Jogchem van der Hout, a Dutch Catholic immigrant who eventually made it to Portland
Jogchem van der Hout, a Dutch Catholic immigrant who eventually made it to Portland

My dad had always known that, although it was something of a madhouse, there was nothing in this world like New York City. The day he immigrated to New York from the Netherlands in 1948, nobody could pronounce his name (Jogchem, pronounced yo-kum), so he was officially dubbed “Jack.” When he first entered the country that morning, the machine to test immigrants for tuberculosis had broken down. Immigration officials let him in anyway. 

As he disembarked, my dad could not believe how cordial New York was. The city actually threw a parade with marching bands, in honor of the newly arrived immigrants. In fact, even the archbishop and the mayor showed up. To top it off, all the beer in Times Square was free. My dad felt so honored, that he paraded down Broadway, right alongside the marching bands, waving at the crowds, waving to all his new countrymen.

He was never much of a drinker, but, given the festive commotion in the city that morning, my dad decided to sit down and have a beer with his new fellow Americans. Under the subway tracks, he found a bar that looked as small and unnoticeable as Holland. The place was full of men, who were very kind. With all their demonstrative, affectionate gestures, my father figured that he must have come upon a French bar, so he began to speak French with the patrons. They appeared to be quite pleased and even began giving my dad their telephone numbers and inviting him to stay with them. When it became clear that he had mistakenly entered a gay bar, he stepped out and called his Aunt Jenny, who was working as a governess.    

As he searched for a nickel for the pay phone, my dad realized he only had a twenty-dollar bill. Crossing the street, he saw an impeccably well-dressed black man standing on the street corner. My dad explained his dilemma to the gentleman, who kindly handed him a nickel. He thanked this gent profusely, handing him a piece of paper and a pencil so that he might write down his name and address. My dad wanted to mail the nickel back to him. The man refused to do any such thing. My dad humbly and stubbornly persisted. Soon, the man began yelling at my dad, telling him to go away or he would call the police.

As my dad stood in the telephone booth, speaking with his Aunt Jenny, he saw some fellow walking off with his suitcase. He dashed from the booth and chased this character five blocks down the street and actually got his suitcase back.

He would eventually move to Portland, but that night, my dad could hardly sleep from all the excitement of the day’s activities. What a town New York was.

The day he had arrived was March 17. 

Michael van der Hout lives in Southeast Portland.