I will never forget the day February 16, 1957. It was the day I finally was leaving for America. I was 23 years old and had never left home before. My oldest sister was seventeen and dating one of the local boys of our town. My second sister was fourteen, and my youngest sister eleven years old.
Jeff on the boat to America
My family decided that all of them would take me to Rotterdam to see me off on the boat. My oldest sister's boyfriend, his parents had a Volkswagen bus and they loaned it to us for one day. This way we all could go together to the port of Rotterdam. Before we went to the shipping dock we visited my father's parents who lived in the city of Rotterdam. When I said goodbye to my grandparents, my grandfather said, "son, you better leave Holland because in the near future Holland will be so overpopulated, that people will sit on top of each other's tables." I guess in some ways he was right as Holland always had a problem with overpopulation.
After we left my grandparents' home we drove straight to the port where my ship was at dock. The ship I was going to cross the ocean with was a Dutch ship called "Zuiderkruis". It was one of those old American liberty ship which the Americans during World War II had transported their troops to and from the frontlines. The Dutch had bought some of those ships and converted them to passenger liners. In the years of the 1950s many Dutch people emigrated to the New-World, and several of those liberty ships were used. My cabin was on the lower deck where there were no windows. I didn't have much luggage, just one suitcase and a handbag. Then I took a camera along which at that time only took black and white pictures. As it became time to board the ship I hugged all of my family, and from the top deck I waved goodbye to them for a long time. As I was waving to my family I suddenly noticed Sandra, who had come to the port by herself to say goodbye. I felt bad that I couldn't go off the ship anymore to talk to her. It was too late to get off the ship as they were getting everything ready to move. The only thing I could do for Sandra was to take her picture from far away. Sandra's mother and my mother were old girlfriends, and Sandra and I had known each other since we were small children.
As the ship started to move it cleared its sailing area by blowing its powerful steam horns several times, and little by little it moved further away from Rotterdam. Eventually all I could see of Rotterdam was just a dark spot. I suddenly realized I was on my own. This was the first time that I had been on a boat and crossed the Atlantic Ocean. As strong and brave as I felt before I got on the boat, I suddenly felt a loneliness when I was in my cabin. I had taken a big step and there was no way of going back.
There were many Dutch families on this ship from all parts of Holland. Some were single men as myself, and some were Dutch emigrants who lived in Canada and were going back home after a long vacation in Holland. Then there were a few Americans on the ship who were married to Dutch women during the war time, and who had visited their in-laws. I was lucky I met a couple with three children who came from a small town not too far from my hometown. He knew my uncle very well, and his wife's parents were my grandparents' neighbors. I had never met them before; it's a small world that we had to meet each other on this trip. During the trip I was very close friends with them.
The first two days were not that bad at all on the ocean. The weather was a little cold and windy. I walked around on the open deck and looked at this mighty mass of water, and there was no end to it as far as I could see. The only living things that were following the ship were some sea gulls and dolphins, as they enjoyed the leftovers from the kitchen which were dumped in the ocean. On the ship there were all kinds of games to play to pass the time. I got involved with a small group of people on how to play poker. In the beginning of the game I won but later on I lost most of my money and was left with only a few dollars. I was later told that on those emigrant ships professional gamblers would just travel back and forth on those ships and would set up poker games to take people's money. I was one of them which those gamblers made their money off of. I learned a lesson, but it was too late because most of my money was gone. The next five days of my ocean trip we ran into a terrible winter storm. This storm made me so sea sick that I couldn't eat and just wanted to stay on my bed in the cabin. But we were told that we had to force ourselves to eat, otherwise we would get so sea sick that we would be too weak to walk. The storm became so bad that the captain decided to turn off the ship engines. One of the seamen was badly hurt as he was caught between an iron door when one of the waves hit the ship. He was in critical condition and needed hospital care. I never found out what happened to him. Even during the storm I sometimes would go to the upper deck for some fresh air, as the air beneath in the cabin make me even more sea sick. The ocean air on the upper dick made me feel so much better, but the storm scene was the most frightening to watch. The waves that kept rolling into the ship were at least thirty feet high. As the waves rolled into the front of the ship the whole front would completely disappear under water. This might of water was just throwing the ship wherever it wanted to. At night there was no way that you could sleep as the ship made all kinds of cracking noises as if it was going to split into pieces. I was told by the seaman that it was a good sign to hear those cracking noises. So long as you hear those noises you have nothing to worry about. The ship was jumping the waves and that's where the cracking noises came from. Those were some frightening days, and sometimes I wondered would I ever see New York. I said to myself, God what have I done to get on this boat.