One day, I was going with the bus to work. I noticed that all of the seats in the bus were filled. An older person came in and I got up and offered my seat. Instead of being complimented, the old man gave me all kinds of bad mouth. I was so embarrassed in front of all those people in the bus. I was just using my hometown manners, but I quickly found out that this wasn't necessary in the Syracuse bus system. Since that incident whenever I went to work with the bus, I always took a seat in the back of the bus, where I was sure I didn't have to offer me seat as I always felt sorry for old people when all seats were filled. But I didn't want to get bad mouthed again.
There were days that I would eat at home, but most of the time I ate in one of the truck stop diners. The food was not bad and the prices were very reasonable. For a long time I ate the same food day after day, until I was able to pronounce other dinner orders.
After work at night I tried to improve my English by reading small articles in the newspaper. There were many vocabulary words I didn't understand, but I used a Dutch-English dictionary for clear explanation. For a clear pronunciation I wrote down about ten words a day, and took it to work. During the lunch hour I would ask one of the workers to read the words, and I would carefully listen to his pronunciations and write them down the way I heard them say the words. I did this for a long time and gradually my English started to improve. As my English improved, my foundry manager gave me a better job on one of the operating machines, and my pay was increased.
As I was still draft eligible for the Armed Services, one day I received a letter from the Syracuse selective service office to report for a physical check-up. I passed my physical, and I was told within a few months I would get a draft notice from the army. I was kind of hoping this would happen. It would give me a chance to get away from my job in the foundry. I never liked the job very much but I had no other choice because I needed the money to support myself.
The summer had arrived, and it was my first summer in Syracuse. I liked the surrounding area with so many lakes and all the openness; there wasn't any comparison I could make form the little place I came from in Holland. Each day there was something new for me to see or to learn. My mind was constantly busy, so there wasn't much time for me to think about home. So many new things in life came along which I had never done or seen before. Frank, my friend with whom I shared the apartment, introduced me to a Dutch family who had left Holland many years ago, and lived near Skaneateles lake. Frank was dating one of their daughters. One day when I was visiting their son who had a boat asked me if I wanted to come along to go water-skiing. I told him that I liked the water and swam very well, but that I had never water-skied. He told me to come along and not to worry; he would teach me how to water-ski. So my friend handed the boat over to me to steer it around to he could show me how to water-ski. Not long after that I was in the water skiing all around. I always liked the water, even when I lived in Holland I sailed with friends on my vacation.
My English was much better, and I was making new friends every day. Some of the men I worked with at the foundry invited me to some of their parties. Most of the foundry workers were heavy beer drinkers. I was used to drinking a lot of beer. I had always done this with my friends in Holland. The Dutch boys I lived with in the apartment were very moderate drinkers.
One day one of the workers of the foundry gave me a ride home in his brand new 1957 Buick. He told me that the company was giving a clam-bake for all their employees, and I was also invited. It was on a weekend and he would give me a ride to get there. I was very impressed with his new car, and told him he must have a lot of money to buy a car like that. He said that he didn't have much money, and that he would have to make a lot of money at work to pay for it so he bought the car on credit. I really didn't know what he was talking about. he said to me, I better start establishing some credit, otherwise I could never buy anything expensive. I never heard the word credit; at home we always paid cash whatever we bought. If there wasn't enough cash we just had to wait until it was saved or for the next pay day. I always thought that most American people were rich. I found out there was so much to learn about this country.
The clam-bake turned out to be a big event. There were so many different games to play, and all the food and beer were free. This kind of party I had never seen before. Of course all the men I worked around the foundry wanted me to eat and drink beer. Raw clams I had never eaten before, I was used to eating raw herring in Holland. The pitchers of beer were a little bit too much for me, and by the time I went home I felt intoxicated. Those raw clams didn't do me any good either, as I felt sick the next day and had to stay home from work. The following day when I went back to work I had to listen to a lot of talk, as everybody in the foundry was picking at me for not being strong enough to drink that good American beer. But I made a lot more friends that day
One day I was walking around downtown Syracuse when I met a Dutch friend. I said to him, come on and lets have a few beers together. So We walked into a bar where I had never been before. There were a lot of people around the bar and having their drinks. Not too far from us were a few men talking in Italian. My friend and I were talking in Dutch. Suddenly a man got up from the bar and walked over to the Italians, and told them they'd better talk in English. The Italian men didn't pay any attention to what the man had said to them and just kept talking in their language. The man came back again and said, "I told you to speak in English," and he grabbed one of the Italians and knocked him clear through the cigarette machine. My friend and I, we didn't even finish our beer, and got out of the bar as quick as we could. The next letter I wrote to my family in Holland, the American western movies you see with all the bar fights, it's still going on.