Memories that would last a lifetime for Marthe started in a small tea shop in Lugano, Switzerland, during the months following World War II.
While Marthe worked her shift, a few tourists sightseeing at a nearby lake decided to visit. When one of the tourists continued to frequent Marthe’s table for a week, her co-worker became curious as to why. This tourist (an American soldier) was not returning just because he enjoyed the food; he came back in order to see a young waitress name Marthe. Eventually the tourist, John, worked up the gumption to invite Marthe on a date. She accepted, and this began a romance that lasted for many years.
At the end of John’s week-long leave, he wished to correspond. Unfortunately, Marthe could understand very little English; her first language was French. When Marthe received a letter from “her” soldier, she could not read it. Then she remembered that one of the elderly ladies who came to the shop regularly understood English. From then on, whenever Marthe received a letter, the kind lady at the tea shop translated it for her. Then Marthe returned home and, using her French-to-English dictionary, wrote letters back.
After months of corresponding and several more visits, John proposed. Marthe accepted, and they married in her hometown of Jimel, Switzerland. Marthe owned no passport; therefore, she could not travel to America. After arranging for a passport, Marthe left for America in August of 1946 on a war bride ship to follow John, who had left in March. (Before Marthe left, her sister informed Marthe that she was crazy to make the trip and might drown.)
Between the years of 1924 and 1952, about a million war brides traveled to America. The ship Marthe rode on had been transformed from a hospital ship into a war bride ship and transported about three hundred women including Marthe. At 25 years of age, Marthe stepped aboard the ship and experienced a terrible case of seasickness, which she endured for nine days until she reached New York City. At night, Marthe attempted to sleep on a hammock.
Marthe was very thankful to reach America and never set foot on a ship again. “[But] I couldn’t find anyone who spoke French!” she said. This stood out as one of Marthe’s first impressions of America. At least on the ship, she could speak with several other ladies from Switzerland.
“Little by little, I learned English,” Marthe reminisces. Sadly, four months after Marthe left Switzerland, her father passed away.
After living with her in-laws, March and John moved to Scotia. At this time, much prejudice existed in America against immigrants, but one person went out of her way to befriend Marthe. Marthe appreciated this friend very much. Without her, adapting to life in America would have been even more difficult. Marthe enjoyed many years with her husband until his death in 2000. Today, Marthe is surrounded by her children and grandchildren and loves watching her family grow up.
Rebekah Kimble is an eighth-grader at Schenectady Christian School in Schenectady