ADRIFT ON THE SHIP OF LIFE
Where I was and what I was doing is a part of that blur. My memory then leaps to the large lawn where I was playing. It was a lovely, sunny day, a summer day, and the lawn was green and grassy, with huge trees casting their shade over the blades of grass. In the distance, in the hills beyond, tree-covered hills reaching skyward, I could hear my brothers yodeling to each other, first Hubert, then Bud, their voices carrying on the breeze, melodic and melancholy.
I remember, too, Pop coming home in a car, meeting him with my sister at the end of the long driveway and clapping my hands in glee at the sight of his arrival. He chugged up the driveway with Helma and I running behind him, shouting joyfully. A Car! It was as though an Angel of had appeared before us, an apparition from Heaven, a Gift from the Gods. The car was old, with a mighty chug, and it rattled as it moved slowly down the drive. But, to us, it was a miracle, because we had seen cars, of course, but had never dreamed of owning one.
Then, my memory jumps again. We are in the car. I am in the backseat, with Helma and Deed, and Herman is driving the car, Mom and Pop jammed beside him in the frontseat. Helma and I are singing She'll Be Coming Around the Mountain. We are very excited, because we are heading for Illinois. I remember the backseat stuffed with blankets and supplies for the trip.
Then, my memory fails me again. I do not remember anything else about a trip to Illinois. But I do remember Helma going to school. Being two years older then me, she was admitted to Kindergarten before me, and this did not sit too well with me at the time. Mom scrubbed her up good before she started out that morning. No attention at all was paid to me, so when Helma was walked to the school to begin class, I followed her. When she was shown to her seat, I found a window nearby. Then I began my career of staring through the school window at Helma. Every day, I showed up to watch what was going on. The teacher saw me but, as far as I know, never complained. I sat quietly, with purpose. If Helma was going to go to school, I was going, too. I might be on the outside looking in, but I was there.
Finally, the teacher did confer with Mom and told her that, since I was there anyway, I might as well sit in. So I went to school with Helma and sat through the classes. I don't think I learned a thing, but I put in the time.
When I finally went to my own Kindergarten Class, which was called Primer back then, I ran into Miz Williams. I remember her as being a very fat, ruddy-faced woman with dark blonde hair. I found it fascinating to be seated beside other girls my age, and kept talking to them, even though Miz Williams continually admonished me to be quiet. Finally, she walked over to my desk and, holding my shoulders, slapped a piece of tape across my mouth.
It didn't hurt, but it wounded me irreparably. I was utterly humiliated, and tears welled into my eyes, streaming down my cheeks. I cried so heavily that Miz Williams became alarmed, or guilt-stricken, or whatever her emotion was, and took me out to the water fountain to moisten and loosen the tape.
I remember hating her, hating the way she pillowed me in the recesses of her body, trying to halt my tears, hated her face bending down toward me, hated her comforting words. She could not erase the fact that I had been publicly humiliated in front of my classmates, who snickered as I was led back to class.
So these little vignettes of memory multiplied and multiplied until finally, I became a total person, a whole, one who could remember today, yesterday and tomorrow. So we all develop, gathering those little flashes of recollection, until the day comes that somehow we become ourselves, the person we are, the individual we will become.
I don't know what happened to the car. It didn't last long, because there was never another time that a car sat in our driveway, never another time when Pop drove. He was always driven by someone, by Hubert who would come by to help him gather the corn and load it into the trunk of his car to sell it at the markets, by Herman who would rumble up in his old wreck to take Pop or Mom to the store, by Harry who would bring Ronald with him and leave him to play with me while he and Pop took a drive.
By the time my consciousness became more alert and the memories clear, I had discovered books, and from that time on, I lived in a dream world. I would bury my nose in a book and stay there until someone called me, lost in a faroff world of fantasy and adventure that surpassed anything I could find in my world. There was no television back then, no perpetual means of entertainment at hand. Hubert gave me a battery radio, but the batteries kept running out. So books were our only way of reaching out into the world, the only means of entertainment. At first, I read books from the limited school library, where there may have been fifty volumes, some of them for little children. Then, when I got older, I walked to the library, checked out as many as I could carry, then walked home with my treasure.
My favorite book was Gone With the Wind. I struggled through the war with Scarlett, pined over Ashley Wilkes with her, dallied with Rhett Butler. When the movie came out, I felt a sense of reverence akin to what one might feel entering a church. There she was, the perfect Scarlett, the world's most fascinating man, Clark Gable, playing Rhett. The movie had a dreamlike quality, perfect for my daydreams, and I think I saw it about eight times.
I decided to marry Clark Gable. I would become Mrs. Rhett Butler and thus claim a kinship with Scarlett. I had no idea how I would accomplish this, but anything is possible in a world of dreams, so I knew that my future was assured. I collected his picture, clipping them out of newspapers and magazines. I even stole a picture from the town drugstore, ripping it out of a movie magazine that belonged on the rack. The druggist was a kind old man. "Herma," he would say. "Herma! That's a name for fame and fortune! That's a name the world won't forget!" If he knew I ripped Clark Gable out of his magazines, he never complained.
So, childhood passes, and all of a sudden, you begin changing. You start casting the dream lovers aside and pay attention to the local boys. Your body changes. You gather experiences. My first kiss came from a boy named Al, and he was so atrociously ugly, I felt like boiling myself in lye after he had grabbed me and planted a kiss on my lips. I remember that his teeth were yellow and dirty. A far cry from walking down the aisle with Clark!
So, we grow up. One doesn't want to say that we "begin the journey on the Ship of Life," because every speaker at every graduation ceremony has already used that phrase. Actually, it's not a bad phrase at all. That's exactly what life turns out to be. Tumultuous storms followed by a patch of clear weather, with your ship tossed like a matchstick in the grip of the Perfect Storm. But, at a young age, we are unaware of the joys and sorrows that await us. We are filled with dreams, expectations, hope....and a sort of glowing confidence that convinces us we are unique and, as soon as we shed ourselves of the chains of parents and family and other mundane details like lack of money, have a goal to attain. What that goal may be, we have no idea, but we know it is waiting for us.
It takes years to discover there is no map, no safe harbor. We are adrift on that sea, helpless in that howling wind. We can only cling to stability and pray that the storm will pass. Only through grit and determination and sheer obstinacy can you weather these storms. Like Pop growing fields of Golden Bantam on a gravel pit, anything is possible if you try.