My sister Linda suggested I write some stories of our family, and in particular this story, so credit her or blame her for the following reports and reminiscences.
I had my 3rd birthday on the Holland America Line (HAL) ship, the SS Noordam, making a cross Atlantic voyage from New York to, I suppose, Rotterdam, Netherlands. Being only three years old my memories are few and fragmented. I have an image of a corridor on the ship, maybe outside the dining room or our cabin. I remember giant tortoises on the deck that were raced and a shuffleboard on that same deck. Today the smell of almond- honey in hand cream, sixty-four years later, recalls the smell of my birthday cake made for me by the ship’s chef’s staff. The smell is of the cake’s marzipan icing which none of us liked very much. I hope my dislike of it was not to demonstrative for the sake chef’s staff which was kind enough to bake it for me. I was always a finicky eater. My mother made sure the ship’s kitchen had a supply of peanut butter and jelly as that was one of the few foods I would eat. And hamburgers.
The SS Noordam was launched in 1937 and she was completed and delivered to HAL on September 15, 1938. In Rotterdam she was made ready for her passenger-Cargo service, thus she was manned and fully stocked. The fully booked SS Noordam departed Rotterdam on her Maiden Trans-Atlantic Voyage on September 28, 1938 for her nine-day voyage to New York. She arrived in New York Harbour on October 7, and she slowly sailed past Manhattan and all the main shipping terminals and headed for her berth at Hoboken.
Ships like the Noordam and her sister the Westerdam appealed to the wealthy passenger, who in were general somewhat older and enjoyed a quieter way of life, but demanded luxurious surroundings, fine food and comfortable cabin accommodations. All cabins except one were located outside having one or two windows, and all cabins had a private bathroom with a single or twin washbasin, WC, bathtub or a shower. Cabins were available as a single, twin bedded and those with a third upper Pullman, making a twin a three-berth cabin.
The Ships Public Venues were certainly luxurious if not sumptuous, such as the Main Lounge on Promenade Deck that offered sheer elegance, style, luxurious comfort and an intimate atmosphere of the kind that is simply not found on the larger and faster passenger liners.
As per usual on the ships of this type, there was little entertainment available for there were no bands or professional musicians hired to entertain the guests, as is done by cruise companies these days, etc. However, the Lounge did have a Grand Piano and one or more of the crew was usually an able pianist and not to forget often several of the passengers could also play. On occasions, one of the passengers could be an American or Dutch movie, singing star or a musician, and at times they would delight their fellow passengers with a treat!
Of course, there was always the Gramophone in the Lounge to enjoy some music or to dance to in the evening. On various nights a movie would be shown and these were always welcome. Games were readily available, such as horseracing and other games, such as the ever popular-game of cards, and the exterior deck games. Aft on Promenade Deck was the sumptuous Smoking Room that also had a splendid Verandah overlooking the aft deck, which had a more modern deluxe style of décor that resembled some of the styles planned for Holland’s new largest Liner, the Grandiose SS Nieuw Amsterdam that was only commissioned a number of months prior to the SS Noordam.
Indented text is fromhttps://ssmaritime.com/HAL-MS-Noordam2-Westerdam-1.htm
I have fragments of memory of a white tablecloth dining room. I have seen a menu from the ship and looked for it in my scans to no avail. I will have to ask Gail about it. The preceeding report is from https://ssmaritime.com/HAL-MS-Noordam2-Westerdam-1.htm.
Other memories of Europe are all fragments, much like a photographic image.
A familiar story my mother told was about me and a boy, the son of Shell Oil Company friends of my parents who were traveling on the same ship with us. Shell was generous in those days. On our trips to Houston we were put of in the Shamrock Hilton, originally build by Glen McCarthy, a famous Texas wildcatter, who went from rags to riches more than once; and was the inspiration for the character Jet Rink played by James Dean in the movie, Giant, which was based on a novel by Eda Farber. Of course, I learned all this later. Three things stand out in my mind about the Shamrock: the smell of the lobby, a smell I’ve come upon once or twice somewhere else which it always brings back wonderful memories of the Shamrock; another is a of a topiary of groundcover in the shape of a shamrock, no doubt an inspiration of or tribute to the Irishman Glen McCarthy. I viewed the topiary from an upper floor window in the elevator foyer. And finally, the fountain at the drug store in the lobby. I will swear the chocolate milk shakes were made with Blue Bell Homemade Vanilla ice cream and Hershey’s chocolate syrup. Nothing else taste quite right if it’s not Blue Bell Homemade Vanilla and Hershey's. The memories stick with me now maybe sixty years later. And let’s not forget the world largest swimming pool, so large that on the grand opening or some other apropos occasion, a motor boat circled the pool pulling a water skier.
But back to the ship. My parent's friends from Shell who had a son of an age similar to my own. A crew of the ship was reporting that he was alone standing on the lower rail of the ship. For this he got a spanking. Then the crewman reported it again and the boy got another spanking. At the voyage's end as we were gathering to disembark, the crewman greeting us again and the boy’s parents apologizing again for their son’s behavior whereupon the crewman disclaimed, “No, not him, him!” pointing an accusing finger at me! So, it was me, forty-three years before Leonardo De Caprio, standing on the rails, facing seaward, with the wind in my face, nothing but the sea on the horizon, “something commensurate to [my] capacity for wonder.”
Now, at sixty-seven years old, I wonder, was this a symbolic act representing the masses yearning to breathe free or the foreshadowing of an inveterate rule-breaker with a contemptuous disregard for authority? Perhaps a little of both, I think.