© Copyright 2021 by Francis Edwards
My 65-year-old grandmother took me and my three other young siblings to raise when my mother passed away, when I was 6-years-old. My father left the scene and abandoned us. I wanted to some how pay her back for all the love and kindness she bestowed from her heart over the years. I did not know that I qualified for free tuition at The University of Pittsburgh until my senior year. I always paid my tuition from my summer employment money and gave my grandmother my left over money. However, I got tired of seeing my grandmother struggling through trying to make ends meet during the winter time in Pittsburgh. I decided to request a loan for college tuition and the loan officer said, you don't need a loan. You are an orphan. Your tuition is free. You could have had your last 3 years free as well.
Christmas 1968, the little wooden ship was put under the Christmas tree with a Christmas card attached to it that said to Nana. Inside were tickets for the whole family for a trans Atlantic crossing on the SS United States leaving Pier 21, New York for Southampton on November 7th. (My Mother's Birthday). My grandmother said with excited glee, you all will experience with me a lifetime memory.
We arrived in New York a day before departing and stayed in a hotel close to Pier 21. At 5 am. we were all awakened to three loud blasts coming from the river. We all jumped out of bed and quickly got dressed and grabbed our luggage. We headed by taxi to Pier 21 not to miss our departure. We soon found out the blasts came from a submarine making her entrance to New York City. We were the first passengers to board the SS United States and the last passengers on board as the great ocean liner was taking her last voyage after 400 trans Atlantic crossings.
The SS United States was different than previous trans Atlantic ocean liners. She was made from metal with no wood used. She was very long and narrow according to Wikipedia. The ship could go through the Panama Canal. She was also constructed to be converted into a troop or medical ship if the need arose. She also had in her hay day on board such famous passengers as President John Kennedy, President Truman, Bill Clinton, John Wayne, Marylin Monroe, and now my grandmother.
I can remember leaving the berth and passing the Statute of Liberty that was the last thing I saw. I became so seasick. My family lost me. I could not get to my cabin. Everytime I took a step down the staircase, everything wanted to chuck up. I found my way into a pup and sprawled out on a coach. My family thought I went overboard. They had everyone on the ship looking for me. Someone found me five hours later and someone got me down to my cabin. I stayed there for the five days crossing. I did make it to the formal Gala Dinner given the night before docking in Southampton. The dinning room was empty. I asked the waiter where is everyone. He told me everyone was seasick. I turned white in the face and flew out of the dinning room. I went back to my cabin, thinking I must be sick. When I got my two feet on land I was still wobbly for a few hours. I was wondering and asked my grandmother if she got seasick like me during the crossing . Never she said. My aunt told me, your grandmother never left her bunk for the five days!
I decided to fly home. I cancelled are return trip on the SS United States. Someone in my family purchased a newspaper with the headline, " Last Voyage Of The RMS. QUEEN ELIZABETH". My grandmother again said the magic words. Remember what I said before, you will have an experience that you will never forget. You can get a shot for sea sickness. I didn't want to disappoint, so I cancelled the airline. I booked the whole family on the Queen Elizabeth.
Once on board this huge ocean liner, I immediately went to the clinic to receive my shot. The nurse said pull down you pants and turn around. I did as requested. When the nurse turned around to give me the sea sickness shot, she said, I didn't mean that far!
I wasn't sick at all during the voyage. I enjoyed walking along the wooded decks and viewing the dolphins swimming along side. We were in tourist class accommodations and not permitted in first class. I took it upon my self to experience everything. My sister and myself disobeyed the signs and appeared in the first class lounge. We ordered a cocktail. The waiter wanted to know what cabin number to charge the drinks too. I flashed red and said Cabin A. We quickly downed our cocktails and left.
Every day at 3 pm. sharp, tea and biscuits were served on deck. There was a cinema showing a current movie every evening. There were activity games and prizes for the winner. I became a winner at ping-pong. Sunday a church service was conducted. Dinner was always formal with an orchestra playing the latest music. After dinner, dancing started and ended in the early hours.
Yes, my grandmother was right. Those wonderful experiences I will never forget exactly 52 years ago, as I look at the wooden toy ocean liner on my mantel. My grandmother's birthday is today, October 5th. The very day I write this essay. What a coincidence, she would be 132-years-old.
Happy Birthday Nana!