Headline: Copenhagen News—December 1954
“MOTHER AND SIX CHILDREN SAY GOODBYE TO THE OLD COUNTRY”
We will join my father who, for seven months, made enough money blacksmithing in the vast country of Canada, in America, for our departure from our homeland, Denmark. As an eight year old at the time—one of those six children—I will tell you how I saw this life changing experience, through the eyes of a child.
Preparing For Emigration
There is a hustle and bustle as we arrive in Copenhagen after leaving the only place I’ve ever called home—Faaborg Fyn Denmark. Mom is too busy to answer my silly questions, but I don’t see them as silly. Sometimes I think I’m smarter than some of them big people. As an inquisitive child I’m persistent, but eventually I give up and see what other mischief I can get into. An old man sits on the brown wooden park bench where we quickly eat our rye bread and drink water (I must eat everything up–mom’s rule). I look his way. “We’re going to America!” I shout above the cries of the sea gulls. He smiles and teaches me my very first English word: “Tobacco”. Not too functional, but I think it sounds neat. From then on, whenever I see my chance, my English vocabulary is “Tobacco! Tobacco! Tobacco!” I don’t really know what it means, but I like the sound of it—until everyone’s heard it enough times. I pout for a moment and then I’m quickly on my way again. I have just enough time to wave goodbye as I’m dragged away by my sister.
Again we are on our way, still in the big city, going from office to office. I don’t understand all this legal stuff. Kids usually don’t. I am running, or so it seems, as fast as my little feet can go, being steadily pulled forward by the one ahead of me as we all form a chain, holding hands so no one gets lost, yet!
I clutch my personal school farewell gift, a little pink flowered autograph book, under my arm as none of my hands are free. Inside these special pages lie important messages from my very loving grade one teacher and her students. It is mine! Only mine! I will share almost anything, but not this.
We arrive at the medical office for required checkups. This is especially fun. As usual, I chatter away to the very kind doctor. Of course, I tell him, “we’re going to America.” I don’t remember his response, but I do remember his laugh.
So much has happened in the last few days. It’s time for final goodbyes. I reminisce, but don’t quite get it, that there will be no more lap stories that I so love grandpa telling in his deep voice. There will be no more sugar cubes from my dear diabetic grandma, no more picking chestnuts or making chestnut animals. I will no longer climb our knotty old apple trees in our back yard. I will be gone from the yummy cherries—especially those belonging to a grouchy old farmer who figures what is on the outside of the fence is his too. A bunch of us town kids would quite frequently, in the summer time, grab a couple handfuls at a time as we went by and shove them in our mouths. With red delicious juice running down our faces and clothes, there is no denying what we were up to. Too often the owner spots us stealing his fruit, becoming extremely furious. This roly-poly cranky old man runs after us yelling “thief, thief, my cherries, I will get you,” but he never does. We all know it’s not right to steal, but we all laugh and have fun. We can’t be good all the time, can we?
It is the last night that I will sleep in my cousin Bonnies’ beautiful pink room. It’s much fancier than the one I left behind. I take a last glance at her fairy tale lamp, more beautiful than anything I have ever owned. My eyes close with total exhaustion. Morning comes quickly. So much is in store for all of us again throughout the coming hours. It’s all too much for me to figure out. It doesn’t matter anyway. I can’t see all the new stuff fast enough as we keep on the go. My only escape is into my imaginary mind where I paint a picture of how I vision our new life across the ocean, totally unable to comprehend how far away or how big America really is.
Everyone who attended the all-important farewell party last night at my uncle’s house now stand at the harbor waving handkerchiefs and flags. Most are crying. I’m baffled, as baffled as a child can be. I think, “Isn’t this supposed to be a happy occasion?” In my young mind, I am totally unaware that we may never see some of these family members ever again. The time has come to board the huge ship waiting for us, and hundreds of other emigrants, at the Copenhagen harbor. It is much, much bigger than my imagination allows me to realize. The Oslefjord, a Norwegian vessel, will be our home on the mighty Atlantic for many days. How many? Well, it doesn’t sink in or matter much to me. Wherever mom is, that’s where I need and want to be.
The large horn sounds so loud I have to cover my ears, but I am very excited. Our reporter is our friend now, after countless hours with my mother and us six kids in tow—aged two to sixteen in the Royal City of Copenhagen. He records and photographs our almost every move during our last days, hours, minutes and now seconds before we sail towards new horizons. We had said our goodbyes, and don’t think we will meet up with him again before we leave. He suddenly appears on board, almost out of breath. I gaze at the just developed, dripping, large pictures he hands mom. They will be a forever remembrance of her and her children preparing for immigration to a big new country called Canada—referred to, by most foreigners, as America. As I sneak a peak, I stare at the visions on the wet paper. “It’s us , it’s us! We’re gonna be the most important family on this whole ship!” I scream, trying to be heard above all the commotion.
I turn around just in time to see the reporter. With his last big stride, he jumps back to shore as the ship starts slowly moving away. I hold my hand over my mouth and gasp, “Whew…he made it!” There wasn’t even time to say goodbye. I don’t understand why there are more tears amongst the older passengers. I do not realize that this will be the last time many passengers on the ship, including me, will ever see some of their family and friends again.
Remember, I am only a kid. When I was a young adult and started writing about our experience, I became very discouraged when I was told “that’s not the way it was.” Now I am delighted to share with you, my readers, the way it really happened, “through the eyes of a child.” This is only a very tiny bit of my childhood emigration story, so stay tuned and enjoy following my journey, as we sail across the seas.
Karin Kossman (Jorgensen)