|Ile de France|
In May of 1955 I made my first and only transatlantic crossing on an ocean liner. I was four years old and I sailed on the Ile de France from England to America with my mother, two year old brother, and my Auntie Pam to join my father and uncle in California.
Although the Second World War had ended in 1945, England still suffered the deprivations of war. One relic I have of my life in England is my ration book. It is hard to believe that food, especially fruit, was still rationed ten years after the war had ended. My parents wanted a better life and decided to immigrate to the United States. Like many before us, we boarded a ship to sail to America. I remember little of the journey but a vague recollection that the ship smelled of porridge and fresh paint.
Built by the French Line in 1927, the Ile de France was sold for scrap in 1959. But the ship had one last moment of glory. It was used as a floating prop in the 1960 disaster film, The Last Voyage and was partially sunk.
The luxurious ocean cruiser that ended its days by being sunk in a movie became a major character in the story of our immigration voyage told at family gatherings. That was my only cruising experience for over fifty years.
In 2008 I retired from public education. Now when students head back to school in the fall, I take a vacation. This past September my husband and I took a cruise on the Norwegian Line to Alaska. Although I remember little of my first voyage, I imagine it was quite different from a vacation cruise. One story my mother told of our journey was that we weren’t allowed to sit in certain deck chairs because they were reserved for other passengers.
When my mother died I kept an old leather suitcase embossed with her initials. The suitcase has a hang tag from the Ile de France. Although I arrived in the United States by boat, my family’s story isn’t different from other immigrants. We came looking for a better life. I sometimes wonder what my life would have been like if we remained in England, but it is an impossible question to answer. It is enough to be grateful for the opportunities that this country has provided for me and my family.
Life is good.