones the boys were paddling around the ship. I will give it to Fred, but if he has one I will send it to Mummy and Heather. I bought myself a pink grass skirt trimmed in mauve and it has “Samoa” woven in blue letters around the waist. Grace took some more pictures, and we went back aboard.
The U.S. Navy Samoan sailors are interesting. They wear white lap laps and white cotton Navy singlets and large red belts. The lap laps have blue lines from waist to hem and a blue anchor in one corner. On their heads they wear a red fez, like a cap without a top, and all this splendor looks strange when you see their bare feet.
When we sailed the leis thrown into the water formed a floating carpet, fragrant and so beautiful, and my last glimpse of Pago Pago was of these flowers being carried by the tide toward the shore. So both Grace and I hope the legend will come true and we will return to Samoa.
Wednesday 6th-- Quite a night last night with a drinking party outside our window. We often have beer on ice, thanks to Jack’s kindness, and we drink too, but we don’t make a row and keep everybody awake. We put our heads out the window and abused the revelers most thoroughly but they were too pickled to notice. They eventually left, and we slept only to be awakened at 5 am this morning only to be awakened by more loud noise, this time the voices of some Samoans who had come on board. They did not understand our requests for quiet, so Grace and I got up, bathed quickly and went out onto the deck where we spread Grace’s blanket rug and stretched out to read and write. and we were able to keep fairly cool. It is so hot today! Not as hot as yesterday but nearly as bad. We lunched then came back to the rug, and I wrote home. I went and sent a cablegram to Fred. We are not able to stop at Honolulu due to a dock strike there. We are running short of fresh water. Showers are in salt water. No problem to me, raised on the ocean.
What a pleasure meals have been since we are in our own dining room in first class. We managed a marvelous dinner in spite of the heat, and I liked it so much, which Mummy won’t believe that I’m going to write it all down for her to see.
California Fruit Cocktail
Asparagus Tips - Roast Potatoes
Chocolate Ice Cream - Milk
I will also explain for Mummy’s sake that the so called cocktail is a tiny fruit salad. It’s lovely. At the moment I am writing in the theatre while Grace and I are waiting to see Footlight Serenade which is an old show. I saw it back home and enjoyed it and hope to do so again in spite of the heat.
Thursday 7th-- Grace and I got up fairly early and went out into the sun to take snapshots. I changed from, slacks to shorts to lay in the sun for a little time, but it was too hot so we came downstairs and changed for lunch, then out on deck to hear some Samoan girls playing guitar and singing. After lunch we sunbathed again, but Grace is so fair skinned, and she got burnt. The sun has no effect on me so I am lucky. At 9 pm an announcement was made throughout the ship that we were crossing the equator, and this crossing was done to the sound of loud whistles. Jack had given us a bottle of New South Wales ale, so we took it off ice and Grace, Noreen, and I celebrated with a big glass each. It was strong.
Friday 8th--Grace and I got up early and went on deck, and we each took one picture of the other on color film which Jack had had given us. We had to save the rest for tomorrow as the tropical rains are really pouring down now. We did manage short periods of sunbathing before and after lunch. I wrote letters to girl friends back home. Nothing happened until after dinner. Our dear marvelous Jack appeared with cool drinks for Grace and me. We went to the movies (not the pictures anymore) at 8:30 and saw Dragonwyck which we thought a marvelous show.
We often went to the movies at night on the ship. During one film I heard an American woman sitting behind us, saying to a companion, “These girls are fools, they will be going to terrible lives!” We, Grace and I were furious but we kept quiet. All I thought about was the trouble Fred’s father had gone to for the U.S. Consulate to prove that he was an honest businessman, tax returns etc. and he had posted a $500 bond so that if I did not marry, the money would be available to for me to return home.
When Mummy and I were called to the U.S. Embassy to finalize my leaving Australia the Consul asked to see my mother so he could tell her that I was going to a good family and would always be taken care of. So much for silly women. The fiancee’s of Americans all had to abide by these same rules.
More noise and row under our window. We hate this as our breakfast sitting is so early. , so we really told the American girl, who was the din leader, off. They did leave but not gracefully.
Saturday 9th-- Another equally quiet day as far as doing anything. Nothing to do. We woke to feel the ship tossing and pitching in the teeth of a storm. We soon left the center behind but the turbulence remains with the tossing and pitching particularly bad at this moment. When we could read I spent the time writing letters. Jack brought us lots of saltine crackers this evening , and cool drinks. He is so kind. Noreen produced two tins (or cans) of tuna fish which we mixed with some vinegar she also had. We ate it on the crackers. Simple, but we had a super little party. Another noisy crowd outside our cabin window, so I think there may be words before the night is much older.......P.S. no fight.
Sunday 10th-- Another boring day and no bad weather. Poor Betty was pretty sick but the rest of us were fine, which surprised me in my case. More reading and more letter writing.
Tonight we went to a movie. It was called Dark Corner and starred Mark Steven’s, a favorite of mine. Jack came good with lots of cool drinks.
Monday 11th-- Spent the day exactly as usual, and my stack of letters is growing.
Tuesday 12th-- Spent the whole day in my bunk. Why not!
Wednesday 13th-- Just another do nothing day, but excitement is beginning because we are due in San Francisco tomorrow, which means I will be seeing Fred soon. I still don’t believe this to be true.
Thursday 14th-- The less said about this day the better, but I did find some small pleasures in it so I shall write about it. We were up at 5 am and went on deck where we had to begin arranging to go through immigration inspection, but we got away long enough to see the Golden Gate bridge at the entrance to the harbour. The supports of the bridge are tremendous and the towers so tall that we couldn’t see the tops through the mist. It was quite an experience for me, and I was just as thrilled as one is expected to be on this occasion. We passed grim Alcatraz and shuddered.
We returned to the queue for immigration where we were forced to stand on soaking wet decks in open air and freezing cold, which was painful after the tropics. To divert our disgust at this treatment we actually counted the wharf numbers where I spotted quite a few posters welcoming back the United States Marine Corps. They of course, registered with me at once and I felt a little happier.....What a beastly day!
We stood from 5 am until 8 pm at night waiting to go through customs. Both Grace and myself were in tears, one at a time, all those long hours with each trying to comfort the other. At last we got through customs and staggered into a taxi when who got in with us but Jack, our old steward friend. He told us that he had wired San Francisco and, without our knowledge, had booked us into the hotel Shaw. He knew all the trouble we would have to go through on our arrival and thought we may not have arranged accommodations. We were so glad to see him. He took charge of everything, had our luggage sent to our room at the hotel, then just dragged us into the bar. I had never been in a bar but I was glad to be in that one.
I had, of all things a scotch and soda. It tasted like medicine but the effect was wonderful. On the way to our room we decided to go to bed as soon as we were in the door and sleep for a week. Sitting on the dresser was a tray of cold beer. It looked good. I never had been a drinker. When my friends, Valerie and Marie took me out for dinner, by my second glass of wine I would be reminded, gently but firmly by Marie, “Watch your drinking, Dawne”. The brandy during my ride to Sydney had been my first, and now I was feeling confidant so I drank my share of beer.
The phone rang for Grace. Jack, asking her out to dinner. I said go. She said no, unless you come, and she wouldn’t change her mind. So we bathed and changed and we set out for our first night in America. He took us to a club called Dominoes, and that’s where my love affair with a drink called the stinger began. Why that name for such a smooth delicious drink? It’s only brandy and creme de menthe. We also had another so called cocktail. Just a tall glass full of delicious shrimp and a tangy type of tomato sauce. Just like that fruit cocktail I told you about Mummy. It’s awfully funny.
Dominoes had a well deserved reputation for steak. Grace and I dined on filet mignon, agreeing that it was the best beef we ever had tasted. I enjoyed the wine that came with dinner.
After dinner Jack took us to the Mark Hopkins hotel, and you should see the way the taxies go up those San Francisco hills, Mummy. They are small mountains and not hills. and the scenic railway (roller coaster) has nothing on these hair raisers. We passed the Fairmont hotel which Fred had told me about when he was in the hospital in Oakland and I noticed the Cirque room where he had taken someone else dancing. We went to the top lounge at the Mark Hopkins, aptly called the “Top of the Mark.” It’s a beautiful place Mummy, indirect lighting so that it seems quite dark but you see well . The bar as at the center of the room and there are tables and chairs all around the edges if the room at the windows, and soft lounge chairs. About the windows, they are enormous, and through them you can see all of San Francisco. Truly beautiful. You know Mummy, over here they have neon signs for everything, and these shine all day and work overtime at night.
You can imagine how beautiful the lights looked, stretching for miles and miles with all the oranges and the reds shining from the towers of the Oakland to Frisco Bridge and the yellow lights on that span crossing the water. Just the way any child would imagine fairyland should look, and Grace and I agreed that we were still kids. We had a drink, and what a drink Top of the Mark is known for this concoction and no wonder! It comes in a very long and tall glass, and I don’t know what a zombie consists of, but I know that it slides so gently and tastily down the throat, and the effect is quite unbelievable.
Jack talked to us like a wise old grandpa about our new life here and what to expect. He often talked to us this way. After our lecture he took us to breakfast, a place called Bunny’s and we did very well with waffles and coffee.
I was feeling full of those proverbial beans when I got back to the hotel, and when I got up the next morning Grace asked me why I had put my pajama top on backwards. I did remember putting them on that way and buttoning them up but I don’t remember why. By then I was so sick that we were both scared. So much for holding my liquor. My first hangover.
Friday 15th--Today I talked to Fred who said he couldn’t understand me very well, but I don’t mind because it will be my pleasure to reteach him. We had a hectic day.
Went to Cooks and got our rail tickets. Then to Western Union. Then to post Grace’s letters and then to send a telegram to Floyd, and finally to a Chemist shop to ask for something to make me feel better. The Chemist took me back to the dispensary and gave me some stuff he mixed. It tasted vile. We began chatting and when I asked him what I owed for the medicine, he wouldn’t let me pay. This didn’t surprise me because people in this city were wonderful to us. They are very polite and helpful and every time I said thank you they had a “You’re very welcome” ready. We don’t feel strange here at all. We went to collect our luggage, then dashed back to the hotel, meeting the chemist on the way. He stopped us to ask how I was, and when I told him I was better, he said “Ah youth” and laughed with us.
We checked out and made another dash for the ferry. You must travel by ferry Mummy, from San Francisco to Oakland to catch the train. Our trunks hadn’t arrived yet by the time we left, so we are worried even though we’ve been told they will follow on Saturday’s train. (note: the trunk arrived in Wilkes Barre, Pa. 3 months later)
Funny thing again Mummy, in the station there are no platforms beside the railway lines. There are steps moved in leading to each carriage. We have a bedroom and thank goodness because it is comfortable. There are two seats which become a bed, and an upper bed which folds into the ceiling. I sleep up there which I like. I do have to climb a ladder to reach it. We have a good sized hand basin with an adequate mirror above it and a long mirror on the wall. There are even shoe racks underneath the wash basin, and the toilet is pretending to be a chair. We do have a comfy chair, and there are pockets above her bed for Grace to keep her cigarettes and matches in. I put a packet of chocolate biscuits for us in the other pocket.
Saturday 16th-- Awoke this morning after a fairly decent sleep feeling as tired as when I went to bed. I threw my pillows on the floor, got down into Grace’s bed, my head where her feet were, then I put up the blinds, and we just looked and looked. The country was flat with high mountains in the distance and the ground was covered with what looked like white salt. This was on the mountains too. This salt of course was snow. We did travel into the mountains briefly but soon left them in the distance. The conductor laughed and laughed about us seeing salt on the ground. No snow now and no sign of life, but stringy bushes growing everywhere. The snow is here again, a lot of it! My pen has finally run dry. It was an good and faithful servant. The porter has lent me his pen. We arrived in Salt Lake City during the evening having traveled through the states of California, Nevada, and half of Utah.
Sunday 17th-- We had a terrible night. Neither of us sleeping. Perhaps it is the excitement, which I am certainly feeling. I dread to think how I will look on arrival, but maybe Fred won’t recognize me anyway after so long. We looked outside from Grace’s bed as soon as it was light, to find ourselves traveling through great rocky hills beside a wild, cold looking river. I had guessed it was the Colorado, and the porter confirmed this, so I was pleased with myself.
Colorado is beautiful to us. The snow is much deeper here and clings to the trees, many of which are bare branched. We saw a house that looked like a log cabin. A lady wearing a red jumper over her skirt and long boots was pegging linen to a clothes line. The snow was piled feet high on either side of a path to her line. There were trees, green ones like the Christmas trees from pictures, growing around the house, and snow was sprinkled on their branches. The river has ice all over it. We are enjoying our trip through this state. We passed a place with the name “Winter Lodge”. A few houses, very pretty with long icicles hanging from their roofs. This was a spectacular stretch of country.
We had an unpleasant shock on entering a tunnel. I don’t know it’s name but I shan’t forget it. Miles and miles of blackness while smoke which smelled evil filled our room. Grace dived under her blanket, while I wrapped my slacks around my head (ugh) while I went on writing to cousin Cecil. Awful!
Going to the dining car was fun and no trouble to us, as we were so used to the motion of the ship. Went from sea legs to train legs easily. What was not fun was going from car to car. How could it be so cold that we had trouble breathing? The sun shone brilliantly but had no warmth in it. Other passengers were kind, and interested in us. We sat with a charming lady. Her husband was a Cunard liner captain. She had been hospitalized in San Francisco for plastic surgery on her hand, which had been caught in an electric fan. One could easily see the blade marks cut into her hand. She took us under her wing and teased me, telling me that Wilkes-Barre was the sinus capital of America. Grace did check this lady out, and she was well known to the train staff, so when she suggested that we check into her hotel in Chicago for a few hours we happily agreed. She knew how tired we were, how grubby we felt, and how we longed for our hair to be properly washed
We arrived in Chicago at long last and took our time getting off the train when suddenly--Fred was just there! I can’t describe my feelings. Who was this very tall, most handsome young man who was not wearing a uniform? We said goodbye to our kind friend and the strange young man took us to lunch.
Back on the train we spent the evening together, and the strangeness began to wear off. Grace was a darling, insisting that we have the time alone. She had cared for me all through the trip and would have done so to Philadelphia where Floyd and Fred were to have met us.
MY FRIEND GRACE!
We met Floyd and I had to say goodbye to Grace. She was in good hands and I will see her soon. She will be my only bridesmaid when Fred and I marry.
We had a long and wearisome trip by Greyhound bus into the mountains of Pennsylvania, and I am in my new home.
Valerie M. Balester
Executive Director, University Writing Center
Associate Professor of English
Texas A&M University
College Station, Texas 77843-5000