Our three children have never tired of hearing about how I met their mother so many years ago. I would delight in telling them about how something as happenstance as a fluttering kerchief on a deck of the SS United States could bring their parents together.
When we reached the magnificent milestone of our 50th wedding anniversary, they presented us with their gift … a little toy cruise ship. I admit, I thought, “Well, that’s kind of small.” Maybe my stories weren’t that interesting after all.
Then, they told us what the real gift was. My wife, Frieda, and I were shocked and delighted to hear they’d booked us on a two-week cruise to Hawaii aboard Golden Princess. It was the perfect gift as it captured how we met, symbolized our golden anniversary and referenced the golden years of ocean crossings, which played such a big role in our younger years.
In the 1950s, I was serving on board the SS United States as a deck steward. It was an exciting life for a young man, traveling 20 round trips a year, between New York, Le Havre and Southampton. I was on the SS United States when it broke the world record for fastest transatlantic crossing, and I met many of the big names of the day, from Eleanor Roosevelt to John Wayne, on board.
I remember well how windy the north Atlantic can be. Ladies wore kerchiefs on their heads when out on deck. One day, I was walking along the boat deck, when suddenly a ladies’ kerchief came flying down, landing at my feet. Naturally, I picked it up and looked to the deck above. There stood a pretty, young lady motioning to me that the kerchief belonged to her.
I returned the kerchief and we chatted for a while. She was traveling with her mother. They made a habit of enjoying the sun from their deck chairs. I found an excuse to talk to this young lady every day and discovered her mother was the only passenger who could sleep in the deck chair, with one eye open, looking at me.
After we arrived in the United States, Frieda went home to Boston, and I continued cruising back and forth across the Atlantic. But I never forgot her. Every leave, I’d go up from New York to visit her in Boston.
Ten months after we met, I asked for her hand in marriage and left the sea for a life ashore. Three children and a couple of moves later, we now live in Southern California and tell our grandchildren about how we met.
By the time of our 50th anniversary cruise, Frieda and I had not been on a cruise ship in decades. It was fascinating for me to see how ocean travel had changed. For one, we cruised to Hawaii at a leisurely pace of 20 knots, unlike the speedier Atlantic crossings of my time.
Everything on Golden Princess was bigger, brighter and more magnificent than what I recalled about ocean liners. There was so much to do.
It was the perfect place for an anniversary. The crew certainly made it festive with a balloon and congratulatory note on our stateroom door. Thanks to my previous life at sea (I sent the captain a DVD about the historic ship), we were also privileged enough to be invited to the bridge to meet the captain and his team.
We enjoyed so many of the shipboard activities that make life at sea today such a joy. We met many of our fellow passengers and found a variety of ways to socialize around the ship. Frieda found a nice group of people to join for a game of bridge. And each afternoon, we’d gather with a group we’d met for tea.
Even though we first met on a very traditional vessel, we found that we were happy to have changed our dining arrangements from traditional dining to the anytime option. I wasn’t sure I’d like the informality of that at first, but we ended up loving trying all the different restaurants and meeting new people at every meal.
I’d gotten lucky in love 50 years ago, but on this ocean voyage, I got lucky playing the slots in the casino. I won $1,400 my first day, which I promptly gave to my wife. And that, gentlemen, is my hint for a happy marriage.
Frieda and I have now celebrated 55 years together. I still like to tell people about how such a random occurrence as a gust of wind and a floating kerchief brought us together and made possible our happy marriage and the generations of family that have come since.
We will always have fond memories of our ocean voyages, from the day we met on the SS United States to the happy celebration of 50 years aboard Golden Princess.
Jim and Frieda live in Valencia, California. Their anniversary cruise was their first Princess sailing.