The night before we were to arrive in San Francisco, California, United States the ship’s news (printed daily) suggested those of us who hadn’t seen the Golden Gate Bridge might like to be up on deck around 6:15am as we would be sailing underneath her. Mother and I and were up and ready at 5:45am, which was just as well as it became an experience of a lifetime and somthing I hope to never forget.
The sea was calm and beautifully green, there was no breeze and there was a light smell in the air of something I have tried to remember many times … I think it might have been the ‘golden’ part of California, though I’m unsure to this day.
The sky was getting lighter reasonably quickly and by 6am it was almost fully light. There was a fog or mist around in patches and I didn’t think much about that at the time. I was, of course, totally bored and wanted to a. be back asleep, b. playing with the other children (who hadn’t come up on deck) or c. just anywhere else but where we were. Over the years this often happened … My mother had her ideas and so did I, but I usually capitulated until I was at least 15 years old. Best method to survive I feel.
We had been allowed to stand under the bridge on the fordeck and out of nowhere there was a wall of fog straight across in front of the ship. I didn’t think much about it at the time, but now when I recall it must have been the most amazing sight.
This fog/mist started to part and blobbed away in fairly big bits. In the distance I could just make out a shape, though I wasn’t able to decide what. There was a structure of some kind and it took probably another 10 mintues before I could see it was the Golden Gate Bridge, only visible in parts through the mist. As it got closer I could see it in its entirity and with the sun shining on it, it absolutely looked golden! It was as if the bridge had materialised out of thin air. My attention piqued, so I watched in awe as we steamed towards it.
I couldn’t see any of the city beyond the bridge, but then all of a sudden we were up close and personal. The bridge was huge and I was amazed. I could see cars zooming across it and there was movement.
I don’t know how to explain this, but a big ship going under a huge bridge into a harbour like that in San Francisco is awe inspiring, especially for an eight-year-old, which was how old I was when this journey took place. It felt as though the ship gained speed as we went underneath the Golden Gate Bridge. I looked up and we were on the other side within what seemed like a second, but probably three or four minutes.
The second the bow of the ship was level with the Golden Gate Bridge we could see almost the entire city of San Francisco with the sun beating down on the buildings and shining off the glass windows. In Auckland, New Zealand we had buildings only up to five storeys, so you can’t imagine how wonderful it was to see tall skyscrapers, but Coit Tower and Alcatraz were there to be seen.
We birthed at the Port of San Francisco terminal almost under the sign. We were met at the pier by a daughter of one of my mother’s friends who had married an American GI during the war. This had all be organised via written correspondence over a considerable number of months prior to our leaving Auckland. My mother was wearing a red hat so as to be seen. She always wore hat and gloves for town! Arriving in San Francisco, California was no different — she wore a suit, hat, gloves and polished handbag. I was in my one and only frock, though I did get to go shopping soon after we arrived.
By the time we disembarked it was lunch, so our new American friends and a New Zealand daughter of mum’s friend went to lunch at a restaurant. It was overwhelming being in the company of so many Americans, speaking with their American accents; there was traffic like we had never ever seen — cars, buses, trolly cars, you name it was in our face big time — which was scary.
Mother decided that as she had heard of hamburgers during the war one of those would be an appropriate option, so bugers and fries arrived with TAB colas in glasses (with ice! I’d never experienced such a thing before).
I’d be taught to eat with a fork and knife, and never with my hands, so I was curious as to how we would be eating the hamburgers without picking them up. My mother gave me a look that meant I had to wait and see. I waited quietly, but when I saw the other kids eating their fries with their fingers and dipping them into the tomato sauce I was terrified. I had to wait until my mother started eating and then I was to follow her lead.
Mother gently picked up the burger with both hands — as she had her watched friend’s daughter and others do — and bit into it. However, you have to grab a burger pretty much firmly and take control and don’t bite little. The entire contents of her burger flew across the table and the only thing left in my mother’s mouth was a small piece of the bun. The children laughed, and my mother glared at me before giggling about the mishap herself. We ordered another burger and this time got it right. I was just relieved I got to eat.
Since my first encounter, I’ve been partial to a good burger. I believe the bigger the burger, the better the challenge. I’ve tried to have at least one burger a week.
After lunch we got into our host’s car, which was the size of a playing field, and drove from San Francisco to San Matel to their tract house. We stayed in their back room. The best thing from the arrival at the house was their dog. They had a little sausage dog and he it was so sweet. I was used to sheep dogs. The entire time we stayed with them, which was about a week, this dog was my constant companion.