In preparation for my Challenge Series: Adventures in America, I've convinced The Swede, my Dad, to share the story of how he and my Mom, The Nutritionist, met, fell in love, moved to Sweden, then in the middle of our childhood, moved to America. It's great to have you here Dad. Thanks for taking the time to share your story with all of us.
by Leif Bilen
When the Arosa Sky of the Holland America Line docked in New York City on August 13, 1957, I was recovering from the Asian flu. I was one of several hundred high school students who had crossed the Atlantic together. Many of us had spent a few days in bed with high fever and other symptoms. I was not allowed to disembark until local health officials had checked me out and cleared me for entrance into this country; not the greatest start of a year abroad, but it added to the adventure.
From New York City we headed to our final destinations. Along with several others, I was on a chartered Greyhound bus heading to the D.C. area. As the bus made its way to the Lincoln tunnel, I noticed the colorful yellow taxicabs that seemed to be all over the place. Back home all taxis were black and the drivers wore black uniforms. “No, this is not going to be a drab and boring country.”
A Howard Johnson restaurant with its bright orange roof and iconic architecture caught my eye shortly after entering New Jersey. “Wow, I guess I am not in Europe anymore.” It was not the only one along the road. They were all over the place back then. In 2012 there were only two of them left; one in Maine and the other one in New York State. Yes, America’s tastes have changed, and in more areas than food for that matter.
My host family welcomed me with open arms and quickly made me feel at home. During the few weeks before the fall semester I was able to adjust to several things, although they didn’t really come as a huge surprise: a big family, a big house, a big yard, a big church, big cars and so on.
Other curiosities intrigued me. One morning when I walked into the kitchen, there was a man looking into the refrigerator. Then he walked out the back door and returned with some milk, eggs, and butter. The milkman had free access to the house, and it was up to him to determine what the household needed until his next visit. I was used to running to the store for my mother, when were out of something.
Another thing that told me a lot about in what kind of neighborhood we were living in was the fact that nobody seemed to worry about locking their cars while parked in the driveway.
I guess the real culture shock came when I started school. I had attended a medium sized downtown high school for boys. Here I was in a large coed high school on a sprawling campus with huge parking lots for the students who drove their own cars to school, which included Bob, my host brother, who drove me, Bonnie and two other girls. We also had our own stadium for football and other sports. I got used to it faster than I had expected and enjoyed it a lot.
I knew I would probably lose a year of school after returning to Sweden, so I signed up for some rather unique classes not available back home: driver education (1957 Chevy), public speaking, and typing. Although I was a senior, I took 11th grade English and History, because they dealt with American literature and history. Since Bonnie was a year ahead of her peers, we ended up taking those classes together, and from time to time we helped each other with homework.
Other than that I stuck with the program and hung out with brother Bob and that included both of us playing on the soccer team. However there was little doubt that Bonnie was rather cute and pleasant.