From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the Continent —Winston Churchill
“Oh, no! no! that can’t be right!” My stomach churned. This could not be happening! I was trying not to panic, but was very close to tears. So much for the sophisticated feeling I had when I walked up the ramp and stepped aboard the sleek, new ocean liner, the SS United States, that would be taking me to Europe. I’d had a wonderful time in New York City the day before, topped off with an evening at the theater. Seeing a play on Broadway was an experience like none other for this drama major from the Midwest. I’d had the “dog seat”—K-9—that the usher assured me was the lucky seat in the house. I was thinking that nothing could go wrong given such a fortuitous start to my overseas adventure.
But go wrong it did. The purser had just informed me that my steamer trunk was not on the ship’s manifest. I tried to figure out why since I knew from the bill of lading that it had been shipped in plenty of time. It had to have arrived, I insisted.
“I’m sorry, miss, but I have no record of it,” the purser replied, not too patiently.“What can I do? It’s got to be here. Can I look for it?” I was desperate. All my worldly goods were in that trunk. I couldn’t arrive in Europe with a just a suitcase! In fact, I couldn’t even sail with just a suitcase. My whole assignment abroad with the CIA was in jeopardy.
“Well, yes, you could get off the ship and go down to the loading dock and see if you can find it,” the purser offered, having no better suggestion. “But, the baggage area is as big as a football field. Start with the first class section.” Of course I’ll start there, I thought, since I have a first class ticket, but that seemed too smart-alecky to say, so I simply turned away and headed for the gangplank.
Then it hit me. If I couldn’t find my trunk in the first class section I would have to troop through the all the other sections. The ship was sailing in an hour and a half. Did I have enough time? What about Tod? He was coming to bid me bon voyage and had promised to bring along a bottle of champagne. What about my happy, carefree send off?
It was a warm September day and along with my confidence,my hair was unraveling. I had started out with a perfect pageboy and looked quite smart in my gray flannel suit, with its flared skirtand fitted, double-breasted jacket. My costume was completed with while gloves and a brand new purse but now I crammed the gloves into my purse, took out a handkerchief to blot my perspiration and set out to survey the loading dock.
The baggage was organized in large sections marked off alphabetically. I walked up and down row after row, looking for my trunk under each letter—it could be anywhere! I saved my closest scrutiny for the letter H. Along with Shirley Hendricks, it seemed as if most of the passengers had a last name beginning with H. I stood on tiptoe to peer across the fence-like barrier and tried to check out every piece of luggage. Nothing. I was sweating as I approached the end of the H’s. No trunk in sight.
I was plowing on to the next row when I spotted a grouping set somewhat apart from the rest. It was a collection of expensive designer trunks and suitcases and hat boxes belonging to someone else whose last name also began with H. One of the handsome trunks was right next to the fence and I could read the name on a tag: Rita Hayworth! Despite my anxiety, I had to pause to admire the ensemble—all the pieces in beautiful tan leather with brass trim. This pleasing picture was marred by a most discordant note, however, for there, in the midst of this elegant assemblage, like the proverbial black sheep of the flock, stood my plain, black steamer trunk! The lost was found! I was overjoyed. As I raced back on board I wondered how the dock workers could have made such a glaring mistake.
The purser assured me my trunk would be plucked out of MissHayworth’s pile and put in the hold under my name. I was finally free to enjoy a glass of champagne with Tod who had been searching frantically for me and looked as wilted as I and as worried as I had been. Predictably, the sparkling drink and the festive atmosphere quickly changed our mood and we had time for a fast tour of the salons on the promenade deck before the signal sounded for all visitors to debark. That warning suddenly seemed so final and somehow ominous as we kissed goodbye and promised to write.
There was music, confetti and a great swirl of people milling about as the ship inched away from the dock, bound for Le Harve.I was caught up in all the excitement but when we sailed past the Statue of Liberty, the realization that I was leaving the United States hit home. I was going so far away. What would await me? Would I be homesick, would I be happy? I was teary-eyed and felt quite alone as I watched the great lady fade into the distance.
But how could anyone be sad aboard such a glamorous ship? I was cheered at finding flowers from my family in my stateroom, and some from Tod and a college beau, too, along with cables from friends and a special delivery letter from a beloved aunt. And, besides, I had met two good looking exchange students who were returning to Germany after studying in Indiana. Clem and Otto and I had a great time exploring the ship together, from the boiler room to the top deck, and they invited me to the dances down in third class where there was plenty of beer and pretzels and lots of loud music. Up in first class, we dined on Beluga caviar, bisque of lobster royale and could choose from ten entrees and countless desserts. I ate it all up.