29

Journey Into The Unknown
Several other women share my cabin, but it’s Carolina, who’s especially kind. She’s exchanged her bottom bunk for my top one so I’m not forced to climb up and down at night. Now she and I stick close since she’ll be traveling deep into the U.S., too. Then after the ship docks at Yokohama, Japan, the two of us choose not to get off. The fog happens to be so thick that we figure we wouldn’t enjoy much sightseeing anyhow. Plus, it’s been difficult enough for me to rub shoulders with the many Japanese aboard our vessel. And though I know it’s wrong to resent them, with the war long over, it’s one more issue that I must turn over to God. I’m counting on Him to help me forgive those who oppressed my people and to forget bad memories. > For some reason, my roommates and I happen to dine at the same table as the ship’s captain each evening. And now that we’ve had the honor of enjoying his company, he’s personally invited us to a private tea party in his cabin.

We feel fortunate to be singled out. But while we share finger-cakes and tea, we each private wish to throw up. This seasickness has gotten the best of us. Yet we don’t want to offend our host by rushing off. Then when we finally do return to our cabin to rest, the emergency siren blares. Everyone scrambles to the deck where we must slip into life jackets. And come to find out, this whole thing is just a drill. Now my nerves are so jangled that I begin cramping badly and clutch my stomach. 266 Carolina senses that I’m in trouble and helps me down to the ship’s infirmary. Fortunately, the doctor finds that I’m experiencing false labor pains with all the excitement. So he gives me some kind of pill to help calm me down. I know I wasn’t the only one quite startled, so I thank God that it wasn’t the real thing. Otherwise, I may have lost my baby for certain. > The ship docks for the day in gorgeous Honolulu, Hawaii, so off we go, sightseeing. Carolina and I find we’re making out better than the others by

taxiing about the island rather than joining the standard bus tour. Our driver brings us to many beautiful points not frequented by those buses. And if I didn’t know better, I’d think we were in prewar Philippines. The brilliant flowers, too numerous to measure, and lush landscapes are breathtaking. Then it’s onto a marketplace for souvenirs and a late lunch at a remote restaurant. We’re both thrilled to discover Philippine food being served here. Back on the ship, night falls, and everyone gathers to attend a prearranged bingo party. But I don’t care much to participate, so I help Carolina keep an eye on all her boards. “Bingo!” we cry each time she wins. When it’s over, she insists that I keep half the money. But I refuse, and she slips me a coin anyway. I think, well, I have this quarter, so I’ll try my hand at the slot machine. After all, everyone else seems to be lining up to play. So I observe each person ahead drop their money into an opening, pull down on the great handle, and walk away a loser. I’m quiet as I slip my own coin into this contraption. Then I’m startled when its bells go off with lights flashing.

Everyone turns to see change pour out onto the floor before me. “Money for the baby!” they cry. And those nearest help me to scoop it up. There happens to be a total of thirty-five dollars, so I lug it all to the gift shop to swap for bills. Then I think, what a nice fluke because that’s the extent of gambling for me. I’ll buy something special for the baby. 267 > It’s Thanksgiving Day, 1949, and the S. S General Gordon has arrived on time at San Francisco, the United States. But with the fog so thick, we’re forced to park under the Golden Gate Bridge until evening. Then once we do land, Carolina says, “Florencia, what if you turn in your airplane ticket?” She reminds me that she’ll spend a few days here with her aunt and uncle before boarding a train for Chicago. “You can rest, see the city, and travel on with me. Then you can take another train to Washington, DC while I go to Detroit.” “All right,” I return, “thank God, we’re finally off the ship.” At this point, everyone’s luggage is checked by port officials for illegal contraband. But once we’re allowed to move away from the pier, we cross a couple who managed to bring pickled salted fish into this

country. We snicker to see that their large jar has smashed along the sidewalk. “Shoowee!” people proclaim, “It smells rotten.” Almost everyone passing is pinching their nose and pushing to get away. Now I meet Carolina’s aunt and uncle, Mr. and Mrs. Villanueva. Carolina explains to them that she’s suggested I stick around. They note my condition and agree that I ought to rest over the next few days. So they help me to exchange my ticket to travel by train rather than plane. And then we send a telegram through to Henry’s parents. > We’ve rested, shopped, and went sightseeing over the past few days. So naturally I thanked Carolina and her relatives for granting me the opportunity to see some of San Francisco because I may never pass this way again. And tonight, while we try to enjoy our final dinner in a nice Chinese restaurant, everyone is buzzing about a tragic plane crash. I'm relieved to even be sitting here because it’s a shock to learn that it was the flight I had planned to take. Everyone aboard was killed, so I’m thanking God in my heart that He impressed upon me to delay here.

Now I must trust that my train trip will be uneventful. > It’s our second day on the train, and Mr. and Mrs. Villanueva are both sweet to have packed a food sack. There are chickens, rice, fruits, breads, enough for two days of good eating. 268 But we don’t realize how long we’ve been in bed until we unzip our curtain to climb out. Everyone else is sitting upright in their seats, so we rush off to the bathroom. Then when we do return to crawl inside our tent, we’re pretty embarrassed. And to top it off, our breakfast spread smells up the compartment. So we don’t bother folding the bed up to sit with the others. Instead, we stay in to trump it up with lunch, too. “Well, it won’t be long before we’ll have to get ready for bed again anyway,” says Carolina. So we take advantage of the remaining light to see all we can through the window. We pass dry fields with cows here or there. And now and again a small town breaks the countryside. Then after dark, I say, “Well, I’m going to have to go out there to the restroom.” “All right,” Carolina returns, “that’s a good idea. I can stand to go,

too.” > Carolina’s quite surprised to find her husband here to meet her at the Chicago train station. hey’ll visit friends in the city before driving home to Detroit. But before they leave, they make sure that I’m taken care of. And they help me call my sister-in-law, Helen, at her place of work. Helen tells me she isn’t certain who will meet my train tomorrow but that I needn’t worry because someone will be there to collect me. Now I’m placed in the care of a travel agency representative, so I wish Carolina farewell. The representative then leads me to the other station where my train will depart. So for the next four hours I’m somewhat nervous to go the final stretch to Henry’s home. The time has nearly arrived for me to meet my new family. Then come evening, this same woman leads me aboard the proper train to my private compartment. “Mrs. Miller, once you arrive tomorrow, there will be another woman who will pick you up here.” I nod, and after she’s gone, I look about my room. It’s snug with a seat, wall bed, toilet, and sink. But when I draw the bed down, the toilet is situated underneath. I

stare at it and think, this is going to be some night. It’s obvious that I’ll have to lift the bed each time I must relieve myself. Then as anticipated, it turns out that I must get up and down several times. And by three thirty a.m., I can’t fall back to sleep. So I stow the bed to freshen up and get dressed. Now all I can do is to sit in the corner chair and consider what lies before me. 269 At sunrise, I head to the dining car for breakfast and sit at a narrow table for two. Then after I’ve placed my order, a young serviceman enters and comes directly over. He introduces himself as some Major to me. But I don’t understand why he sits across from me, so I politely say, It’s nice to meet you.” “It looks like you just came across the ocean,” he comments. He seems friendly, but I don’t really care to make conversation. I just say, “Yes, sir,” or “No, sir,” to whatever he asks. I’m more concerned about what I’ll face after I’m off this train. So he finally takes the hint and lets me eat in peace. I finish and return to my cabin to wait to reach my destination. When we arrive, I’m relieved because I’m tired of riding. All I’ve been hearing is the train making its clickety-clack sounds all along the

railway. And though I don’t wish to complain, it was hard to rest in my condition with so much tapping and swaying. But other than that, I feel I’ve had a wonderful traveling experience. “All out for Washington, DC!” the conductor hollers while knocking at each door. I look out my window to see people receiving those stepping off. And it’s not long before my guide comes for me. “Hello! Mrs. Miller, I’m Kelly. I’ll take care of you after I collect another lady from the end of the hail. So wait for me, okay?” “Yes, I’ll wait,” I return, and soon after, the three of us head outdoors. Now as we walk to the station, Kelly stops. “If you ladies don’t mind, wait here. I forgot something, but I’ll be back right back.” While we wait, I see that there is a person staring at me by the station’s door. Then when Kelly disappears, she slowly approaches. “Excuse me, I’m looking for Florencia.” “I am Florencia,” I say. “Oh! my--” My eyes widen. “--are you Mrs. Miller--Henry Miller’s mother?” “Yes, I am, Honey, I am.” “Oh! Mamma.”

“Honey,” she continues, ‘I’ve been waiting for you. Let’s go inside and tell the folks at the information desk that I’ve found you.” So once that’s taken care of, Mamma says she must call Mrs. Sadler because she promised to do so. I’m surprised to hear her say that, and think, I wonder why. Then while she’s on the phone, Mamma says, “No, I’m taking Florencia home with me, but you’re welcome to visit her on Sunday. But you can’t have her at your house.” She talks on a bit longer, and I learn that 270 she had to take a taxi all the way from Fredericksburg, Virginia to get me. Now I feel bad that it must have cost her quite a bit of money to cover the fifty miles. Finally, we flag a taxi together and climb in with my suitcases. I’m quietly peering out the window as we ride to her house. Then suddenly, all sorts of crazy ideas come to mind. Suppose this woman has played a part in picking me up, but she‘s not the person who‘s supposed to meet me? What if I’m being kidnapped or something? After all, I had never seen a photograph of Henry’s mother, only one of Helen, his sister. I try blocking out such thoughts by looking to the trees. Some are

half green, I think, but boy! they have a lot of dead ones about. It looks like somebody‘s going to have to cut them all down. There are only a few here and there that seems to be living. When we arrive home, I thank God that I’ve made it and that Henry’s family has taken me in. So now I have much to learn about their way of living. Then the woman from across the road returns the youngest member of this family. I meet Mamma’s young son, Melvin, and find him to be some cute boy. Now I have yet to meet the rest of the family. There are two girls, Geralene and Leta, who ought to arrive from school soon. And Helen and Dad will come later from work. Those two happen to work at the same plant. When Mamma helps me stow my belongings in Helen’s bedroom, I think, well, it looks like Helen‘s going to have a roommate. Then Mamma takes me out the back door and around the side of the house. And since it’s built on a slope, we go down the frost-encrusted incline to get into the basement kitchen. Inside, she slides a chair over for me to sit on while Melvin plays on the floor. Then she builds a fire in her wood-stove to fix lunch. I never knew this is the way they must cook their food. But I’m watching her every move. I see that there’s one section of the stove

where she puts wood in to be lit. Then when the top is hot, she warms pinto beans and leftover cornbread. The three of us share a meal and head back upstairs to sit by the warm space heater. We’re listening to Mamma’s favorite radio program when Geralene and Leta come scrambling in. Right away, they ask me how my trip was. So I share a few highlights before they head off to do homework. 271 Then after the program ends, I follow Mamma out to the woodpile where she chops enough to replenish both the kitchen and house stoves. I’m amazed that wood must be burned to heat a home in the United States, especially after coming from a country that never grows cold. So I’ll have to learn all sorts of things firsthand because Henry never mentioned how they live here at his home. But in a way I’m glad that this is how it is because it makes me feel right at home. Then while Mamma prepares supper, Helen comes through the door and embraces me. “How is my sister-in law?” My father-in-law steps in, too, and shakes hands with me. “How is my new daughter?” Now we all sit around the table to eat and get acquainted. Then at bedtime, we’re back upstairs, and Mamma and Dad adjust the heater to

burn slowly since it’s directly across from their bed. Helen and I go to her room, and it turns out to be a new experience for me. She chuckles when I gasp while slipping between the bed sheets. They’re so cold that I tremble all over with my teeth chattering. I think, I dread to get up in the night to use the portable potty in the corner. But being pregnant, the urge to go often is like never before. Then when I finally do come to rest on its rim, I nearly tip the thing over because it stings like ice. > I feel sorry for Mamma. It’s four o’clock in the morning, and I hear her head out through the cold to the kitchen below. It’s awfully early for her to be up, but I suppose she must start breakfast for Dad and Helen to get out on time. Come to find out, she’s prepared biscuits with gravy, sausage and eggs for everyone. And after almost everyone is off to work or school, it’s just me, Melvin, and Mamma to ourselves again. While we sit by the wood stove, I ask, “Mamma, what do you do throughout the day? And how do you take care of laundry with no running water in the house? And exactly how do you clean the portable

potties?” “Well, I empty the potties in the outhouse and set them outside until evening. As for laundry, I draw water from our well--it’s right outside the backdoor.” Now she explains how she boils water in her cooker to clean clothes in her “wringer” washing machine. Then they’re rinsed in a metal tub and hung on the clothesline to dry. 272 > I’m talking to my mother-in-law about going to see a doctor about my baby. I’m supposed to be monitored now that my delivery date is getting closer, so I hope there’s a doctor nearby.” “We’ll be going into town on Saturday,” she says, “and we’ll take you to see Dr. Bush.” > The doctor tells me all is well. The baby’s okay, so we only need to wait for it to arrive. So I thank God that this is done. At least I have a doctor who will be taking care of me during the delivery. Now the whole family takes me downtown to shop for little Christmas gifts since the holidays nearly here. I’m thinking, what I should get for my husband? After asking him

what he might want in one letter, his reply was that he wants nothing but a baby. So just for kicks, I purchase a small doll to mail to him, overseas. Then I buy something small for each member of the family. I’ve never had Christmases like this but think, well, this is just a new experience in my new life here in America. > Helen has brought the family to her boyfriend’s church to see a Christmas play. Many people are portraying the birth of the Messiah, Jesus Christ. And I enjoy the program, although I’ve never seen anything like it before. Then the following day, it’s Sunday, so we’re off to church. The Baptist service also turns out to be different from what I’m accustomed to, but I enjoy it nonetheless. There is much group singing followed by people telling the story of Jesus’ birth. Then the minister preaches a Christmas message of joy and salvation. Once we’re back at home, Mr. and Mrs. Sadler come to visit me. I’m so thrilled to see someone I knew back home. And I’m also glad to know that I can count on them if I ever need someone other than my

new family that God has given me. I sit here, thinking, every one of my new families is being good to me. They all seem to genuinely love 273 me. So I still have much to learn about love since it wasn‘t so openly expressed in my country the way it is here in America. I also miss my husband since I’ll be celebrating Christmas with my new parents, sisters, and brother while he’s still overseas. This baby must be saying he or she likes Christmas, too, because it keeps jumping within me. Now I’m thankful to know that it’s healthy. And it’s wonderful to have it this close to keep me from feeling lonely while Henry and I are apart. 274