Coming to America: The Lord watched over our trip
At home, it was a daily occurrence that dad would pray (out loud) before the meal, and then each of us would say our individual prayer. In addition, he always read from the bible at the end of the meal. Before the meal we heard the familiar, “Let us pray.” We remembered that dad had always taught us that, “God sees and hears everything.”
Seeing that we had a turbulent Atlantic Ocean to cross, it seemed like a good idea to not upset the Almighty. We folded our hands and closed our eyes, and dad prayed. It was so embarrassing. I peeked quickly and saw other people looking at us! When it was over the waiters began to serve. We soon forgot about the “prayer” embarrassment and began to enjoy this new experience.
This was going to be alright. The food was delicious and the desert beyond words, and we were even allowed to order seconds. Dad graciously said that, “we will do the bible reading back in our cabin.” That gesture was much appreciated.
After supper and bible reading, it was bedtime. It had been a long day and tomorrow there would be more excitement. We had entered the Atlantic. The huge ship began to take on a gentle rolling motion. It was strange trying to go to sleep in a bed that rocked, in a room that squeaked, and where waves were splashing against our porthole.
We all said our prayers before getting into bed, remembering what dad had said about God hearing and seeing everything. He had told us that we were all in God’s hands. It made us feel a little more secure. I fell asleep dreaming of the Cowboys and Indians that I would see in another week or so in America; in what would be our new homeland; the land just beyond the horizon.
In the morning it took a few minutes to orient myself to my new surroundings. Things definitely had changed from the night before. What had been a gentle rocking motion, like riding on a slow moving horse during the night, changed into a whole new experience. The horse now was not only galloping, but it was bucking and trying to toss me.
Getting up, getting dressed and doing those things that one normally does first thing in the morning, now presented challenges never before encountered in my living experiences. The simple task of sticking your leg into your pants, when suddenly the floor seemed to slide away, was really frustrating. Then, when you think you have it all figured out, the floor began to lean in an entirely different direction.
I must have looked rather silly to my brother, Jan, in the other bunk. I soon figured out that getting dressed was much easier sitting down on the edge of the bed. Looking out of the porthole, it was obvious that we were in a storm. I, of course, being rather curious about things, had to go and see what this was all about. I ran up the stairs and opened the door to the ship deck. The wind almost tore the door out of my hands. It was a storm alright. My first sea storm experience.
Wow, what a sight. Gigantic waves crashed over the bow of the ship. The ship shuddered against the onslaught of the giant waves. Suddenly the bow changed its direction, and it seemed to fall forward into the sea. I clung to the railing, fascinated. Then I saw other passengers also clinging to the railing. They obviously had already had their breakfast, and they were now in the process of feeding the fish. They looked awful.
I went back down to our cabins to share my observations with the rest of the family. It was then that I saw my mother and several of my sisters. They too looked awful, like the people I had seen on deck! They too had become seasick victims. I offered to bring them breakfast: toast, eggs and bacon, but the mere mention of food intensified their suffering.
The rest of us, who were not sick, were hungry, and we were anxious to go to the ship dining room. There were a lot of empty tables! Our waiter told us that it would probably be that way for a few days as we battled the Atlantic. Over the next few years, I would cross the Atlantic several times by boat and not once suffer sea sickness.
It was not until many years later, on a car ferry, crossing Lake Michigan, that I learned first-hand what it is like being seasick. It was then that I realized I should have been more sympathetic to the plight of my mom, sisters and those passengers leaning over the railing,
A nautical map was posted each day at noon on the ship’s bulletin board, plotting the position of our ship in the Atlantic; the distance traveled in the past twenty four hours and the remaining distance to New York. We were still a long way from the land of the Cowboys and Indians; and for this teenager it was wonderful news. It meant that there was a lot of time left to explore this new, temporary world of ours in the middle of the Atlantic. And, at least so far, “the Lord was watching over us.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: Gerrit Lamain is a former Copper Country resident who served as a music professor at Suomi College. He was also the organist for the Michigan Tech hockey team before moving on to the Minnesota North Stars.