You can always come home
McRae Limerick, 82, is a genealogist and historian who lives in Kemper County. He has submitted several pieces for "Profile 2002: The Fabric of America," a special edition coming out in February. We thought we'd give you a sneak preview of one of his stories. If you have questions about the Profile edition, or want to discuss your story idea, call Managing Editor Suzanne Monk at 693-1551 or e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By McRae Limerick/special to The Star
Jan. 1, 2002
This is a story of coming into New York Harbor on an Army transport ship on our return from Central America Panama to be exact.
I had been employed by the U.S. Air Force, and was returning with my wife and daughter after almost three years in the Panama Canal Zone. We sailed out of the Port of Colon in Panama, bound for New York City aboard the good ship General Hodges,with port calls in Puerto Rico and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
This ship was more family-oriented than the wartime troop transports in which I had crossed the vast Pacific Ocean. I had sailed out of Puget Sound, Washington, with its many islands. Three times, I had sailed under the Golden Gate Bridge, in and out of San Francisco Harbor.
This would be a new experience for all of us, coming into New York Harbor by Ellis Island, where so many of our forefathers had first set foot in this great country of ours. We were looking forward to getting a view of the skyline of New York City, and of sailing past the Statue of Liberty.
When the pilot boat came out to lead us into the harbor, instead of the pearly blue-green water of the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, the water of New York Harbor was a dirty gray with oil slicks floating around.
The fog was thick, cutting off the view of the skyline of the city. In spite of the fog, we did get a decent view of Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty.
There was a certain chilling feeling of pride and thankfulness to be returning home, even if the surroundings did not remind us of our home in Mississippi. We were returning to the good old U.S. of A. That was enough to lift our spirits.
Hurdle 1: The
After going through Customs without a hitch, we were transported to Fort Mason to be processed and pick up our itinerary for travel by train to our home in Meridian, Mississippi. I did talk them into letting us stay in New York a couple of days before beginning the train trip.
After all this, the day was almost gone … It was getting late, and only one bus driver had not checked out for the day. He had already worked two hours overtime and was in the process of leaving. His supervisor told him that he would have to make a trip uptown to deliver us to the hotel where reservations had been made in advance. The driver at first said a flat "no," that he was too tired to make the trip, but after some heated words the driver stormed out to make the trip.
By that time, the driver was not in a very good mood for a safe and enjoyable trip uptown. When we were getting on the bus for the trip, I called my wife's attention to the side of the bus which had been a bright yellow but was now the color of a rainbow from side-swiping every color car in New York City.
I informed her that we were most likely in for a roller coaster ride, but I had no idea that it would be as bad as it was. The driver was in a huff from having to drive overtime, and was in an "I don't care" mood.
So it was free-wheeling through the streets of the city at rush hour, horns blaring, tires screeching, drivers swearing at one another. The passengers holding on for dear life, some praying, some swearing and muttering. It was so bad that every time the bus would stop at a red light, someone would grab their luggage and get off.
The wife and I stood it as long as we could. I gathered our luggage together and she grabbed the child and we piled off at the next red light. Then… we realized we were right in the middle of New York City without a clue as to where we were street-wise. We were simply seeking safety.
Hurdle 2: The cabbie
Lucky for us, we had the name of our hotel and our reservations. After panic had subsided, and rational thinking returned, we took stock of our situation and came to the conclusion it was not as bad as the total destruction we faced on the bus.
In fact, the solution was very simple, just hail a taxi cab. A New York taxi? Heaven forbid.
These people have a reputation akin to the drivers in the Indianapolis 500. They have been known to put a 6-foot vehicle through a 5-foot opening. You want to know how? Simple. It's knowing just the precise moment to blow your horn and being able to swear at the other driver in at least a half-dozen languages.
Sometimes, as you know, you just plain run out of choices, and that is precisely what happened in our situation. It was not just a matter of the lesser of two evils because any choice we could have made was evil to about the same degree.
The consequences of a delayed decision were rapidly approaching. It was getting dark in a strange city, with strange-looking people staring and time running out. After a short season of prayer for our survival, we choose the evil of a taxi to our hotel.
What we had forgotten in our panic was that the Lord would take care of us. My grandmother told me one time the Lord always takes care of old dogs and foolish people, and surely we qualified in the latter part of that promise. This did not completely take all the concern away, but it was a start in the right direction.
With renewed hope, we hailed a yellow cab, which came to a screeching halt at the curb. After giving the driver our destination, we were on our way. The driver was a large burly man about middle-aged, who promptly put his right arm across the back of the seat and his left hand on the steering wheel.