I never said much, being the youngest and being the youngest it was best that I stay as still as possible. There is hard labor for those of us who do not understand the art of silence.
Yes, the art of silence. Do not hide, for when you are among siblings, out of sight does not mean out of mind, especially when an order is easily delegated. Prepare to be busy, not look busy, this is essential to survival. Plan your day do not hope for the best. So among my chores, the major one being the gathering of driftwood – no matter what the weather –I became the driftwood gatherer, and my days were planned.
The weather made me I’m sure; wind blowing, cutting sleet, rain in deluges, and heat that baked the sand to almost dead white kept me in one piece. Never once did I ever hear an anxious voice from the house as I drug the driftwood from the shore to the door. This was my job, the others had theirs.
No one wanted driftwood gathering.
Annie, bless her heart wasn’t up too much. She was always sickly and kept close to Mother. Mother was harried and busied and spent most her life, it seemed to me, scolding my brothers and clucking over Annie, who stood still for Mother to wipe her tears away in a sort of rough but tender way.
I hated school but loved to read – as most readers discover. School distracts.
I was shunned for the books I read, but I read them anyway. I was the driftwood gatherer, I could face the disdain of any long nosed librarian. When we went once a week to the library (my fellow classmates in purgatory), I felt at times she only pretended to put on her worst face for me. I do not know to this day if it was my selection of books or my designation as family driftwood gatherer that sparked a look of possible admiration in her face, possible disdain.
As driftwood gatherer I felt it incumbent upon myself to be observant. There were several old Bibles in the library – thus and so Bible donated by Captain Daniel McGuire and thus and so Bible donated in the memory of Captain Joseph Benton. On and on I could go. After my selection of books by George Elliot, Jane Austen, or any of the Bronte sisters, I would go along the long low shelf of Bibles and touch each one. I was the only one allowed to touch them, because in my family, I was the driftwood gatherer and in the library I was sneaky, or prized. I touched them because for those who donated the personal or family Bible to the local library usually meant shipwreck, leaving the big lakes that took down their loved ones and frankly being sickened by the whole idea of setting sail. I felt that I was connecting to the driftwood I found along our shores by touching those Bibles.
I was very young when I was first sent out to gather driftwood. The shoreline to Huron was close to our house, and it was cold in the morning, any time of year. The mist was often low to the ground.
One October morning I was lost for some time, trying to find my way back with driftwood. The driftwood was water logged and worn smooth by the roughness of the fresh water waves. You see, so many don’t understand that fresh water has no plashy, saltwater softness to it – ever. The ships wooden and even the new long boats take a beating within the sharp and harden waves of Huron, Superior, Michigan, Erie, and Ontario.
My father found me first.
“Well, at last I find my daughter hard at her chore. What has become of you?”
“Huron was in every direction,” I sniffed a little hardened in attitude due to the heaviness of my load and the ache in my shoulders. “Even on shore Huron mists up and hides shelter.”
“Naw, not true. Huron is only along the east here. She sent the mist to confuse you. She didn’t want you to leave. There is no harm in her.”
“Why doesn’t she want me to leave?” I felt little regard for her at the moment and I felt myself struggling not to pee.
“Well, Huron loves all lovely young maidens.”
I looked up in hope at my father. His hair was gray and his eyes a sharp sky blue. He seemed tall to me but not so tall among other men at church. Until that moment, I was not sure that I was even noticed by my father — ever. I could feel a thin mucus crust along the edge of my nose and my eyes felt swollen and my shoulders ached with pulling the driftwood beside me, in what seemed to be all day.
“Now let’s see what you have here.” My father pulled up the driftwood that I had gathered; gray and black, heavy and long. “Yes, yes, I knew you had it in you. This is from my ship I’m sure. Don’t you see pretty maiden, Huron loves you and wants to keep you near, and has given you a piece of what I worked so long and hard for.”
“I think I should find Mother.” I told him. His fine blue eyes stared long and hard at the driftwood I had drug along behind me; he said nothing. So I started off again, away from Huron’s shore, my shoulder’s aching and my legs dragging deep within the sand. When I looked up again, the house was in view and I felt like weeping.
“Where have you been, you dolt, looking at rocks again?” asked my Mother.
“No,” I said, “ “looking for driftwood like you said.”
“I’ve told you not to be so long — what would your father say if he could see you?”
I thought of the Bibles in the Library and how ours remained on the shelf. I shrugged and went into the warm kitchen.
Nearly every day, I look for driftwood and wonder which sailors clung to the edges and then let slip away and which Bibles are donated, which remain.