Simone’s story of coming to America
(as told to her husband, Patrick Mallinson)
I remember it like it was yesterday, though it was a lifetime ago: Tuesday, May 5th, 1946. We were leaving France on a huge ship bound for America. There were thousands of us: French, German, English, Italian, Belgians, all wondering where this adventure would lead; each speaking our own language plus the few phrases of broken English we could manage. We were young, some 18, 19, some as old as 27 or 28; blonde, brunettes, red heads or dark Mediterranean types like me. I was excited but also scared and nervous about what lay ahead.
I had said my last goodbye to my mother and sister in Marseilles before boarding the train for Paris and Le Harve. It would be thirteen years before I would see them again. My new husband, Pfc. Ralph McCarty, had told me not to worry. He had written to his cousins in Mendon, Louisiana [Menden, Louisiana] that I was coming and that they would meet me at the train station in Arkansas, just across the Louisiana border. I had no idea where Mendon was but I remembered from school that Louisiana was once French so I felt that I would be in familiar surroundings. I was in for a rude awakening. The little country town near the Arkansas - Louisiana border was truly another world from the one I had known in the city by the Mediterranean in the south of France, but more on that later.
We were checked on board the ship by the US Army officials looking at the tag fastened to our blouses indicating our names and destinations. These tags would be our only communication with numerous Americans along the way as we were passed from ship to train to rain on the long trip from France to Louisiana.
I often think back to the strange twists of fate that take our lives and spin them in a totally new direction. I had returned to France in 1945 after the Germans had surrendered. My father had taken a position in Dakar in 1940 and later transferred to Sassanddra near Abijan in the Ivory Coast. My little sister and I were young girls growing up in the midst of a changing adult world. I remember the German bombings prior to leaving Marseilles. I was only a young girl and didn’t understand why some of my Jewish neighbors were suddenly disappearing in the middle of the night.
I will never forget once when we had to evacuate into the countryside and in the midst of the bombings a woman was giving birth to a new baby.
In Africa we were further removed from the war but there were times in Dakar when I remember scurrying to market during a lull in the bombardments. The grownups said it “tea time” for the English so it was safe to move about.
However, down in Ivory Coast at Sassandra, there were no bombings at all. We were free to enjoy the peaceful life on the beach. But it was there that I met my first Americans. One day, my sister and I were playing on the beach with some native children when we saw a small boat trying to find a way ashore. We ran to tell the grownups, which quickly sent some native men out in a canoe to guide the boats through the reef.
There must have been close to a hundred men in several boats. They were badly sunburned and in need of rest and shelter. I could tell they were speaking English but I could understand only a little. My father later explained that their ship had been torpedoed by a German U boat and that they were Americans trying to get to Abijan. Being a young teenager, I was excited to see these handsome young men as there were few eligible young men where we lived. My mother kept a sharp eye on me but somehow I managed to make enough contact to exchange names and addresses with one sailor from Los Angeles. And I remember kissing him when my mother wasn’t looking.
My mother had returned to Marseille with me and my sister shortly after the war ended. My father had died of malaria a few months earlier. Things had been different when we returned. There was little food and long lines. The American soldiers were everywhere in their jeeps and trucks. There was a big camp on the other side of Marseille.
We would walk or take the streetcar to get around. I was lucky to get a job at the post office which kept us alive. I would bring my paycheck home and my mama would manage. It was through a girlfriend at work that I happened to meet my husband, Ralph.
One day my friend asked me to go with her that evening to meet an American soldier that she had made a date with. I hesitated as I felt that I would be in the way. After some discussion we agreed that after meeting him I would leave them and go to a movie. When the two of us arrived I could see that he wasn’t thrilled to have me tag along. Just then he says a GI driving by in a jeep. He ran over and stopped it and had some discussion with the driver. When he came back he said we could all go for a ride in the jeep. It was already dark and I wasn’t too sure but my friend urged me to have some fun. “We can go to the park and for a drive by the sea,” she said. I said OK and by that little quark of fate met Ralph. We were married five months later.
As I was only 18, my mother had to give written consent. It took considerable pleading my part to overcome her objections: We were too young; I didn’t know what I was getting into or where I would end up. Of course, she was right, but it was much later before I realized how right she was.
The Catholic chaplain refused to marry us for much the same reasons as my mother had given. However, Ralph, being protestant, got the protestant chaplain to conduct the ceremony. My mother never realized it was not a Catholic ceremony since everything was in English and they were all in uniform.
We took off for our honeymoon in Nice at the famous Hotel Nigresco which was being used as an R & R spot for the GI’s. We were a couple of kids off on a lark. I now realize that when we met and fell in love and married that Ralph saw me as an ignorant little girl who didn’t know too much about the world. Naturally, he was mistaken due to the language barrier. Later, as my English improved, I began to express myself to him and that’s when our real troubles began.
I didn’t understand his culture and he didn’t understand mine. Shortly after we arrived in this country, for instance, Ralph took off one evening to “do a little mischief “. It was an event that I’d never heard of called “Halloween”. He was only 19 and had missed out on all the “fun” while in the Army.
Another shock came some years later. We were watching TV and Harry Bellefonte was singing. I casually remarked that he was good looking. Ralph jumped up and slapped me. “Don’t ever let me hear you say that about a nigger”, he yelled. I was dumbfounded and hurt. I thought “What’s wrong with this man?” Little did I know that I had crossed a forbidden social boundary.
What had I gotten myself into? What kind of country was this? I was more homesick than ever. I wasn’t alone. I soon received a newsletter from other French war brides telling of similar fates. Some were far worse. One girl was in a shack in the Appalachian Mountains with practically nothing for herself or her babies. We were asked to help her but I wasn’t much better off.
Ralph and I bounced from place to place from job to job. But again, I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s get back to the trip from France. It was one not be forgotten.
We war brides were delayed at the military camp in Le Harve, camp Phillip Morris, for a week. We never knew the reason but more and more war brides were arriving every day from Germany, Belgium and England. I was missing Ralph and my mother who had seen me off at the train station in Marseille. It was so different there in the north of France. The sky was always gray and it rained a lot making the camp muddy. The towns were all bombed out and desolate looking. We were anxious to get on board the ship. I was making new friends and looking forward to the great adventure that lay ahead.
The ship was a German ship. The six of us who had traveled together from Marseilles stayed together on board ship. We took some snap shots which look like some young girls out for an adventure. As we neared New York , I remember the WAC’s teaching us to sing some American songs such as “Kiss me once, kiss me twice, it’s been a long, long time.” We were all tagged with our name and our destination. As we sailed past the statue of liberty we were all impressed with huge skyline of Manhattan.
Some of the girls were met at the wharf. I went with a group on a bus tour of New York City before being put on the train with four others heading southwest. We slept in a Pullman Car. It was a strange and frightening experience. There was only one other French speaking girl with us. We had to point to what others were eating in the dinning car as our English was too limited to make out the menu.
The black porters were surprised at our respect for them. They returned the friendliness. At one stop were looked out and saw a shoe store. We hadn’t had real shoes for five years! The porter said we would stop for a half hour so we ran to the store and were trying on the shoes. The lady in the shop was showing others our wooden soled shoes. Meanwhile, the train was getting ready to leave. We ran back as the porter was franticly waving to us.
It seemed like we would never get to our destination. This was such a huge country! One by one another girl said goodbye until I was the only one waiting for my stop in Louisiana.
As I stepped from the train, I truly felt like a displaced person. Everything was so different from my home in the south of France. My husband had told me that his relatives would meet me at the train station in Mendon. I stood on the platform all alone looking about hoping to see a face that seemed to be searching for me. Finally, a woman and a young boy moved towards me. They smiled as they approached me. I was so excited to see my new relatives that I quickly gave them a kiss on both cheeks! I wasn’t too concerned that they seemed a little surprised at my greeting. I understood that she mentioned my name but I missed most of what she was trying to tell me. I followed her and two men who were putting my luggage in their car. By now I was confused and began to understand that the woman was a Red Cross worker. No wonder her 13 yr old son drew back when I kissed him!
I decided to refrain from any more kisses until I was sure it was my new relatives.
The men motioned for me to get in the back of their car. I thought to myself: “What would my mother think if she could see me now.” We drove at least an hour before we came to the little town of Haynesville. It was so hot. I wasn’t used to the climate. The town consisted of the typical main street strip of little stores and a church. It was so different from France.
When we arrived at the family house on the edge of town a large group of family and friends were on hand to see what Ralph had sent back from France! I tried to smile and say hello as I sat on display in the living room. There was considerable discussion going on but I could understand only a little now and then. The crowd finally left and the family I was staying with sat down to eat.
Ralph’s cousin and his wife had three children, a 15 yr. old daughter with whom I slept; a 12 yr. old son and a younger girl. The food was so different from what I was used to in the south of France. It was the first time since I was 3 yrs. old that I drank milk. There was no wine and no French bread. Rather, there was corn bread and biscuits. Also, I was unaccustomed to having everything on my plate at once. There were no courses as was the custom in France. I ate corn for the first time. As a result I would excuse myself and go outside to the outhouse and throw up after every meal. They couldn’t understand why I didn’t gain any weight.
The cousins were good, church going country folks. They tried to make me feel comfortable. On Sunday, they invited me to go with them to Church. I was unaware that they were not Catholic like everyone I had ever known. When I entered the church I looked for the holy water font. There was none! I made the sign of the cross anyway much to the dismay of my relatives. I don’t know what they thought when I genuflected before I entered the pew. I didn’t understand the lack of kneelers and I certainly couldn’t understand the preacher when he started speaking but I wondered why he was so mad and kept pounding on the pulpit.
Later, the relatives told me we were going for a swim. I was excited as it was very hot and I grew up close to the sea where we swam regularly. After I got out my little bikini the swim party was suddenly cancelled.
I was thinking what a terrible mistake I had made and wondered how I could ever return home when suddenly Ralph arrived. I had been there for ten days but it seemed like ten weeks without him. They gave us the back bedroom but there was little privacy and Ralph didn’t feel as though we should make love in such circumstances.
We decided to leave for Paris, Texas, where Ralph said he could regain the job he had prior to leaving for the Army. The law required companies to rehire their veterans which Ralph’s company did. However, the law didn’t prevent them for laying him off after one month!
We were both very young, 18 & 19, and irresponsible and since I was so unhappy Ralph decided to take the $300 he mustered out with and show me a good time in Dallas. $300 was a lot of money in 1946 so we stayed at the Aldophus Hotel, the finest in Dallas at the time. We had candlelight dinners with wine and generally lived it up for ten days before our money gave out.
Back we went to Paris, Texas but there were no jobs there. I was so out of my element there that I urged Ralph to try New Orleans which I knew from history as a French settlement. So, off we went with our bags (all we owned). We rented a little apartment on 2nd street and Ralph found a low paying job. I loved New Orleans and found another French war bride. We would ride the streetcars together speaking our beloved native tongue. This sometimes got us into trouble. I remember once we were taking the streetcar downtown and chattering away in French. The conductor was saying something in English but we were not paying attention. He came back to the rear seat where we were and told us we couldn’t sit there. The blacks all around us sank back in their seats. Everyone in the streetcar was watching us. We finally understood that he wanted us to move up towards the front but we said we were comfortable where we were. He then made it clear that he could not proceed unless we moved. It was the law! We moved just in front of the sign indicating the section for blacks. This was something else we couldn’t understand about this new home of ours.
As I said I loved New Orleans and things seemed to be going OK. Ralph and I would join my French friend and her husband (also a soldier) and go for picnics at the lakefront or a stroll through the old French quarter.
But as was to happen so often in the future, an unexpected event changed my carefree days, I found out that I couldn’t cook without getting sick. I was pregnant with Jimmy!
Simone [McCarty] Mallinson arrived onboard George W. Goethals on May 5, 1946
Simone passed away in November 2007