Oddly enough Jimmy, Mike Holly, Mike’s younger sister, Kevin and his younger sister, I and my older brother all became good friends that summer. Even the bad boys from the corner house on the other side of Jimmy’s house became friends. These were two young Mexican boys named Robert and Richard who were around my younger brother’s age. Their older sister, Diana, became an important friend. She was a teenager in high school. She was a little pudgy and was always very amiable. We were all attracted to her, boys and girls. She seemed to like the attention. She would talk to us while she was ironing clothes. We often liked to congregate at their house.
During the summer we had a couple of parties at Jimmy’s house. He had one of those houses in the neighborhood that had a long back porch. It ran along the entire length of the back of the house with screen windows above a low wooden wall. At one end of the porch was a door that gave entrance to the garage. In the garage we had the parties. Jimmy’s mom brought us popcorn and sodas and once she brought cake. Another time she brought cookies. We had a little phonograph and played 45 rpm records of hit songs. We danced to the music in typical sixties style such as doing the twist. We danced without partners which was just as well since there were only two girls there – Keith’s sister and Mike’s sister who I now knew as Janet Holly. My brothers were there and Jimmy’s brothers. These parties were very high spirited. Dancing to sixties rock and roll was like a spiritual release. I remember very well dancing to the Zager and Evans’s song, In The Year 2525, with great abandon.
We did the limbo. I remember Jimmy holding up one end of the limbo bar and my brother, Daniel, the other and gradually they lowered it down for the dancers to try to go under it while dancing without falling. The Jamaican music song, Sitting Here In Limbo by Jimmy Cliff, would be playing on the phonograph. Jimmy was the tallest of all of us standing up there with his wavy, blonde hair. He did remarkably well at limboing even when the bar was low for someone so tall. I did terrible at limboing. At the second party I did not even want to try. Yes, the parties were high spirited and we had more good times.
One summer evening when it was already quite dark we were all congregated by the street in front of Jimmy’s house. Jimmy wasn’t there. Janet Holly, Keith and his sister were there. All of a sudden we saw a flash of bright, blue light! We all looked and exclaimed, “What was that?” Then again there was another flash. It was a streak of bright, spinning, blue light! We were all in amazement, murmuring, “What could it be?” There was another streak of spinning, blue light and another! Then someone said, “It’s Mike!”
Sure enough from the darkness, in the light of the blue flashes the image of Mike Holly emerged but the streaks of blue light were still a mystery. Then someone said, “It’s a yo-yo!” Well of course it was a yo-yo! But it was a yo-yo as we had never seen before. One that lit up as it was spinning. I was so impressed by the excitement of this event that I went out and bought the exact same kind of yo-yo. It had a small light bulb and a battery in it. The bulb was lit when the electric circuit was completed by a metal piece that was forced outward by centrifugal force when the yo-yo was spinning. I tried to impress the kids just when it got dark on McArthur Street the same way that Mike had done but the kids just said, “It’s just Mark”. They were not impressed. I was learning about how popularity worked.
I may not have impressed the kids that night but I knew I was developing a big crush for Janet. She was so pretty and nice. I couldn’t stop looking at her. One day when I was walking on the street Janet and Keith’s sister were sitting on chairs in front of Jimmy’s house. They asked me to take off my glasses. I took them off. Keith’s sister said, “You look cute without your glasses”. Janet said, “You look cute without your glasses”. I didn’t know what to say. I looked at them. They had big smiles on their faces. They both repeated the same words over again. They were still sitting and smiling at me. They seemed to be enjoying my embarrassment and confusion about what I should do. I just smiled and started talking about something. I think Mike came out to see what was going on. This was the first indication I had that Janet liked me. It meant a lot to me.
I returned to the town on the west coast from which I had started before my journeys. I took a job in the office of an import, export business. I oversaw the merchandise at the unloading and loading on the docks and kept track of the inventory in the warehouse.
I frequented a restaurant at the harbor. There was a beautiful, young waitress there who waited on me. She seemed to give me special attention, always filling my coffee cup. She asked me if I wanted raisin bread for toast even though she said the cooks did not like her running raisin bread through the toaster. She said the raisins got stuck in the toaster. I said yes more to please her than myself. I was generous to her with my tips since her attention to me was rather flattering. Sometimes she would give me a glass of orange juice for free. She was going to the local junior college and studying business.
I lived in a cozy but tiny apartment in the harbor with a view of the docks and ocean from my window. I loved to wake up in the morning, drink coffee and look out of the window. I loved to breathe in the fresh, sea air. My whole life was in the harbor.
I decided to take classes at the community college after work. I took a beginning business class and a creative writing class. When I told the blonde waitress that I was taking classes at the city college she looked at me strangely.
It cost a pretty penny to take these classes. I struggled with my finances. The students in my creative writing class appreciated my work but the teacher was overly critical. I tried to satisfy the teacher’s criteria but I felt that he was jealous that he did not have the experiences to be able to tell the stories that I did. At one point he said words that implied that my stories were too fantastic to be believable. I suppressed my anger. I had to remind myself that my goal was to just make it through the class. To my surprise he gave me an A in the class despite his criticisms.
I had hoped that by going to the city college I might run into the blonde waitress and actually see her someplace else besides when she was working at the restaurant. This never happened. It was a little depressing going to school at night in the winter when it was dark and cold. When I awoke in the morning all I could do was drink some coffee and try to make it to work on time. I had to grab whatever snack food I could to make it through the day. Fortunately the harbor had its amenities. There was a hole in the wall restaurant close to work where I loved to buy fish tacos.
I told the blonde waitress that I had finished my classes. She seemed very interested in the things I had to talk about. She seemed especially interested in my creative writing. She would ask me questions about it.
After a few more months of working and trying to save money I started to pressure my bosses to let me take two weeks of vacation so I could visit my mother. They weren’t happy. Finally they agreed to one week. I took it.
Soon I was on an eastbound train. I arrived in the little, land bound town with rolling green hills. I had spent a lot of time wandering in the woods here all alone. When I found the house she was not there. I was told that she had passed away. I returned back on the train with a little package she had left me. In it were my birth certificate, baptismal certificate, some report cards from school, honor roll certificates, my baby book and photographs. I stared out the window of the train at the countryside passing by. Would I ever pass this way again?
I reported back to my job on Monday morning. I was told I was not needed. When I asked why I was told that my job had been given to someone new. This was not an answer to my question but the real reason was obvious. I had dared to stick up for my rights and ask for some vacation time. When I had previously asked for a raise I had been told that business wasn’t so good. I knew that this was a lie because I had overheard the owner telling his brother that their accountant had told him that their profits had never been better. I knew this was because of me and my high level of professionalism. My knowledge of the import, export business from my years of working the freighter ships was what made me so valuable.
I went to the harbor restaurant. The blonde waitress was not there. I returned to the restaurant the next morning for breakfast. She was not there again. I thought this was unusual. I asked about her. I was told that she had graduated from school and had gone back to the inland town that she came from.
I found myself on the same familiar pier again looking at the ships and gazing out to sea. I found myself once again wandering aimlessly along the narrow lanes of the waterfront. I came to a narrow lane and looked along it to my right. There was the curio shop, three shops down, on the left side of the lane! I wasn’t in a mood to question. My mind had been sullen. I walked toward the door of the curio shop. Inside I saw the oriental carpets, tapestries, silk, carved wooden figurines and beads. These were things I now knew too well from my travels in the Orient.
The elegant, Oriental lady was there again standing behind the counter. Once again I looked at her with her perfect oval face and curious smile with her lips sensuously turned up slightly at the corners of her mouth. I gazed deeply into her dark eyes. She did the same with me in response. I don’t know why but I reached into my inner coat pocket and pulled out the talisman. I asked her if I could sell it back. She nodded and said she could only give me half of the original price that I had paid. I said, “Okay”. She took the silver talisman from my hands. As she put the bills and coins into my hand she held the soft skin of her hand against mine for a moment while looking into my eyes. Then she drew her hand back and said, “It always comes back”. She smiled and bowed her head a little. All I could think of to say was, “Thank you”. She nodded twice and smiled. She looked off to the side so that I admired the beauty of her face in profile. I walked away to the door looking back at her over my shoulder. I went through the door to the world that was waiting for me outside.
One fine day a family moved into the house next door to Jimmy’s that had been vacated by the family of the younger John. It wasn’t exactly a normal family. There was a mother, son and daughter but no father. I found out this was the result of a divorce. The new boy of the neighborhood was outgoing and popular. His name was Mike Holly.
He had an air of confidence in everything he did. Although he was popular with Jimmy, myself and my brothers he was a public school boy who soon became friends with Keith, the boy who lived across the street from Jimmy. Keith was the boy who Jimmy said was ba-a-a-ad.
At first there was the sheer pleasure of meeting Mike Holly. Besides the fact that he was very likeable it was exciting that he went to one of the public junior high schools that was legendary among the Catholic school boys for being a very dangerous school. The boys at my school would have debates as to whether Wakefield or Utterback was the toughest of the schools. Mike went to Wakefield.
Mike once said something to me of great interest. He said that the previous year he had lived with his father. He said his father was Mexican. His father bought him two pairs of jeans and a package of white, cotton undershirts for clothes to wear that year. He said he was the most unpopular boy in school that year. The next year he lived with his mother and everything changed. This was something new to me. In Catholic school we wore uniforms. Clothes was not an issue.
Mike often went to dances for junior high school kids at the YMCA. In Catholic school boys and girls were often separated and there was no such thing as dances. I started to get glimpses of Mike’s younger sister. She had short, blonde hair and was very cute. I wondered why if Mike’s father was Mexican that he had an Anglo last name. I assumed this had something to do with his mother and father being divorced.
It wasn’t long before I met Keith, the bad boy from across the street. Jimmy told me that he cussed a lot and so did his father. Jimmy said his father got drunk a lot. Keith’s family, also, kept a German shepherd who barked viciously from behind the low, chain link fence in their front yard. All this contributed to the general notoriety of Keith’s family.
Keith was a freckle faced kid who was just a little pudgy. He grinned and laughed a lot. He had a younger sister with long, thick, red hair. Even though I didn’t approve of Keith’s cussing we got along well. I think I liked his sense of adventure.
Mike Holly continued to gain in popularity. I remember one day visiting with him in his front yard. Although his yard was dirt and a few tufts of dry grass it was all underneath the shade of lines of trees, each of which was thick with dark leaves. We knew there was no man in his house and realized that his mother was a divorcee struggling to support her family. It was cool and a little dark under the shade of these trees as we sat in lawn chairs in front of his house. Mike confided with me that his mother had told him that he should hang out with me and my older brother, Daniel, rather than the other boys in the neighborhood because we were good boys from a good family and that the other boys were sort of rough.
This sort of made me feel happy because Mike was very popular and popularity seemed to be the name of the game at the time. Becoming close friends with him would have enhanced our image on McArthur Street. I felt however that Mike was really saying that goody two shoes guys like us were less interesting and exciting than bad boys like Keith and that he was prepared to spend his time more with Keith.
During the course of the conversation while I was relating a past experience I felt it necessary to spell out a swear word because I wasn’t actually allowed to say the swear word. Mike admonished me because we were in front of the windows of his home. He felt that his mother might overhear. I said that I was only spelling it out, not saying it. He said it didn’t matter. His mother thought it was just as bad to spell it as say it. This I found a little odd because once Mike had shown me a message pad with a caricature of a topless waitress holding one of her breasts and underneath was a caption that read, “We also serve these”. He said it came from the place where his mother worked. I wondered why if his mother worked at a topless bar she would be so strict about swearing but I figured she was doing what she had to as a result of the divorce to support her family. That didn’t mean that she didn’t want to raise her children decently.
I had been becoming nearsighted and I finally got a pair of glasses. I chose a style of horn rimmed glasses with frames that were dark gray on top and clear on the bottom because Jimmy had a pair that were similar but brown on top. He rarely wore them. He was very vain and not so nearsighted as I was. I needed my glasses. I had a hard time playing baseball without them. I never knew where the ball was because I couldn’t see where it went. Once at school we had been playing baseball in the dirt field at lunchtime and I hit the ball straight and far into left field. I ran around the bases all the way to third but when I looked around to see where the ball was I couldn’t see where it was. Some boys were shouting at me to stay and some were shouting at me to run for home. I couldn’t see which boys were telling me to stay or run and which ones were on my team. I decided to be safe and stay. In school the boys made a big deal that I had hit a triple off of Brown who was considered to be a good pitcher. They said I could have had a grand slam if I had ran for home. I explained that I couldn’t see where the ball was and wasn’t sure who was telling me to stay and who was telling me to run. For awhile I wasn’t one of the last or almost last to be picked for one of the teams. Later when they saw I couldn’t always hit that well I went back to being one of the last picked.
What a shock it was when I wore those new glasses! Suddenly I could see clearly. No more squinting to read the chalkboard at school. The world now was so sharply defined and fully of clarity as I had never known. What a change from the dim view I had before!
One day I visited in Jimmy’s house with my new glasses. There was the dingy living room with the brown yellow, cigarette smoke stains on the ceiling, the carpet that needed vacuuming and picking up. I then was alone with Jimmy’s mother in the kitchen. She was asking me how I liked my new glasses. I was trying to communicate to her the amazing difference in perception when I said, “I can see every grain of dirt on the floor!” She said, “Well, gee, thanks a lot!” I tried to apologize. I didn’t mean it the way she thought it sounded. It was something I had noticed when looking at her kitchen floor that had seemed amazing to me. I felt bad but she didn’t really seem to be upset.
Later I thought how different Jimmy’s house was from ours. I could picture his mother in her shorts with laundry baskets on the couch, folding clothes in the middle of the room filled with debris that needed picking up. It was a feeling of disorder.
Perhaps it was the talisman but I took my savings and signed up to join the merchant marines. Soon I would be leaving everything that was familiar behind. People said I was still a young man so it was a good thing to see the world. I wrote a letter to my mother who was in the land bound town I grew up in, the place I left because I couldn’t stand the thought of always wondering what was over the next hill. This thought had vanished when I found the open sea stretching out before my eyes.
Before I was to leave I went back to find the curio shop where I had found the talisman. It wasn’t there. I traced my exact steps from the pier that day when I had encountered the little shop with the beautiful, oriental lady. I knew these little lanes along the waterfront by heart. I tried to find the corner I turned but only found the same familiar lanes and shops. There was no oriental curio shop. There was no vacant shop in its place. It was as if I had imagined it or dreamed it but the talisman was in my possession. I had it in my inner coat pocket. I felt delirious. Had I been lost? I wandered farther in surrounding areas but these places, also familiar to me, did not make sense with the memory I had of that day when I found the shop, the lady and the talisman.
With the merchant marines I traveled the world over and over. I realized the dream of mine to visit the South Seas and the Orient. This was only after many a cold journey in Northern waters to places like Finland and Sweden. I enjoyed England, France and the Mediterranean. My first storm at sea was the most incredible display of the power of Nature, beyond my imagination.
When I finally was bound to the South Seas of the Pacific and the Orient beyond I was overjoyed at the leaping dolphins in the sparkling blue waters. I was amazed by the flying fish skimming over the waves amid bright reflections. There were the hot, summer nights so balmy with the iridescent glowing spots of mysterious night fish. I felt in a wonderland.
And then there was the Orient. I found myself wandering down streets and narrow lanes in Hong Kong and Shanghai. These were places I had heard of and read about and I was there. It was like hundreds of Oriental curio shops. I was surrounded by them. Mysterious Oriental men, mysterious Oriental women and children. The children looked intently at me as I went walking by with mysterious little smiles on their upturned faces. When I went to sleep at night I thought of the dream I had when I first acquired the talisman in which I felt I was lost in a foreign land and could not find my way back. I did not however feel anxious about it as I had when I dreamed it. I was living my dream and everything was as it should be. I knew I would be able to find my way home or at least I thought I was sure of that.
I tried to stay in the Orient for as long as I could but my contract with the shipping company that had brought me there required for me to continue on to India and Africa. In fact I was to circumvent the globe returning to the cold Atlantic and ending my journey on the east coast of America.
From there I spent time traveling and living in parts of America I had not known before. I had many adventures and fulfilled a dream of visiting the East coast and learning of it. However since the only way I could make my living was as a sailor I had to find a ship that needed a hired hand. Soon I was on my way to parts unknown. From Norwegian fjords to tropical atolls, from cosmopolitan cities to farming communities I satisfied my curiosities about the world and the people in it.
Everywhere I traveled I met the most beautiful and interesting women. Sadness came at last when I thought how none of my love interests stayed in my life. I wrote many romantic letters. I gave significant gifts. I had happy memories but in the end they all turned bittersweet. The more I loved a woman, the more fleeting she became. When I thought of all the possessions I had lost along the way in my travels curiously the talisman had always remained.
I swear I could feel my heart in my chest sinking and my mind became heavy as a weight. “Aye, and we are adrift, matey”, I heard the old sailor say. I looked to my right where I heard the voice coming from. The old salt looked at me thoughtfully. “First we were driven off course. Now we are drifting off course but perhaps the captain at least knows where we are”, he said. “Did it matter if we know where we are if we can’t get back on course?” I thought as I turned full circle to look all around me. The ocean was so still that I felt I could see a hundred miles in every direction but all there was, was open sea.
Days went by. We were in tropical waters. It was hot and humid. The sailors took off their shirts. We were on rations of water and food. When we looked up at the sails there was not even the slightest of breezes to move them. There were no sea birds, no dolphins or fish leaping out of the water. Why?
At night when it was not as hot a sailor broke out a concertina and began to play music. He sang sailor’s songs. Other sailors sang along. Some danced. They told stories and laughed. The captain had allowed a ration of rum for all. The sailors made me smile. They joked about being in the doldrums. One sailor said, “Aye, and I’ve been in the doldrums before but only because I was on dry land for too long!” The crew gave a hearty laugh. I laughed, too. It sent a feeling of relief through my body. The rum was a helper.
I slept well that night but awoke feeling bad. It was not because of the rum. My soul was burdened by a weight of darkness in my being. I went out on the deck in the brightness and heat of the sun. Where was I? Our small, fragile vessel was in a nightmare landscape of yellow, brown and green seaweed! I looked at the sails, no wind, not even a breeze! The hot sun beat down on my enfeebled mind. I almost experienced vertigo as if I would lose my balance. “Aye, and we are in the Sargasso Sea”, said the old sailor.
All of the old, sea stories I had heard all my life about this accursed place came back to me. Would we all die of hunger and thirst here? I looked about at the motley crew. Their faces were grim. A burly sailor with a black beard and shaggy, black hair said, “All we can do is pray.” My mind went into a state that bordered on insanity. I thought back to the beginning of the voyage. Could I have made a decision to not get on board this ship? Such thoughts were futile I knew.
The next few days were a nightmare that never seemed to end. The sickening, horrible seaweed kept getting thicker as our once proud, ocean vessel drifted with no wind. There were pieces of old cargo and parts of old ships like small islands of rotting junk covered with seaweed surrounding us. We were getting deeper into the Sargasso Sea. Everything I had heard about this cursed place was true. Mentally I had descended into pure hell. Would we become just more of the flotsam and jetsam of the sea, rotting under green graves of seaweed? The sun in the sky was like a cruel, all knowing eye looking down on us.
One dark night we were all on deck. It was humid and very warm but not sweltering hot as in the daytime. Then a very young sailor shouted, “There’s a ship!” Without thinking with words my immediate feeling was that this made no sense. The sailors started stirring. Some stood up and walked over to the starboard side of the ship where the young man was looking out to sea. It seemed that the young sailor was looking intently at something. My curiosity was aroused. Another sailor said, “I see it!” Another said, “Aye, and so do I”. How was it possible? Was there another miserable crew of sailors like ourselves adrift in this abysmal place?
I walked over to the side of the ship and looked in the same direction as the others. There was something in the distance that shone pale as if in the moonlight but there was no moonlight. There was no moon. It started to get bigger on the horizon as if it was moving towards us. I remembered that there are fish in tropical waters that glow in the dark but the sailors had said that it was a ship. It was a ship! We all stood in wonder, frozen on the spot and waiting as the spectral ship in the darkness seemed to keep approaching us.
Then it came closer. It was in full sail as if a strong wind was driving it but there was no wind! No one spoke a word. I looked at the faces of the superstitious sailors around me with their wide open eyes, some with jaws clenched and some with jaws dropped.
The ship came closer. There was the sound of a howling wind. We saw that the sails of the ship were in tatters streaming forward with the wind and yet there was no wind. It was a ghost ship! My hair stood on end!
The ghastly, black ship with its flags and torn sails driven by a wind we could not feel started to pull alongside our ship. I looked at the sailors. Most were frozen with fear and could not move. Then there was the strange sound of music and sea chanteys. Then there was the sound of chains and moaning. There were screams. The ghost ship came up right along the side of our own vessel. The sound of chains and moaning grew louder. No one could be seen on board the ghost ship. It glowed pale and ghastly as if there was a moon with an eerie light of its own.
The ghost ship was passing slowly alongside of us now and a chill hit me that went straight through to my bones. I started to shiver. The burly sailor with the black hair and beard fell to his knees grasping at the beads of his rosary to pray. He looked up at the sky as if to ask God, “Why?” The old sailor’s teeth began to chatter uncontrollably making a horrible racket. Then the young sailor ran to the port side of the ship and jumped. As the ghost ship slowly passed our own fragile, little vessel and the sounds of chains and moaning gradually subsided none of us could even move.
The ghost ship had passed. We started to take deep breaths. Then we thought of the young sailor who was still just a lad. We ran over to the side of the ship. We shone lanterns all around the dark sea below us. There was seaweed everywhere. The Sargasso Sea had taken him.
The next days were misery. No one really wanted to talk about the ghost ship. We had all seen it. The merciless sun beat down upon us in the day. We were on starvation rations. The landscape around us was nightmarish.
One day I was lying on my back on the deck in a patch of shade, trying to conserve my energy. I did not want to die of starvation or dehydration. I opened my eyes a little and looked straight up. I thought I saw the flag at the top of the highest mast of our ship move. Was it my imagination? I kept looking at the flag. It moved again. My eyes were now fully open. I just kept lying there as if in a dream. The flag moved again. It started fluttering a little. I stood up still looking up at the flag. The other sailors around me noticed. They started looking up at the flag with me. The flag moved again. All of the sailors now were looking at the flag silently. The flag started fluttering some more. Then it fluttered even more. There was a breeze! Some of the highest sails appeared to move just a little. All eyes were above. The sails started to move some more. It was as if we were all frozen, afraid if we moved or said anything we would destroy the magic. The sails started to move more and the flags all started moving. The topmost flag started fluttering in the breeze and didn’t stop. All the sails were moving. The sails were starting to fill up with wind! We looked up at the helm of the ship. The captain was there at the wheel. He had a confidence and pride that we had never seen before. The ship was moving! It creaked and it moaned but it was not like the creaking and moaning of the ghost ship!
The first mate came on deck to assure us that the captain and the navigator had been keeping track of exactly where we were and would steer us on the right course. Some expressed concern about the obstacles of flotsam, jetsam and seaweed that surrounded us. The first mate said that those obstacles were taken into consideration. We were truly glad that we even had a chance since sailing at sea always involves risk. Only the use of skill keeps a man alive in the vastness of the awesome power of nature.
Much to our amazement, after negotiating some tricky turns to avoid being stuck in the seaweed of the Sargasso Sea, there appeared more open spaces in the water. It wasn’t long before we saw the open sea ahead of us and a clear path to reach it. We must have drifted through the hell of the Sargasso Sea and reached the other side.
We reached the open sea! The wind was with us and apparently the gods were now on our side! The sails were full as we were swept out to sea! The captain at the helm with the first and second mates and navigator around him looked proud but at the same time they looked like men who had been humbled. The sailors cheered!
It wasn’t long before the ship was sailing along at a good speed over bright, ocean swells with dolphins leaping about. A sign of good luck! Spirits were bright. That night the sailors celebrated with extra rations and a good ration of rum. There was music and singing of sea chanteys. The crew danced with men locking arms and dancing around in circles until they grew dizzy. This made everyone laugh!
And so the days continued at sea. It was a paradise. The sailors caught the best fish at sea. They cooked the fish on deck. It was a feast and a celebration of life.
Then the captain made an announcement. We were on course and soon would be reaching the Orient. Never before had the man in the crow’s nest with his telescope seemed so important. When he yelled, “Land, Ho!” the cheers of the grateful sailors went up to the heavens. Soon all of us saw land. We sailed into the harbor. It was a successful voyage. We delivered the goods and brought home valuable trading commodities from the Orient to Europe.
Those of us who were on this voyage continued our careers as merchant marines. We went our separate ways. We traveled all over the world. We had many adventures. I was fortunate to travel to the Orient many times. I was able to travel to the New World of the Americas.
Sometimes when I came into a seaport whether it was in my own home country or in a foreign place I would be in a restaurant or tavern that sailors haunt. I would sometimes be sitting by myself overhearing other sailors’ conversations. I overheard some sailors talking about the story of the ghost ship. Apparently some of the sailors who were on the same trip with me had told the story and it had gotten around. The sailors in the restaurants and taverns would discuss about whether they thought the story was true or not. The consensus was that it was just another sailor’s story.
I never told anyone this story because I knew that no one would believe me. As I make the rounds, traveling all over the world and meet one of the crew members who was on that fateful trip we look into each other’s eyes. We know we share a secret of something that happened that no one would believe. How do we explain about the young sailor who jumped overboard if anyone should ever ask us? In the end I guess it is just another sailor’s story. Wherever I go in all the travels of my life I am restless and can’t seem to settle down but the memory of the ghost ship rests firmly in my mind and cannot be taken away.
Not long after becoming acquainted with Jimmy’s family John’s family next door to them moved away. The house was vacant for a time. One day Jimmy asked me to come along with him, his mother and younger brothers to visit with John. Apparently John’s family had bought a brand new house. Our neighborhood was that of very simple tract homes that appeared to have been built in the early fifties. John’s new home was sixties style, fancier and brand new. The tract of homes was even built on a hill and not on flat land. He lived at the end of a curving cul-de-sac. The home was so new that the land around it was dirt. There was no landscaping yet. We were taken on a tour of the new, fancy house.
This was only the second time in my life I ever saw the younger John. I remembered how cruelly Jimmy had treated him at the last meeting. Much to my surprise Jimmy now treated John with the utmost respect and friendliness. Something had suddenly changed. He seemed to treat me with disdain as if since we had been seeing each other regularly the familiarity had turned to disrespect and contempt. Very quickly he and John disappeared around a corner leaving me alone, alone outside a brand new house that seemed barren with no landscaping. All I could do was wait patiently until Jimmy’s family decided to leave. I wasn’t in a good humor on the drive back. I was quiet. I couldn’t wait until we arrived so I could walk back home.
Our yard was not perfect. It wasn’t like the Miller’s who were a retired couple across the street whose lawn was perfectly green and always cut and trimmed perfectly with its perfect flower beds. It was weedless all the time. Our lawn was not dry but was never completely green. There were always some weeds that needed to be pulled. At some point my father taught all of his three sons to care for the yard but left it up to us to do so. There was no pressure. I think I took up most of the responsibility myself but try as I might I could never make the yard look perfect. I watered in the evening, pulled weeds, mowed and edged the lawn and swept the walks. My father collected a lot of nice rocks and cemented them at intervals on top of the low wall that bordered our yard. Ours was a corner house and even though the corner of our front yard was rounded and not a sharp corner the neighborhood boys would cut across our yard for a shortcut. Sometimes some of them would push and pull on the rocks until they pulled them out. They seemed to want to do these things as a sign of disrespect and rebellion against authority. I had no idea why. I finally had to confront some of these boys and tell them they couldn’t do that. They would want to argue and say, “Why not?” but I got them to stop. I even got them to stop taking short cuts across our yard.
Try as I might our yard was never perfect. However we had a very tall mulberry tree in our front yard that gave an abundance of fruit every summer. Lots of neighborhood kids would be in our yard uninvited picking fruit including children we didn’t even know. Eventually there was even a grown Mexican woman who we didn’t know picking fruit with the children. My mother who was raised on a farm in Ohio knew how to bake pies from scratch and she would bake us delicious mulberry pies every summer. There was always a smaller, immature mulberry tree on the other side of the front driveway that as yet did not bear fruit. It was not planted by design but it looked very beautiful and perfect where it was at. It was obviously a child of the mother tree. Between the front sidewalk and the curb grew a Palo Verde tree. This type of tree was native to the Arizona-Sonora desert. It had a slender trunk and limbs with smooth, green bark. The branches hung down with leaves that were thin strands with tiny green, pointed ovals along each strand. This gave the leaves a feathery look. At times the tree, also, had tiny, yellow flowers. People who were driving by would stop their cars in front and tell me that the tree was beautiful. Another of these trees had begun to grow several feet away.
We had some bushes along the front wall of the house that had small, dark green, waxy leaves. They grew up to the roof of the house and had a low arch between them. We called them bird berry bushes because they grew berries that looked exactly like tiny apples that the birds loved to eat. They were bright red on the outside, white inside and had tiny black seeds just like tiny apples. We ate them ourselves sometimes. Sometimes we’d watch the birds go crazy eating them. My father later told me that the bird berries made the birds drunk. That’s why they loved them so much.
We, also, had two plum trees on the other side of the yard past the car port. They grew right up next to the backyard fence. These small, dark, purple and green trees gave fruit every summer. In the same area was a small palm tree that was only a few feet high and the pond, a small concrete pond that my father had made. It was bordered by large rocks that were good for sitting on. The pond was only filled when one of my brothers or I filled it with a garden hose. After the two rainy seasons in Tucson we would bring tadpoles from the desert in jars to put tadpoles in the pond. The cats would come and lick some of them up from the pond to eat them. We watched the ones that were left grow hind legs and front legs. Then they would lose their tails. Eventually they became little frogs hopping around the pond until they got bigger and hopped away.
And these were the treasures of the front yard! In back there was a patio where on summer days we would eat breakfast outdoors since it was already seventy degrees even early in the morning. We would eat cereal and cantaloupe. There was another fruitless mulberry tree that was a good climbing tree. Here is where we built a tree house in it of scrap wood. The mulberry tree, instead of growing fruit, grew yellow flowers. My mother just called it a fruitless tree. Later in life when I thought back on this it became obvious to me it was the male tree that pollinated the fruit bearing mulberry tree in the front yard. There was a lawn there and next to the redwood slat, back yard fence was the clothes line where my mother hung clothes to dry and sometimes lots of diapers. I often helped my mother with the laundry. We had an old fashioned, washing machine in the back yard with a wringer to wring the excess water out of the clothes. I loved to run through the lines of cotton diapers on the clothes lines when they got dry because of the fresh smell.
Next to the wall of the house in the flower beds was a peach tree. The mother of this peach tree was in a small patch of dry lawn on the other side of the patio. Every summer the peach trees were heavily laden with fruit. The younger peach tree was once so heavily laden with fruit that one of its branches broke from the weight. My mother would make us peach pie, peach cobbler and peaches with whipped cream for dessert. She made the whipped cream from scratch. We often had peach slices with our cereal in the morning.
Then there was the weeping willow tree on the other side of the back yard driveway. The entrance to the driveway had tall, wooden gates that my father built into the redwood slat fence that encircled the back yard. The tree grew from a square made of low, red brick walls. Its gnarled roots filled the earth inside the brick enclosure. Its long, thin branches hung down low over the roots with its long, green leaves. In the spring it was not good to be under the tree’s branches because the caterpillars would be spitting out green junk that would fall on us. Later came the beautiful butterflies as they emerged from the cocoons that the caterpillars had retreated to after having their fill of eating weeping willow leaves. For a short time butterflies covered the hanging branches before flying away. Then there was the summer when the tree would achieve its full, lush greenery and glory. It was nice and cool in the shade behind the green curtains of the weeping willow tree branches. I felt a sense of peace hiding in there on hot summer days.
In the back yard behind the weeping willow tree was a fallow area of dirt. At times we grew watermelon there, potatoes and carrots. My mother gave me packages of seeds and my father taught me how to grow things. We were able to grow some corn but the stocks of corn did not get really high like on my grandfather’s farm in Ohio. We tried to grow sunflowers and were successful but the birds ate all the sunflower seeds. The birds went crazy eating the seeds from the big, yellow flowers. At times it was hard for us to even get close to the plants because of the crazed birds.
We had a kid goat for awhile as a pet and then a desert tortoise. My sisters were afraid of the goat so my father sold it back to the feed store he had bought it from. The tortoise kept digging under the fence to escape out to the desert. He finally got too much of a head start on us so we couldn’t find him. Then we got a little dog and this patch of dirt became his potty area.
The weeping willow tree was not a great tree for climbing. It was not like the huge mulberry tree in the front yard. The mulberry tree had thick branches that separated at a low level on the trunk. It was easy to climb and there was a place high above from which I could look down on the world below. I could even look down on the roof of the house. It was a natural place where branches cradled me. I could recline there. It was a place I would go to when the noise of my brothers and sisters became too much for me. When I got upset I would climb up to my high spot in the tree to think and have peace of mind. It was a place where my imagination was set free from the troubles of life.
It wasn’t long before my younger brother, Samuel, became friends with Jimmy’s two younger brothers, Donnie and Ronnie. My younger brother, Samuel, is about three years younger than I. Jimmy’s two younger brothers were two years apart. They were close to the same age as Samuel and considerably smaller in stature than Jimmy.
One day I remember going along with Jimmy and his mom and little brothers to shop in the morning during the three month summer vacation time that we had from school. In Tucson in the sixties during the hot days of summer we, boys, wore cut-off jeans to look cool. It was at the beginning of summer vacation and before nine in the morning there was still a little coolness in the air. We were going to a large, discount department store in a new complex recently built in the desert. The modern four lane, divided road had an exit that looked like a freeway exit but this was Tucson so this was not a freeway at all.
We arrived in the old, station wagon that Jimmy’s mother drove. We were there at the doors of the new, modern looking department store in the desert where no greenery of landscaping had started to grow yet. It was before the store was open. The day was growing hotter in the Arizona sun as I noticed all the other housewives, most of them middle aged, who were waiting for the doors to open. It was the day of a sale that had been advertised. I had no previous experience or knowledge of these types of events at all.
I remember a tall, young man in a light grey suit unlocking the glass doors and then I was witnessing a site that I had never heard of. Everyone was pushing up toward the doors as they opened and then there was an insane, mad rush of women running to a certain department. I found myself caught up in the ebullience of the moment and rushing with all of the others to see what the excitement was all about.
Soon I came to a scene in which there was already a crowd of women gathered in a certain area and others were fighting their way to get in. I decided to become one of them to see what was going on. When I was able to push through the women and get close enough to the front I was amazed by what I saw. There were tables piled with women’s clothing that had been neatly folded and women were practically fighting over the clothing! It was a garish spectacle! After watching for awhile I turned and walked away.
One thing that really stands out in my mind is the way Jimmy’s mom placated her two youngest children by giving them candy. At a certain point in this shopping experience Jimmy and his mom left me alone in the old station wagon with Donnie and Ronnie. I sat in the back seat and Ronnie and Donnie turned to face me from the middle seat of the station wagon. I tried to talk to them as I would with my own younger brother and sisters but they seemed more keen on trying to impress me with the fact that they had candy. I found myself in a state of disgust looking at their dirty, little faces with candy coating around their mouths. Already their teeth were small and brown with gaps between them. They smiled at me triumphantly as if the mere state of constantly having candy showed superiority.
I sat in the back seat of the station wagon looking at the dirty, little faces smiling at me. Inside the station wagon was a feeling of dirtiness and smelliness. There was a gritty feeling. I just felt a sense of disgust. Needless to say I never went along with Jimmy and his mother when they went shopping again. When he asked me if I wanted to go along he seemed not to understand why I would say no.
I actually liked Jimmy’s mom. She was younger than my own mother. She had bouncy, blonde hair down to her shoulders. Often she wore shorts. She seemed pretty. She always acted nice. She seemed rather child like herself. She often talked to me as if I were an equal. There was an air of excitement about being in their home. It was something different, something new.
Jimmy’s father was a dark, shadowy figure who made his appearance rarely. It was a long time before I ever saw him. He was a burly, Mexican man with black hair, a dark complexion and a small moustache. He seemed unpleasant and never smiled. He was not like my own Mexican-American father. My father was known for smiling and joking. Jimmy’s father was a glazier and apparently made good money. His glass truck would sometimes be parked in the driveway of their home. Jimmy said that he often worked on Saturdays which was why he was rarely at home.
It seemed as if marriage for him was his wife only and not his children. He seemed to leave the raising of his sons to his wife. This may have had to do with the fact that all three of his boys turned out to have blonde hair like their mother and fair complexions. When he was at home he usually retreated to the bedroom.
I remember on a few occasions during this time in my life I found myself alone in the living room of my family home on a hot, Tucson afternoon. It was cool in the living room from the air of the cooler as I looked peacefully at the drapery. I became impressed with the sense of order and calmness in my mother’s neat and nice living room. There was the couch decorated with the Mexican zarape, the fireplace mantel with the clock ticking and the family photos. There were the paintings and old fashioned carpet with its oval shape, the coffee table, end tables and lamps. I was sitting in my mother’s comfortable upholstered rocking chair. There were the drapes gently swaying because of the one window that was slightly ajar from which the heat of the Sonoran desert and fresh air from outside radiated. From the front porch would be the sound of the wind chimes that were barely moving.
The peace and tranquility impressed me with the orderliness of the living room in its own afternoon twilight. Everything neat and simple. Everything dusted by my little sisters or my mother. When my sisters were babies I had helped my mother with the dusting. I had a feeling of transcendence and peace of mind. This was my pristine world, so different, I thought in contrast to Jimmy’s world.
Although there was an air of excitement in Jimmy’s home with his young, energetic mother I always felt a sense of uncleanness and lack of order and peace. There was never the clean, pristine smell of my family home. Often the living room was in need of picking up with loose articles here and there. Both of Jimmy’s parents smoked cigarettes which contributed to the general feeling of dirtiness. Often Jimmy’s mother would be sitting on the couch, laundry to fold at her side, with a cigarette in her hand, smoke going up to the ceiling. The ceiling was stained yellow and brown from the cigarette smoke.
a sunny day but with a chill from the ocean when I was on a pier
looking at the ships and gazing out to sea. Lost as I was in thought I
turned and started walking with no purpose back along the wharf to the
narrow ways along the waterfront. Between the same, old buildings,
wandering, eventually my feet led me, as I was between memories and
fantasies, to the realization that I wasn’t sure exactly where I was. I
turned a corner down a narrow lane and a few shops down to my left I
saw the curio shop. I was drawn to the front window and looked inside
at all the curious items from exotic places, the teak wood boxes and
I looked at the door and started towards it. I opened the door and
walked in. I looked to the left and right consciously aware that an
elegant, oriental woman beautifully dressed in dark, oriental clothing
with dark hair stood behind the counter. She was gazing at me with
slightly lowered eyelids and with a small but curious smile on her
face. As I took a few steps within and continued to look about I was
drawn more toward her than to all the ivory, beads and exotic décor I
was seeing. I started to walk toward her. She seemed so serene, calm
and wise. There was a light in her dark eyes and she had a knowing smile. She was very beautiful.
We spoke for quite a long time about many things but I cannot remember what was spoken. My eyes fell upon the talisman beneath the glass counter top. I asked her about it. She reached under the glass counter top
and gently grasped it. She paused a moment and then gracefully pulled
it out from its resting place. Soon she was displaying it in her two
hands in front of me.
I took the talisman in my own hands with her soft hands brushing
against mine I felt the smoothness of it. There was something about the
craftsmanship of it and character and
the feeling of it in my hands made me feel an attachment to it, a
connection to the worlds within and without myself. There was something
about the perfect balance of it.
I purchased the talisman, said goodbye to the oriental lady and smiled
as I turned to leave. She smiled back mysteriously. I wasn’t sure why I
had purchased the talisman that felt so smooth and good in my hands. I
admired its craftsmanship. It had fallen into evening and began to
grow dark as I wandered aimlessly. Somehow my weary body made its way
to the tenement building I stayed in. I made my way up the outside stairs to my room.
That night I fell into a deep sleep and had many vivid and curious
dreams. I was in exotic places with strange and unusual birds and
plants. I was with foreign people who spoke very little but said
strange and mysterious things.
I felt I was lost in a foreign country I had never heard of and would
not be able to find my way back when I suddenly awoke. I could tell by
the light in the room that
it was already late in the morning. The talisman was still there on
the table next to my bed. I took it in my hands and walked to the
window. I opened the curtains and opened the window to smell the fresh,
sea air. I looked out beyond the harbor at the open sea.
Eventually my brother and I got over the ordeal once the game was done. Jimmy and John returned to seeming nice again. To my brother and me at the time it didn’t matter anymore. We’d made a new friend and got to visit his apple orchard and nice house. We’d played a game and lost but in the end we were happy. We’d had fun and it was a good day to us. I never returned to John’s house but Jimmy and John became the best friends of my brother, Daniel. My brother and Jimmy returned to John’s house often. My brother eventually became known for dominating when playing board games. He read the rules thoroughly before playing any new game and my brothers and sisters and visiting children in our own home were proud of him for his abilities. I thought of him as the king of playing Monopoly. He played fairly though. We had fun trying to beat him.
Once I was standing with Jimmy in his front yard, talking to him. His little brother, Donnie, ran up to him and started talking to him. Jimmy started hitting him over the head with a rolled up newspaper. I watched the expression on Jimmy’s face. He seemed angry and vicious in the way he looked at his little brother. Poor Donnie ran away crying. He ran off with his little brother, Ronnie. I must admit I did not know what to think.
One Saturday I went with my brother, Jimmy, Jimmy’s mother and Jimmy’s younger brothers to the Tucson public library. We went into the children’s section to look for books to check out. I found two books I wanted to read as I usually would at the library. When Jimmy saw I had two books he asked, “You’re only going to check out two books?” I noticed then that Jimmy had a big stack of books to check out. I told him I would only be able to read two books in two weeks otherwise I would have to renew books to be able to finish them. He took me over to the book shelves and started pulling out books for me to read and stacking them on top of the two books I was holding. I protested but he would not stop. I finally got him to stop it when I was holding a stack of seven books. I was mortified. Jimmy’s mom seemed to think this was normal. I only read the two books that I had originally wanted to check out and returned the rest of the books unread. My brother, Jimmy and Jimmy’s mother would ask me if I wanted to go to the library with them. They just couldn’t understand why I didn’t want to go to the library with them.
The family with the pretty, teenage girl who lived across the street from Jimmy had moved out. The house wasn’t vacant for long before a new family moved in. When we came to visit with Jimmy again he pointed to the house across the street which had a medium high, chain link fence around the front yard and told us to watch out for the boy who lived there because he cussed a lot and was very ba-a-d. Being from Catholic school my brother and I were sensitive to the fact that some public school kids could be very bad.
Sammlung von Gedichten und Kurzgeschichten mit Aphorismen und Humor. Illustrationen und Fotografien des Autors. Zu den Sachbüchern gehören Memoiren und das Schreiben von Träumen. Fiktive Geschichten sind, wie der Autor seine Gefühle ausdrückt, indem er Geschichten in seinem Kopf erfindet. Die Schrift spiegelt den amerikanischen Südwesten des Autors wider. Inspirierend für alle Altersgruppen.
Spindeldamen handlar om en ung taxichaufför som möter en mycket konstig äldre kvinna. Det är en mörk memoar. McArthur Street berör en pojke som växte upp i Tucson på sextiotalet och hans kämpar med gott och ont.