On the Way to Canada

The Canadian Cunard-White Star liner "Scythia"

The voyage to America turned out to be more complicated than expected.  It involved a train trip to Paris, then another train to Le Havre where we boarded the Cunard-White Star liner, “Scythia.”  The “Scythia”, while quite luxurious, was a ship that for many years had specialized in taking immigrants to Canada.  Upon boarding it, I was overwhelmed by the hustle and bustle.  People kept bumping into one another and saying, “Pardon me!” after each contact.  I guess I could say that my first English sentence was “Pardon me,” or “Pardon.”  I couldn’t understand why they just weren’t more careful when walking, but possibly that had not occurred to them.

I also noticed that all these English-speaking people had very short names, names such as Bob, Joe, and Carl. And I also noticed a beautiful American girl with whom I instantly fell in love.  However, she was eighteen and I was thirteen (the age of stirring hormones), and that was doomed to go nowhere.  When we first met she introduced herself by one of those wonderful disyllabic names ending in “a” (unfortunately I don’t remember her name), and I introduced myself as A-lex-an-der, which then seemed the most embarrassingly long name in the world.  How I longed for one of those short, English names! Had I only known that I could have, without cheating, made myself into an Alex! How much better that would have been!  In any case, I was quite interested in the young lady, and she, while quite friendly to this strange, French speaking kid, was not interested at all.  I wished it had been different!

Once at sea, life settled down into a more or less permanent state of floating sea sickness.  Each day I comforted myself with the thought that this could not be a permanent state, that I would feel better tomorrow, but I was wrong.  For the seven days of the voyage, I was miserable, sleepy, and with a queasy stomach.  Again, I comforted myself with the thought that having been sea sick this time, on this trip, I would never be sea sick again.  Wrong again.  For the rest of my life, whenever on a ship, I’ve been miserably sea sick, sometimes more, sometimes less, but always sea sick when at sea.

On this voyage I wasn’t so sea sick that I couldn’t participate in some of the social life of the ship which began each morning with what I considered an odd breakfast.  Although I was familiar enough with eggs, at home they were a rarity for breakfast.  Orange juice was also a novelty, and corn flakes were completely strange, and I had to watch others at the table to figure what to do with them.    However, after a while I felt better and was able to play shuffleboard and deck tennis, which was not tennis at all.  In the evening there were games involving cardboard horse races sped on by dice, which I never won, except for the time I had a bet on the slowest horse, the one that finished last.  It was fun, but I would have liked it better had I won more often.  After each meal there was a choice of activities, of which my favorite was the unlisted leaning over the metal railing of the ship, inhaling the cool,fresh air and up-chucking my meals into the often turbulent, grey-green ocean.

Another view of the "Scythia"

About AlexLevy

Dr. Alex Levy is a retired English teacher who survived World War II and the "Final Solution" by hiding in a Catholic orphanage for girls in Belgium for several years.
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