Published online by Cambridge University Press: 07 September 2018
For months it was impossible to find vacancies on a regular passenger ship, because so many of them had been refitted for troop transport during the war. Some had been released unmodified for passenger service, and we booked two berths. The ship had a single accommodations plan: food and service were the same for every passenger. The cabins on the two upper decks were reserved for American and British passengers, who had won the war; on the middle decks were the Scandinavians and the Swiss, whom the war had made rich. Below were the liberated French, the Italians, the Irish, and the stateless, my son and I. We still weren't US citizens, though we carried a re-entry permit.
The Italians aboard the ship had worked and saved for this trip home, where they made a prince's appearance in their villages and spent one or two hundred dollars in four weeks. Then they went back to America to begin saving for the next trip. Now the time had come again to see their relatives and to be the object of their amazement. Shortly before our arrival, they packed their cabin bedding as travel gift s.
We had sailed for 18 days on calm seas under a bright autumn sun, and were approaching Ireland. Twenty four hours before arriving, the side of the deck from which land could first be sighted was scattered with whisky bottles. A group of older Irishmen and women, who hadn't seen their home in ages, were now returning. We stopped on the high sea, a launch took them away, and we continued through the English Channel. Th e sun went down. We were scheduled to dock at Le Havre early the next morning. In the night, someone woke me. I got dressed. We went on deck and the man pointed off in a direction, then left me alone. The ship moved forward slowly. I saw two distant searchlights cut the dark sky. They were shining from Europe, from France. I cried a little.