We came to North America on an ocean liner too, sailing across the Atlantic Ocean from Liverpool on the R.M.S. Sylvania in the middle of winter. It was during the last days of trans-Atlantic ocean crossings; the Sylvania was the final ship built by the Cunard Line before the whole world took to the skies, leaving ocean liners to the pleasure seekers and cruise goers. Unlike Brooklyn’s Eilis, who landed at Ellis Island in New York, we landed in Halifax, Nova Scotia. It was February 1960 and I was five. We’d already moved from England, where my brother and I were born, to Libya, then in ’57 to Turkey where my sister was born, and back to Libya. And now we were leaving the shores of Tripoli where winter days went down to the low 50’s, for Canada. If I thought I knew what cold was, I didn’t.
That’s me wearing the scarf and the glasses with my leg hooked on the railing, with my mother and my little sister, Nancy, between us. My father would have taken the picture while my brother was likely off exploring the ship.Taking a look at my lightweight garb, the photo must have been taken in the early days of the ship’s passage, before it got really cold.
I still have an old metal steamer trunk, the iconic Cunard line stickers on it, and the photo above, but few real memories from the trip. Except for one small snippet stuck in my head, like a stray earring lost in the lining of an old suitcase, useless without the other earring; a memory of my brother giving me a tour of what he’d discovered, opening a door to reveal the empty movie theater in a deserted hallway we weren’t supposed to be in. Just our luck, he told me, the cinema was closed for the winter crossings.
I texted my brother, confirming the name of the ship we sailed on. He told me Cormac McCarthy sailed on the Sylvania too, except he was going the opposite direction. McCarthy was taking his fellowship money from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and going to Ireland to rediscover his roots. McCarthy met his second wife, a dancer on the ship, on his 1965 crossing. A dancer? I don’t think there were dancers on our trip. Like the theater, were the dancers shut down for the season?
I wonder what else my brother knows about our voyage.