Immigrant Soldier: The American Journey of Albert J. Heim

Memories of Albert Heim (Part 2)

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Crossing the Atlantic

My relatives, mother and I had a very early breakfast this morning, but all I took was a cup of chocolate.  It was impossible for me to eat, I felt very tense and some what frightened.  Once again, the ordeal of saying farewell to my mother came upon me and I can not describe the loneliness that came over me she kissed me and like father held me so tight.  I knew, that from now on I would be alone.  It would be up to me now to make my own decisions.  I must know now, right from wrong.  Some how I felt strange, I believe I did not cry too much.  Perhaps I began to realize, that this was no kid stuff any more.  - - -

I must have stood on the deck for a long long time, waving to those I left behind, while two tug boats were pushing the ship into the Elbe River.  The docks disappeared into the mist and finally we entered the Channel and I still stood on the deck looking towards where the docks were. 

Some one tapped me on the shoulder.  As I turned around, I recognized the same officer that took us around the ship the day before.  He asked me: Is alles gut, Junge?  (Is everything O.K.)  Then he told me to go to my cabin, so I could meet my fellow passenger, then go to the dining saloon and get my Speisekarte, my reservation at the table in the dining saloon.  And he thought, perhaps, this would keep me busy for a little while.  I thanked him and did just what he suggested and somehow this really  snapped me out of my sad reverie.  I met my fellow cabin passenger and he was very friendly and nice.  He was very young and a very handsome character.  During the entire trip we were together mornings and when retiring in the cabin at night.  Of course he had more interesting associates than me on the ship and I certainly could understand why.

I was just living in a world of wonders and I was so absorbed in not missing a thing that I almost forgot that I was on the sea.  Sailing through the North Sea was rather smooth but there was quite a difference when we passed through  the English Channel.  To me this ship seemed awfully big, but I found out, that this channel water sure could push a ship around  and walking on the deck was all together different than walking on terra firma.  I can still remember seeing the green and red light flashes from the light houses on the distant horizon on each side of us.  England on the right and France on the left, so I was told by another passenger.  Before long we were entering the Atlantic Ocean and from now on, it would only be sky and water for 14 days, baring storms or other difficulties.  For a kid like me, that is an awful lot of water and I was just wondering how deep it was and then I thought they really should have more than one ship sailing together instead of just one ship.  These were some of the thoughts that ran through my so scared and worried mind.  Again I realized this sure is no kid stuff and especially for a greenhorn like me.  Another thought dawned on me, there just is no way of getting of this thing - - - so, while I was going through all this misery, a bugler at the center of the promenade deck sounded a rather nice call.  I was informed that this was the call for dinner and suddenly I realized that I really was hungry.  In no time at all I occupied my seat at the table in the dining saloon.  I must admit, the first few days on board I always felt very uneasy at the table.  Of course truth was, that I did not know too much about table etiquette, of what to do and how to do it.  Never in all my life did I see so many knives, forks and spoons, glasses and plates and all kinds of other gadgets laid out before me on the table.  They even had  a ring around my napkin with my name on it.  Boy, if only my buddies at home could see me now, I am almost certain that they would think, that this is an awful sissy way of eating a meal.  All that fuss - - -

It may be laughable now, but just picture a simple and stupid kid like me, being pushed into a place like this ?  The food looked delicious  and it smelled heavenly but all of a sudden I lost my appetite, because I was afraid I would show my ignorance  and I certainly would feel  worse if any one should laugh at me.  This was really a calamity especially  when one is as hungry as I was, and I was getting desperate and said to myself:  Laugh at me or not, I’m going to eat it the way I know best.  However, my guardian angel certainly was with me, for he sure fixed things just right for me.  There were an elderly couple, who sat next to me and especially the lady, who really understood my dilemma at once.   Boy, how I loved this lady, she certainly was a queen.  She whispered to me:  “Young man, just do as I do, verstehen sie?” (understand?)  I certainly understood, but the only trouble was, that what ever she ate, I ate the same thing in exactly the same manner as she did.  I used the same utensils, when she would wipe her mouth with the napkin, I too would be wiping m mouth and some times I did not know what for - - - I made one horrible mistake however, when she took a small decanter of wine and filled her glass.  I had no idea it was wine, so I too filled my glass.  Well, out of nowhere  the waiter came to me and informed me that this was not for me.  He also and politely asked me, if I was allowed to drink wine at home.  Ah, but my dear  old friend was right on line.  This is what she told the waiter:  For heaven’s sake, the little fellow thought it was lemonade, don’t you think I would have stopped him?  And if you could have seen the expression on her face, one really would have thought that she was indeed angry at the waiter who was trying to correct me in front of all those nice people at the table.  Of course the well-trained waiter knew his place and immediately apologized for being so hasty.  Well, this may not sound like a big incident to some people but to me it was a catastrophe.  My dear old friend smiled at me and she remarked:  This was indeed very funny, and now that it was all over, I too thought it funny and we both had a good laugh.  Before we left the table my friend gave me her cabin number and she asked me to see her in an hour.  After this meal I did not go to my cabin but waited in the reading room and exactly  on the hour I knocked on her cabin door.  What  a delightful visit I had and what a fine and motherly lady she was.  Her husband was also real warm and friendly and when we recalled the wine – incident he just burst out laughing and remarked that this was really funny. The lady gave me a regular course in dinner mannerisms and she told me that she would guide me and never to worry again. She also impressed upon me not to sit there as though I was sitting at attention but to relax and be as cool as a cucumber.  Oh, what a fine feeling, when I left this nice couple and from now on it would be smooth sailing for me this was really the only difficulty I encountered so far.  It seems to me, that the good Lord takes better care of dumb people than the smart ones.

So, the days on the Pennsylvania were certainly exciting ones for me.  There were concerts, masquerade parties and dances.  Of course these were all affairs for grown ups, but I sure had a lot of fun watching and I do not think, that I missed a trick.  I met many American children on board.  They and their parents were on their way home from a visit to their relatives in Europe.  We kids on board had indeed much fun, playing all sorts of games on a certain section on the deck during the day and in the evening the stewardess would supply us with indoor games and also refreshments.  A few times during the trip  a shout would come from a sailor who was stationed in the crow’s nest on the look out mast.  Walfish an den steuerboard side – (whale on the starboard side).  How we would rush to the railing on this particular side of the ship and what a sight to see these monsters plowing through the waves, spouting  water into the air.  We also saw flying fish and porpoises along the side of the ship.  What an education, this certainly has it all over a textbook in school.  The seagulls are really amazing birds, they never seemed to get tired flying over and around our ship.  For two days we saw seagulls flying over our masts, but on the third day they were gone.  I asked some one about this and they informed me, that before long we would see them again and then it would only be a matter of a few days before we would see land again.  That certainly was good to hear and gave me something to hope for.  Every day at 4:00 p.m.  I would look at a chart on the large bulletin board to see what progress the ship had made.  The red line on the chart would seem to advance so slowly and being so impassioned the distance between the end of the red line and New York seemed as though it would never close.  Well, I guess this was natural, kids just do  not have much patience .  Every night before I retired I would go and stand by the rail just at the end of the promenade deck and say my prayers.  Even though I had a wonderful time during the day at that particular time I could not help but feel so alone and terrible home sick.  I often wondered, what is worse, homesickness or seasickness.  I was spared of seasickness but I certainly had plenty of experience  in homesickness.  I shall always remember one evening as I was standing near the rail, feeling sorry for myself and the salt water from eyes was rolling down my cheeks, I could hear a slow tap, tap on the wooden surface of the deck of some one coming closer and closer towards me.  I did not pay much attention at first but after a while I realized that the person stood right in back of me.  Then the man’s fingers went through my hair  and his other hand on my chin he then pulled my face up to his and looked at me.  I recognized him at once, it was the same nice officer who showed us around the ship the day before I sailed.  Na Junge, was geht hier an jezt? (Well, young fellow, what is going on here?) how come, you got wet cheeks, certainly the ocean is not that rough to splash water all over your face?  I could not answer him for quite a while and he did not question me any further but he held me very close to him. I really was glad he did this it felt so comfortable and the two of us just stood there for some time looking over the dark sea. - - - Then all of a sudden he pointed towards the bow of the ship and told me to look hard.  I could not imagine what I was supposed to look at but I looked and looked ‘till my eyeballs almost fell in the ocean.  Junge, he said, Kannst du das licht nicht sehen (Young fellow, can you not see the light?)  Well I looked real hard and sure enough way out in the distance I first saw one light then more and more lights all in a straight line.  Boy oh boy, it’s another ship, I bellowed.  Ja he answered, it is the other ship on its way to Europe, about one mile from us.  That certainly was an unexpected sight  and we watched the lights  for quite some time, until they sank beyond the horizon.  He still held me close to him and finally he said, Suppose we take a little walk around the deck now and while we walk let’s talk.  What a fine officer and gentleman - - - He informed me that due to the fact that I was traveling all by myself, for the entire  trip, the ship company appointed him as a sort of guardian over me and to keep an eye on me, so no one would molest me and also keep me from getting into trouble.  This is a rule of the Hamburg American Line and he also informed me that I was the only juvenile traveling alone on this trip.  He then remarked, that for a lad my size, I was doing O.K.  We really had nice long conversation.  I also found out that he too had a son about my age, and he hoped, that while he was on the sea away from his family, some one would be nice to his son.  Then he asked me, would you say, that my son misses his father too?  Just like you miss yours now ? So, you see, you are not the only one to feel lonely it’s natural.  Anything that we had which was good, of course we miss and we feel sad, but we should also be thankful, because we had something that was good.  By his time we came to the entrance of the big stairway that leads to the center of the ship.  He then gave me a good slap on the rear and said: Na Junge es ist schon spat, so Gute Nacht.  (Well, young fellow it’s getting late, so good night.)

I went right to my cabin, my fellow passenger was still around the ship enjoying himself.  I really felt very good and in no time at all I fell asleep.  It really made me think however, there are so many nice and friendly people one comes in contact with and I am just wondering  before long I am liable to run up against people  that will not be so nice and friendly , so as my good friend, the ship’s officer no doubt would say:  Junge, Pass auf.  (Young fellow, look out.)

Early one morning about the seventh or eighth day at sea I woke up rather suddenly.  Something strange was happening and my fellow passenger too was awake and felt the same.  First my left shoulder would press against the side of my bunk bed and then over I’d go against the opposite side of my bunk bed.  Of course it did not take very long to surmise what really was happening.  We were no doubt going through a storm, and the ocean must surely be pretty rough.  In no time at all I was dressed but what a problem I had, trying to wash my face.  I guess I must have filled the basin too much because the movement of the ship and the level of the water in the basin just would not agree with one another and half of the water in the basin spilled right on top of my shoes.  So, here I am with wet feet in a dry cabin.  My fellow passenger  really enjoyed this episode.  He thought it to be very amusing but at the same time he learned from my experience.  What  a smart cookie – wouldn’t you know, he washed his face first, and then he put on his shoes.  - - - I did not have to wait too long however, before I had the laugh on him.  I asked him, would he come to breakfast with me.  He replied, that he did not think he would go just yet.  I asked him, are you not hungry ? you have not eaten since last night, I know I am just about starved.  His reply was that he really did not feel good at all and looking at him more closely I noticed  he was rather pale.  The truth of the matter was  that my dear cabin mate was just plain sea sick.  I was indeed very lucky, for this rough weather did not bother me in the least.  So, out the cabin I went for some breakfast.  What an experience, trying to walk up the corridor.  It was indeed very fortunate that hand rails were on the sides of the corridor to hold on to.  Now I know the meaning of sea legs. When I came to the open stairway which leads to the dining saloon, tight ropes were stretched  all over the place and members of the ship’s crew were stationed here and there to help the ladies trying to get to the dining room.  To me it was really exciting and I did not seem to have any trouble at all getting around.  I thought before I go to breakfast I would go on deck and have a look.  I wanted to see what it really was like in a storm at sea.  When I came to the door, a sailor politely informed me, Not today young fellow, it’s too risky in this kind of weather.  He must have seen my disappointment because he informed me to go to the upper deck, which was enclosed but he advised me to hold on to the ropes because one could be thrown to the floor very quickly due to the movement of the ship during a storm.  I thanked him and up the deck I went.  Quite a few passengers were there, watching the angry elements  playing with our ship.,  It was really awesome, there was thunder and lightning and the waves were like moving mountains.  First our ship would be up on the summit and then down we’d go into a valley of boiling water and now and then the entire bow of the ship was covered with tons and tons of water.  Quite often on the downward ride the propellers or screws of the ship would partly get out of the water and the entire ship would quiver and shake which gave one a very uncomfortable feeling.  I heard remarks of some of the sailors talking to passengers, that the storm would not last too long and that by noon we were to expect a change in the weather.  That certainly made me feel better and by now, I had enough of Neptune’s temper.  When I arrived at the dining room for breakfast I certainly was surprised, more than half of the passengers were not present.  At our table only six persons showed up including myself.  My dear friends, the elderly couple were also absent.  I particularly noticed the table.  The flat surface of the table was divided into a lot of square frames all the plates, cups and saucers fitted exactly into these frames.  I soon found out, that if it were not for these frames, all the plates, cups and saucers would slide of the table and would probably land into the laps of the passengers due to the movement of the ship during a storm.  Our waiter, by the way, was indeed very nice to me this morning.  He inquired as to how I felt and enjoyed the rough weather.  I told him I was just a little scared and hoped that we would be soon out of this mess.  He then informed me that at dinner time all these frames would be off the table for we were heading into better weather again.  That was the second time I heard this good news which made me ask the waiter if I could have another roll and more chocolate.  He nodded and smiled and I think felt satisfied that he relieved a kid from a lot of worry and being scared too much.  After breakfast I went to my cabin to see how my fellow passenger was getting along.  He looked terrible and he certainly was a very unhappy tourist.  I asked him if I could get him something.  He did not answer me he just took the pillow turned around in his bunk bed and put the pillow over his head and I thought I heard him mumble something like dying. - - - That fellow really was sick and of course I did not know how serious seasickness was so he had me worried.  I just had to help this fellow so I went to the stewards desk at once.  The gentleman must have seen that I was all excited the way I told him  my tale of woe.  Langsam, langsam mein Junge, (take it easy young fellow)  he said, now just what is wrong with your friend.  So again I told him how terrible sick my friend was.  He just smiled and then he gave me a note and I was to go to the main bar give the note to the bar tender.  I handed the note to the bar tender and he just shook his head and said, they certainly hire the nurses awful young now. – He mixed up some sort of a drink in a glass and he told me to make sure my friend would drink all of it and not to leave the cabin.  I asked him how much for the medicine. He replied, Ach du lieber, doch gar nichts.  I have been mixing many drinks like this to day.  Of course with a polite danke schon (thank you) I went off to my cabin.  What a job, one hand on the rope or railing and trying to balance the glass in the other because the ship was still rolling quite heavy.  But I made it to the cabin O.K. and here was my partner sitting on the side of his bunk holding his head between his hands.  How do you feel now, I asked him. Just terrible, just lousy, he replied.  He noticed the glass in my hand.  So, I explained to him where I went and that this would help him and make him feel better.  He drank all of what ever was in the glass, then he squeezed my hand and remarked that I was indeed a fine Kamerad to have.  He also asked me not to hang around this musty cabin, go up into the fresh air he said and do not worry about me I’ll be O.K. in no time, and believe it or not, you are a better sailor than I am.  To be truthful I was rather glad to leave the cabin. If I would have watched him for another few minutes, I would have been just as sick as he was.  He did not have to tell me twice for I was up on the deck in no time and that fresh sea air surely smelled just fine.  On deck I met some of my young acquaintances and we decided we would go for our mid morning snack.  It was a daily custom to serve beef broth and crackers between 10:00 and 11:00 a.m. however this morning we were out of luck because it was too rough to walk let alone serve beef broth  on the deck.  At about 2:00 P.M.  a ray of sunshine broke through the clouds and every one was indeed happy to see this good sign.  I also met my dear old friends the elderly couple and I inquired why they were absent at breakfast and lunch.  They just laughed and informed me that they just did not feel like breakfast or lunch.  I spent most of the afternoon on the promenade deck and little by little the clouds disappeared and it turned out to be a very nice day.  However the ocean was still very angry.  By dinner time all the ropes were removed and the hand rails were really enough for support.  The water too became less turbulent and it looked as though we were getting back to normal again.  Almost all the afternoon I spent on the upper most deck on the ship, where the wireless station was situated.   A sign on the door read, NO ADMITTANCE.  On the side of the structure was a very large window. So, my two playmates  who were with me at the time stuck our noses against the window glass and took a peek.  Two men in uniform were inside, they looked up and just gave us friendly wave and kept right on with their work.  All we saw was a lot of panels, knobs and switches  and the only thing that was really interesting  to us kids was the click, click, click of the key which one of the men was operating.  Our curiosity was satisfied and we decided to go to the bulletin board and check the ship chart to see what progress we made.  We noticed  that today’s distance was longer than yesterday.  The three of us had quite a discussion we figured that the storm should have held us back some.  A gentleman who was also looking at the chart must have overheard us experts and he cleared the mystery at once by informing us that we were sailing with the storm and were actually making better time than the day before.  For the next few days the ocean was far from being calm, however all normal activities on the deck took place.  Most of the passengers seemed in pretty good shape.  This was the month of November and the weather as a rule was very brisk.  However one morning as I went up on deck I noticed that the weather was really mild and it felt as though it was spring.  Before long we were surrounded in a very thick fog.  It was impossible to even see the bow of the ship from the promenade deck, and to make it weird, the claxon foghorn would sound every three minutes and now and then the ship’s whistle would boom out with its low and mournful wail  This kept up almost all night and it sure can make a person feel very uneasy.  Of course once I got to sleep, even a canon could not wake me.  My first trip the next morning was to get to the deck to see what the weather was like.  What a pleasant morning and thank God, it was indeed a beautiful day.  Breakfast really tasted good this morning, it always does on a nice day.  After breakfast on my way up the stairway, two of my young acquaintances hailed me and urged me to hurry, for they had something to show me.  I almost broke my neck getting to the deck thinking that perhaps it was another passing ship or a school of whales.  It was none of these, but it was one of the most welcome sights I ever did see.  Above our ship masts a number of beautiful seagulls were gliding and diving around our ship.  I remembered at once, the sight of seagulls will soon mean the end of this sea voyage.  I lost no time at all in asking one of the ship’s officers, how long will it  be before we land in New York ? He smiled, and informed me, perhaps 10.00 a.m. the next day.  I was so happy to hear this good news and I just kept watching the seagulls that I almost missed my lunch.  After lunch I found myself a deck chair and just kept watching the horizon ahead, thinking that perhaps that I might see land. We saw a beautiful sunset today and darkness soon settled over the ocean and it was time to go to dinner.  A special menu was placed before us for this was our last dinner on the ship.  It was indeed a gala affair and after the meal our captain made a very nice farewell speech.  When the affair was over, the passengers at each table shook hands and bade each other Auf Wiedersehen because in the morning there would not be too much time due to the quarantine and immigration routine.  So I said goodbye to my wonderful friends and the lady just took me into her arms and gave me a farewell hug and kiss that was really genuine.  I thanked her for being so kind to me and she took my parents address for she wanted to write to them as soon as possible and tell them not to worry about me. It really was not very easy for me to say goodbye to such nice people for they made my trip a pleasant one and they also taught me so much. At least I learned how to behave at a dinner table.  When I recall the attitude I had during those first days in the dining saloon on board ship, when I thought, why all this fuss and bother just to eat a meal  - - I really was a first class hillbilly and now I feel quite satisfied of my accomplishment, at least now I know how to act like a gentleman even though I’m only a 14 year old kid.  After dinner and all the farewells I went to my cabin to get some warmer clothes, because I wanted to be on deck and perhaps be one of the first to see the lights of the American shore.  It was really getting late and I became chilly standing near the rail in the damp and brisk night air.  No lights came in sight, only the dark ocean.  It must have been almost  midnight when I arrived at my cabin.  I found my cabin mate very busy packing so I thought I would do the same.  However it did not take me very long to get my things squared away, for I only had very few clothes that were easy to pack in my small wicker basket.  I was all set for the proceedings that were to come in the morning.  For some reason  I could not sleep well and the sound of the breakfast call was indeed very welcome.  On my way to the dining saloon I noticed that every thing was rather quiet, more than usual.  Instead of going for breakfast I went up on deck to see what happened.  Lo and behold the ship was not moving, in fact we were anchored in a large harbor.  I looked around me and I could see buildings on the shore and many ships also anchored near us.  But there was one sight that I shall never forget, not too far away from our ship was this beautiful statue of the lady holding high a torch.  I suppose, every emigrant will keep this lady in his memory for ever.  Yes, the Statue of Liberty – I must admit, I never heard of this statue before, not until this day, November 1, 1911 - - -

I sensed that someone was in back of me and as I turned, it was my cabin mate.  He explained that he too  wanted to see this beautiful lady.  He also told me all about this statue.  Although I did not know it now, but in future years to come on quite a few occasions I was indeed very glad to see her again.  At this moment the second call for breakfast came across the deck and my cabin mate and I lost no time in getting to the dining saloon.  On our way, he bade me Auf Wiedersehen  and he remarked that I was the little buddy he ever had and he was grateful, because I tried to cheer him up when he was so seasick.  Although we did not have too much in common, after all, he was so much older than I, quite a few times, when I was not fully asleep, I felt the covers being put around my shoulders before he retired.  It was this little act that made me trust and like him.  Arriving in the dining room, I noticed there were no tables set up as usual.  Every thing was served buffet style.  Every one seemed to be in an awful hurry but it did not stop me from going back for a second helping.  Half of the dining room was roped off and the ship’s personnel were setting things up for the health and emigration authorities.  This particular routine was set up for all first and second class passengers.  Our ship will dock at Hoboken, N.J.  and after passing through health and emigration all the first and second class passengers will disembark there.  Then the ship will dock at Ellis Island, where all the third and steerage passengers will be processed before entering the United States.  I had just finished my breakfast, when my good guardian the ship’s officer approached me and he suggested that I get all my gear, come back to the dining saloon, look for section H and sit there until my name was called.  He then ruffled my hair, shook my hand and wished me good luck in America.  Like every one else he too seemed to be in a hurry, but I thanked him for being so kind to me and told him, that knowing, he kept watch over me made my trip so wonderful and made me feel very secure.  I will never forget him and I always will have the highest regard for the Hamburg American Steamship Line and its officers.  I left for my cabin at once and picked up my few belongings and they were indeed few.  Me and my small wicker basket with a lock and handle on it.  I am almost certain, that of all the passengers aboard there was no one that traveled as light as yours truly.

So, after finding section H I just sat down and waited and waited and waited.  The time passed so slow and the longer I waited the more marbles and wagon wheels would start rolling around my  stomach.  This of course was natural  I was so anxious to see my aunt and my uncle, who will meet me and take me off the ship.  I heard my name called – quicker than a flash, I stepped forward to the first table.  These were the health authorities.  Of course I had to open my mouth and say A, next came the eye, ear and nose examination and then I must have answered a hundred or more questions and then I was moved to the emigration section.  After producing my passport the questioning started all over again and finally I was told to just wait in the dining saloon until my relatives came to claim me.  The questioning was bad enough, but Oh this waiting and waiting.  I noticed that our ship had been moving for quite some time.  In the distance I saw very long buildings right on the water line ahead of the ship.  On one of these buildings I saw a great big sign:  Hamburg American Steamship Company.  Before long several tug boats came along side the ship and in no time at all we were secure at the piers of the steam ship company.  A good hour must have passed, when all of a sudden two familiar faces appeared in the entrance of the dining saloon.  With a happy yell I rushed  up to my aunt and she told me later, she thought that this was her last breath, that is how tight I squeezed her. Of course my uncle agave me a good sized hug also.  Tears of joy were rolling down my face and I was so excited that I just shook all over. While I answered a million questions my aunt put to me, my uncle went over to the emigration table and produced some sort of paper.  I saw the official nod his head and that was it.  I was allowed to leave the ship and down the gang plank we walked and at last I set foot on American soil.

This happened many years ago in the year 1911 to be exact.  I wondered many times, what would I have done, if I could have looked into the future then and saw what was ahead for me?

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