Saturday, November 5th, 2011 – Today would have been just another ordinary sea day except that we met Dolly, a most remarkable woman.
After dinner and a show we went to the piano bar with two other couples to enjoy the piano music and the company. However, we didn't know we would meet Dolly and that she would be the highlight of our evening.
We had heard through ships rumors that there was a 93-year-old woman on board who had been cruising continually on Holland America Lines for nearly every day for nearly 40 years. Almost every day she can be found on a Holland America ship somewhere.
Sitting in the casual piano bar was a woman who appeared to be about the right age and sitting alone with a glass of wine and thoroughly enjoying herself. Our friends asked us, “Do you know her? That is Dolly!” What a classy woman – very small and frail but bubbling with personality and energy.
It was chilly in the piano bar and a man walked over and said to her, “Ma'am, would you like to wear my jacket?” She replied, “I never take a jacket from a man unless his arms are in it.” What an answer!
The piano player played and sang “Hello Dolly” and she got a big smile and got up and danced by herself. Not an old lady's dance – one full of movement and lots of little wiggles. She was adorable. She danced the entire song at a pace I couldn't have kept up with! How I would love to be like this and as lively as this tiny woman when I'm 93!
During the piano player's break we said “hello” to her and she came over and took a seat with us. Pam, one of our friends said, “Dolly, I would love to know your story.”
She smiled and said, “I married very young. When I was 24 my husband died leaving me with a 2 year old and a 5 month pregnant belly. The next day the apartment landlord knocked on my door and said I would have to move out immediately, she wasn't going to have a pregnant single mother with a 2-year-old in her building.
So, she left that day on foot without a dime. She didn't have a car. She walked the streets with the 2-year old and at night she found decent neighborhoods with open garages where she and her son slept safely at night. They just snuggled in the back of the garages and stayed warm and dry. The homeowners never knew.
When labor pains hit she walked to the nearest hospital and told them, “I don't have a dime and if you turn me away I will have to have my baby on the streets”. They took her in and that is where her second child was born.
After she left the hospital she had no where to go but heard that Oregon was a great place to get a good start, you could live there very cheaply – there was opportunity. She somehow got an old car and a little bit of cash. With a 2-year old and a newborn she drove to Oregon.
When she got to Oregon there was a program that had something to do with the Indians and the government – I'm not clear about the politics but what it meant was that they were selling land for $1.00 an acre. The maximum amount anyone could buy was 240 acres so Dolly bought 240 acres of land in Oregon for $240.00.
She worked and saved money to build a house on the property but until she had enough money to build her house, she and the kids slept on the property in the car. When the house was built, they moved from the car into their new home on her 240 acres in Oregon!
She later sold the property for $1,000 an acre and invested in building several houses which all made a lot of money for her.
Her young son was killed in a gun mishap and her daughter died of cancer as an adult leaving Dolly completely alone. She said that she already enjoyed cruising on Holland America and after her daughter died the crew and staff became her family.
Dolly has cruised on different Holland America ships almost continuously for 35-40 years. The staffs and crews know her so well that she gets personal Christmas cards every year from 5 different Captains and their wives.
We asked her how many days she had cruised on Holland America and she said it was at least 7,000 but she didn't know how much more. Possibly as many as 12,000.
She told us the thing that makes her the maddest is when people ask her who pays for all her cruising. She said she is financially stable and earned every bit of her money in the real estate market and building houses. And she also owns a home which she paid for herself.
When someone asks her if she ever remarried, she says, “Yes I did remarry and I'm still married to HAL – Holland American Lines.”
We fell in love with this spunky lady!
When we got back to our cabin there was a cute little Towel Turtle, our normal two chocolates, and two medium-sized pouches we didn't expect. Our gift for the night was a 500-piece puzzle of the Amsterdam in a port. One of the puzzles has a picture taken in Venice in 2010 and the other shows it in the Straits of Gibralter in 2000.
The card with the gold Holland America logo and gold “Holland America Line” at the bottom has engraved on it, “2011 Grand Asia & Australia Voyage – ms Amsterdam”
“Knowing how you would like to put the pieces of the puzzle together, be puzzled no longer and create your own masterpiece with the travel size 550-piece jig Saw Puzzle depicting a selection of Stephen J. Card's “Amerstdam” series of maritime art.
Another piece of the Amersterdam's puzzle fell in place today as we celebrate our 11th year of service of Holland America Line today!
From your Staff and Crew of the Grand Asia & Australia Voyage”
My only regret today is that I didn't think to take a picture of Dolly. If we run into her on another Holland America cruise that will be one of the first picture I take!