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Asha Ramnaney was born in India and had only known her American-born husband a very short while when they married. A New Year’s Eve blizzard complicated the journey to her new home in the United States, but their travails left her with “sweet precious memories.” Shared Stories is a weekly column featuring articles by participants in a writing class at the Norwalk Senior Center. Bonnie Mansell is the instructor for this free class offered through the Cerritos College Adult Education Program. Curated by Carol Kearns
My journey to America as a newlywed began on December 31, 1978. I had only known my husband Ashok a very short while before we were married in India, so we were still becoming acquainted. Ashok was an American citizen with an apartment in New Jersey, and he had just started his first professional position.
We were traveling from New Delhi on Freddie Laker Airlines with a stopover in London. Ashok had a close friend in London, and we stayed with him for two days. Well, as Murphy’s Law would have it, it snowed in London on December 31, for the first time in many years, and no one was prepared for it. Very little public transport was operating, and Ashok’s friend couldn’t drive us to the airport because he didn’t have proper snow tires.
In the hustle and bustle to reach the airport, one of my contact lenses fell out and disappeared. We didn’t have much time, and I didn’t have the nerve to tell my husband.
We managed to get a cab, but had to pay the driver thrice the usual charges. I realized later that ₤36 was a fair amount of money. But beggars can’t be choosers, and we agreed to the fare in order not to miss our flight.
At the airport we found out that our flight to New York was delayed five hours, so we tried to rest on the chairs. We were both very tired as we didn’t get much sleep the previous night. The accommodations at his friend’s house were in the basement, which was very cold, damp, and eerie.
At last we boarded our flight, and found out that they were showing the classic movie “Gone With the Wind.” My husband knew that I loved good movies, so he generously offered to get me some headphones. I still didn’t have the nerve to tell him that I lost one contact lens and couldn’t see well with only the remaining one.
So I told him that I was feeling homesick and didn’t care to watch the movie. I made my own movie in my mind, imagining that I was arriving in the greatest, richest land of opportunity, America, and life would be easy, fun, and adventurous.
I could hardly eat anything, even though I was hungry. The smell of the non-vegetarian food in the enclosed plane space was nauseating to me. I was glad when we finally landed at JFK Airport, and I started thinking that we would soon be in our cozy home.
Well, going through customs took a while. Ashok was an American citizen, so he was in a shorter line, while I had to stand for a long while and wait my turn. It also took me a long time to fill out the many forms because I could hardly see with only one contact lens, and I had trouble comprehending many questions even though I had learned English in India. My husband was getting impatient since he was done with the formalities very quickly.
Being that we arrived on New Year’s Eve, no one came to pick us up at the airport. My husband’s friends were at parties. So Ashok decided to get his car, which was parked by his apartment, and return to pick me up with the luggage – four big bags and some carry-ons. But his apartment was in Edison, New Jersey, and he would have to take a train and then a bus.
I had no idea how far New Jersey was, but Ashok told me that it would have been very expensive to take a cab. By now it was January 1, 1979, and not much public transportation was available. My husband finally got a train, and then took a bus which left him near his apartment. He called his friend Ed who drove him the last bit of the way.
Ashok had been away for several weeks because of our wedding, and his car was now completely buried in snow. It took him a while to find his car, shovel the snow from it, and start the engine. By then, he had been awake for almost 28 hours since we left his friend’s home in London.
While I was waiting at JFK, all of the shops and services were closed because of the holiday. Standing alone for so long with all of the luggage, I felt that I stood out like an oddball. Other passengers arrived and then left the airport. A few porters and passengers asked me if I was lost and did I have any place to go.
Six hours had gone by since my new husband left to get his car. I wanted to buy a magazine, but the shops were closed. Then I realized that I didn’t have much money (only three American dollars). I also felt that I should save the money in case I needed to make a phone call.
I started having scary thoughts that my husband had left me forever and would never be coming back. In my anxiety, I couldn’t remember the phone number of my new home in New Jersey. I had never written down this number because I had bragged about having a good memory.
With no way of contacting my husband, I thought about making a collect call to India, and started looking for a public phone, even though I was scared of leaving all of my belongings. Just then I had a glimpse of my husband through my one contact lens. I was so relieved that tears started flowing. My husband wondered why I was being so emotional. I hugged him tight and followed him blindly.
It was almost midnight when we reached our one-room apartment. To this day I have never felt so much joy and peace to be at home. No wonder there is a saying that: north, south, east, west – home is the best!
The next morning Ashok got up at 5 a.m. to catch the train to his workplace. I tried to make the apartment look like a home by unpacking the bags and putting homey things in proper places.
Bread and butter were in the fridge, which his friend had kindly bought for us, so I ate that in the afternoon. I planned to make a delicious first meal for my husband with his favorite dishes, and have a romantic dinner under candlelight. I tried several times to turn on the gas, but nothing worked. I was frustrated and unable to cook anything.
When Ashok came home, tired and hungry about 7 p.m., he checked the stove and explained that the pilot light must have gone out because he had been away for a few weeks. Well, so much for our first romantic dinner. We were bone tired and just ate the bread and butter and went off to sleep.
This is how sweet precious memories are made – by going with the flow – in life’s journey to make the treasure chest of living!
Published: July 24, 2014 – Volume 13 – Issue 15