48. All aboard!

First thing I did was surrender my suitcase at the entry level and having checked my ticket, it was accepted and my hands were free.  I came back down to the wharf where my family and friends, who had come directly to the docks, were waiting.  

Saying the this-time-for-real goodbyes to the family before climbing the gangplank was rough to say the least, especially seeing my mother’s face and knowing this was, once again, tearing her up … it hurt.  

Then there is my sweet Noori.  I was closest to her now than ever before and knowing how dearly she loved me didn’t make this farewell any easier.  

The loudspeaker blurted out the commencement of pre-boarding for those passengers who were already residing on that ship from the previous port.  My heart skipped a beat and I can only imagine what my mother, sisters and brother and Noori’s hearts were doing.  

“Send us a postcard!”  someone said.  “Don’t forget to write!” said another.  “Remember us and return soon …”  trailed another voice.  It was time to say our final (such a word!) goodbyes.  

One by one I went to each person, young and old, hugging, kissing and wiping tears and making the repetetive promise to take care of myself and return sooner than later.  

Do you know there were a few of my family members whom I had never in my life, witnessed them shed a tear up till just now.  How heart-wrenching.  It was a long line-up of dear ones and then I get to my brother and my sisters.  

I had never seen my brother cry either and in our embrace he poured which of course caused me to cry my eyes out too!  My dear sister-in-law stood by him silently crying.  To make her smile I told her I’d miss her meals as no one could touch her cooking where I was going.  It worked.

I gave my brother a personal promise; whether or not he wanted it I would send money to assist so that he wouldn’t have to miss me that way and I reminded him that I will definitely call for him as soon as I have settled.  

To my sisters I told them how much I loved them and would miss them (I knew my little sister would be the one writing to me) and to all my nieces and nephews I laid down the promise of goodies from America.

My mother, my dearest, most precious mother.  I don’t have to tell you about the nonstop tears there.  She said to me, “Maybe I’m not going to be here when you come back.”  What a stab in my heart, I had that coming.  

I knew I’d better say something comforting and quick!  ‘Amma don’t worry please.  I promise you as I have made the same to Noori that I will be back in two years to marry her.’  

Noori was naturally standing there right beside my mother.  That statement brought a gentle smile to my crying mother’s face … and to Noori’s.

It was nearly 4 o’clock and the steamship whistle sounded.  The call for all to board was heard and went through my bones.  Noori and I embraced, tightly, she cried a lot and we repeated our love statement for one another.  ‘I will see you soon Noori.’  I assured her and she assured me in return, “I will wait for you Gary.”

Orsova ticket to.. 1959I began my ascent of the gangplank and I could hear all the crying.  I made my way to the top deck of the ship.  Boxes of streamers were laid out for the passengers to throw as their departing gesture and final tie being broken … well that’s what it felt like to me.

I grabbed half a dozen of those paper streamers and made my way to the railing of the ship, obviously dockside.  The Fiji Military band had begun a tune and the mood was set.

I see my people down there on the wharf and I can tell they’re searching for my face among the many.  A couple of the excited children spot me waving and point me out to the rest.

The Orsova horn -that sound- was blasted again, twice.  It was 4:45p and the gangplank would go up in five minutes.  I hold one end of each streamer and then begin to throw them towards the crowd, in the general direction of my family and friends.

Then the departing song Isa Lei began.  A man had caught one of my streamers and as though by fate, handed it to Noori.  She may not have caught one on her own, I don’t know and I had no idea who he was.

The big rope at the stern was first released and the ship begins a controlled slip away from the dock.  The tears and emotions for nearly everyone present were uncontrollable.  It’s such a haunting piece of music and the way the lyrics are sung, one cannot help but to lose it.

Isa is God in Fijian.  A feeling of hearts full of pleasure and return right away and your absence will bring pain … that kind of a feeling, very haunting you know.   

“Why did you come if you have to leave …”

The band is still playing and the streamers have been flying.  Now the stern has been released as the ship pulls away under it’s own complete power.
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You know this goodbye with Noori reminded me of 1953, nearly the same scenario up in Vancouver with Sonia.  I had said to her I would return to her and that we would run away and get married.  Sonia had said she would hide me from everyone.  This felt a lot like the same and I really didn’t want to suffer that love lost once again.

45. At Last I’ve Been Dealt the Perfect Hand – and the remains of Friday

January 1959

“What?!”  was all that would escape my brother’s lips.  Both my uncle and brother were clearly shocked by my answer and neither said anything more.  

I can sense my brother wants to ask me why but just couldn’t.  So I offered to tell them both why I said nothing.  ‘I didn’t want to jinx my plans,’ plainly said.

My brother and uncle still wrapped in a fog of disbelief as the rest of the staff came back into the workshop to congratulate me.  I felt a little numb.

I excused myself and went to the boss’s office to inform him.  “Nand I knew you were up to something but I had no idea it was this!  When are you set to leave?”   I told Mr. W that I had to go over to the Union Steamship Company and check for sailing dates and then I’d know for sure.  

‘The sooner the better’ was all I could think.  I assured him it could be as soon as the next few days.

Mr. W offered me leave of my duties and told me he could send my final paycheck home with my brother.  ”I expect you may need some extra time to do a little shopping, spend time with the family and oh yes, pack up your suitcase.”

He shook my hand warmly, other hand on my arm, complimenting me on my work performance and character.  He wished me tons of good fortune.  I was released from my job with his good intentions.

I went immediately across the street to the travel agency -the Union Steamship Company.  I inquired as to the very next available sailing to America.

I was told a ship was due in from the south; the P. & O. Liner Orsova, sailing northeast towards North America.  He double checked his books and informed me there would be a cabin available this Sunday for the 5p sailing.  This cost me £62.

He then told me I would have to disembark in Honolulu, leaving the ship there and head for the airport.  I paid £52 for a one-way ticket on a Pan American flight destined for San Francisco.  

Now that I had obtained my passage out of Suva, I was pretty sure I had all I would need to begin this new chapter in my life.  I caught the bus going straight home.  

C - backyard nostalgia -signed

It’s Friday afternoon.

I took off my shoes, freshened up and then went into the living room.  I sat down and placed the now somewhat notorious envelope on the table and called a family meeting.  The household members gathered.

‘I am going to America.’  I announced – nobody believed me.

My mother said “Why are you saying these things?  You’re always talking of leaving, stop this nonsense!”  

By 4p the entire clan had gathered at my house to say goodbye.  It was an afternoon of mixed emotions.   There was on and off crying going through my family home, especially coming from my mother.  Then my brother came home from work.  There was definitely a sense of sadness about; quite different than the previous times I had left my home.

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6. 🤷🏽‍♂️ Tailoring My Way Off the Island – part 1

I was 17 years of age when, with the goal of getting accepted on the SS Lakemba freighter ship, I set off to get certified as a waiter in order to be considered for employment.  That was a good starting point.

I acquired employment in the personal home of one of Morris Hedstrom’s department+ store owners. The household chef was our family friend and so brought me into the fold.  The Mr. & Mrs. had a wonderful estate there in Suva and it was definitely a great place to learn the service trade.

I perfected formal service with the frequent business meetings held there in the home.  These often included luncheons, cocktail hour and many a dinner presented in precise style.  Equally important were the slightly informal meals (yet still proper to be sure) when serving their warm and wonderful family of four.

🚲 I would ride a bicycle from home everyday, talk about fit and trim!  There was no classroom environment here; it was immediate ‘hands-on’ training.  I maintained employment as a waiter in this private home for about 6 months, learning everything there is to know regarding formal dining room service.

With my father gone and my brother fully running the household, I always shared my salary with him, with the family – pounds and shillings, it was my contribution. 💷

This kind Mr. & Mrs. who employed me knew that I would be a temporary part of their household staff; I was there to be trained so I could work on the ships and yet we equally grew fond of one another, working together very well.

The family was more than happy to give this 17-year young man a chance and make certain I learned well.  With the very full business responsibilities of the Mr., the Mrs. ran the household beautifully and I could see all the employees loved working for her.

The time had come for me to move forward.  The Mr. had a beautiful document of reference drafted up for me on Morris Hedstrom’s letterhead, providing this to me upon my departure from the position; albeit with a heavy heart unquestionably on both sides.

I left the job feeling ready as ever to board my first ship as a full-time staff member.  Well laugh if you will, it’s okay because I didn’t discover right away that I also had to be eighteen years of age at the least, in order to work where travel into foreign countries was a must.   That part was sort of missed.

Here’s the way I handled things at that time; you tell me I have do that or learn the how and why of a thing or I must get this, then that’s what I would do as just another step to my advancement.  The age requirement simply hadn’t come up at that point.  Oh brother!

So to keep me employed my maternal uncle helped me get a job as a tailoring apprentice within a Gujarat family owned store called C & A Kalyan, Ladies Tailor, phone #758, while waiting to turn of legal age in order to work aboard a ship.  I actually tailored so well I found myself making dresses for the Fiji governor’s wife & daughter; point of interest!

My time with fabrics and all that fun ran about a year’s stretch; I did enjoy being able to create that way but not as content as I could be and not always patiently awaiting my break that would carry me out to sea; gotta go – I need to go!

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+  a retail organization serving the Fiji Islands since 1868

Good morning really; it’s now 2:45a – ugh! it’s been a real long night but fortunately I get my new computer (at long last) this coming week!!   So it would seem that I missed Sunday night post time (again), “Missed it by that much!” -as one of my childhood favorite secret agents, Maxwell Smart always used to say.  LOL

I want to say thank you for returning to the story and keeping the faith in the Little Blue Masala!  Have a great week ahead and the very best of the holiday season –which ever ones those may be for you– to you and yours!