Chapter 6. The Liberté


We were on our way: everything was packed, our house was clean and locked, and the Liberté was moving slowly out of New York Harbor with us on the deck. My mother took Emmy's hand and told me to hold Willy's. She was already carrying Bubby.

“Really, Libby,” she said, in a serious voice. “I don't want any of you out of my sight.”

So we stood right next to her. We watched New York (all the sky scrapers) spread out in a line and little baby waves moving and sparkling below us.And then above us - high above us -- I saw the Statue of Liberty.

I'd never realized before how HUGE it is. One arm was bigger than a tall building.

“Look, Willy, look!” I said. “The Statue of Liberty!”

Liberty! I raised my free arm up to the sky, the way she was holding hers, and held it there.

“She was put there to welcome all the people from other lands who came to America,”I said.

I thought of my grandparents coming from Finland, and my great-great somethings coming from England and Scotland and Norway, and of all the other people who came to America: thousands and thousands of them, all brave and adventurous and full of hope. And they were all welcome. I felt very proud of them and of our country, proud to be an American.

Willy tugged at my hand and I looked down: he was saluting, too, with his free hand. He smiled proudly at me and I squeezed his hand and smiled back. Liberty!

By dinner, we were, I thought, out of America, and on the Atlantic Ocean - and even if where we were didn't count as a new country (my mother said we were “in international water,”) it felt like we were in one.

The Dining Salon was very fancy. Everyone had assigned tables, and a huge man - taller and bigger than my father: a little bit fat (but on him it didn't look bad to be fat because he was so big) sat with us at ours.

He had a dark, proud, serious face. He sat very straight and square, like a King with his arms on his throne. But what was really fascinating was that he wore a huge feathered head-dress - not like an Indian's: his was a kind of turban with big feathers of all different colors around it. He wore wonderful, pale green robes that went down to the ground (I bent down under the tablecloth and looked).

I was wondering if he was a King, or at least a Prince or Chieftain, when my mother shook her head at me, just a little bit: but I knew that she meant: “It's rude to stare.”

She had given us a little talk about manners before we left our cabin for the Dining Salon, and I knew that she really wanted us to be polite. It was hard, but I looked around the room and tried not to look back at him too often.

All the tables were round, and covered with long, white tablecloths that seemed very thick. I asked the waiter questions whenever I could; the most interesting answer was:

“When it gets rough, we pour water on the tablecloths to keep the dishes from sliding off the tables.”

“When will that happen?” I said.

He said it probably wouldn't, most crossings were calm.
Still, I thought, it might happen on ours. I hoped it would.
After dinner, we went to our cabins: Emmy and I had a cabin to ourselves, which was very exciting.

“Be sure to keep the door locked,”my mother said again when she kissed us good-night, “and don't unlock it for anyone but me.”

Her cabin - which Willy and Bubby were in, too - was right next door to ours: still, it was pretty cool to have our own.

It was cozy, with just room for a little table and chair and a mirror (all screwed in), and another chair in a tiny alcove under the porthole. You could stand on the chair to look out the porthole - only it was shut with a round metal shutter, painted the same creamy white as the walls, and locked.

“Let's get in bed,”I said: we had already decided to take turns sleeping in the top bunk, and the first night, it was mine. I climbed up into it: It had a lamp above the pillow, so you could read in bed. I hung my little metal horse on the lamp by its bridle.

The sheets were thick and kind of scratchy: they didn't feel like our sheets at home at all. They were tucked in VERY tightly and I had to wriggle around for a long time before I felt comfortable.

“What are you doing?”Emmy said, from the bottom bunk.

I hung my head over the side of the top bunk and looked down at her with my head upside down.

“Getting settled in.”

I made a face and she made one back.

“What will we do tomorrow?” she said.

“Explore the ship.”

“Don't you want to go in the playroom?”

The playroom had a baby sitter in a white uniform and the kinds of toys that girlie-girls and very little children like. It was perfect for Willy: lots of blocks.

“You can - I'd rather explore.”

As soon as breakfast was over, we did.

First, we ran up to the deck (our cabin and Dining Salon were below the deck). It was narrow, and crowded with grown-ups, lying in deckchairs, or walking slowly, or playing a really boring game kind of like hopscotch; or just standing around, leaning their elbows on the wall that circled the deck - this was painted a creamy white, like everything else on the ship. They were looking out - at what? What could they see? All I could see was sky and water. I jumped up, to see more - but there nothing out there but sky and water.

Stewards bustled around, bringing blankets and snacks to the grown-ups and watching us suspiciously. Once, in a place where there was a little space, I skipped a few skips, and one shouted at me.

So, the deck was pretty boring. We decided to explore the rest of the ship -- I ran down the first empty staircase we came to. No one stopped me; I ran back up, then ran down my favorite way.
I grabbed the banister three steps below me tightly with one hand, then jumped SIX steps at once. I sort of run and jump and leap all at the same time - it's almost like flying, with a short pause in-between jumps to grab the banister again. Before the very bottom, you let go - and bend your knees to land on the ground with a huge thud.

I ran back to the top and did it again:

“Emmy, try running and jumping down more than one step at a time! Just grab the banister tightly and jump!“ I said. “It's really fun - like this, watch!”

She did; it WAS really fun and we both laughed a lot.

When we got sick of that, we explored. The ship was so big that there were lots of empty places - there just weren't any on the deck itself. But BELOW the deck, there were stairs and ladders to climb up and down, and lots and lots of halls: wide ones (main halls) and narrower ones (side halls) and all of them had shiny, slippery floors, perfect for running and sliding and chasing each other. Here is a letter about it that I wrote to my class but never mailed:

The Liberté leaving New York harbor. The
small shape in the background is the Statue
of Liberty.




























I never found out where the man at our table was from, or whether he was a King or what. My mother said that it wouldn't be polite to bring a map into the dining-room so he could point to his country; and that it would be very rude to try to talk to him with sign language. But I DID learn why iron ships don't sink - one of the bellboys told me. They're not solid metal: they have huge spaces filled with air built into them - so much air that the ship becomes light enough to float on water, just as a big balloon attached to a basket full of people is light enough to float in the air And even though I never found out anything about the King (or Chieftain or Prince), it was neat that people like that lived in the world and I had met one.

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Blow Out the Moon (former title There and Back Again) copyright 1999, 2000 Libby Koponen. All rights reserved. The pictures of ocean li ners are from the collection of Kevin R. Tam. Used with permission. Image of horizon from Wanko -- awaiting permission.


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