You would think, perhaps, that emigrating, – “leaving one’s home country to live elsewhere”, ought to be a fairly big deal. I think so myself, now. In 1963 it had no more importance to me than any of the other temporary moves I had made.
In theory, I was given a choice about whether or not I wanted to go to live in America. I didn’t actually feel as if there was a choice, since I wasn’t told what the alternative might be. I wasn’t advised to think about what it would mean, how it might affect the rest of my life. At the time, it seemed like the practical thing to do and it was obviously the decision my parents regarded as the most convenient.
My aunt and uncle appeared to want me to accept their offer and no one else was giving an opinion, so what was a 16 year old supposed to say?
It seems that I was made responsible for my own life at that very young age, younger, even. After almost 5 years in Catholic convents, I was hardly prepared for the wide world, although in some ways I was very grown up.
When I had to apply for visas to go and visit my parents in Asia, I went up to London alone, to find the respective embassies. I had some money in a Post Office account, and needing cash for my fares, I went in to make a withdrawal. The clerk at the counter seemed concerned to see an unaccompanied child making the request, so she asked if I had proof of my identity. I presented my passport and wondered why she looked so surprised.
Obtaining a regular visa was no big thing, but applying to immigrate to the USA was a much more serious matter. My aunt and uncle had to make a statement of sponsorship but the rest of the process was for me to undertake.
In those days, the US Embassy was at Grosvenor Square. It was an impressive building, topped by a large eagle that dominated the square, at least that is how it appeared to me.
I was less impressed by the pompous embassy official who dealt with my application. I had been given an appointment, so I was ushered in to an office, past numerous young Britons who were hoping to gain permission to travel but did not have my advantage of a sponsor. When I saw the queue of disappointed applicants, I realized that I was a privileged person, thanks to my mother’s sister who had married a US airman.
My application was scrutinized by the humourless official who proceeded to make me swear an oath that I was not going to the USA to engage in prostitution. How the nuns would have been amused by that! I’m not sure how I even knew what a prostitute was. I had also had to sign a document swearing that I had no sexually transmitted diseases.
I took it all in stride, but I was a little affronted to be asked such questions at the age of 16. I wanted to tell the official that I had been locked up in convents for years, but I could tell that this was no time for humour. To me it all seemed terribly officious, but after all, this was the USA, not some remote part of Asia.
Before taking that last, fateful, flight to New York, I had one last journey to Asia to say goodbye to my parents, so I set off again for Bangkok.