Thursday, April 26, 2007

Sinking Ships and Trunks of Love

Nobody’s Opinion: After reading Denis’s lovely piece on the Titanic, and all those wonderful comments by all the MND readers, it took me back to a family story…

You know, one of those stories that are passed down generation to generation, and like the rumor going around ear to ear in the classroom, by the time it gets to the last person, you end up wondering if it was even true.

One of those.

My mother told me a family “boat” story once when I was nine. She said it was her grandmother who told her. It was, basically a great family “love” story, and it evolved around an old chest. It was the first “love” story I ever heard.

Ever since I was a child, we had a real old family chest, and it held all my toys. The lid was hard to lift open, because it was so heavy. It was mostly made out of steal, with some kind of very hard wood that I’ve never seen before or since, and the outside had intricate engravings all over it. I still have it.

The inside was all torn paper---it was smelly and it stunk. I used to cut my hands on the latches because they were so sharp. What am I saying?---I still cut myself. But, boy was it big. All my toys fit inside with room to spare.

Anyway, the story goes, my great-great-great grandmother and her husband lived in England. They had moved there from Prussia, so it must have been somewhere around the early 1800’s…and they wanted desperately to come to America.

So, they packed up everything they owned into that big trunk, and set sail…but about 15 miles from shore, the boat sprang a leak, and luckily, everyone got back on shore. Even the trunk. All the women, men, and children survived.

About four months later, my great-great-great grandparents decided to try again. This time they got much farther out, a good hundred miles or so, when the boat started to sink. Once again…everyone got back. But they lost their trunk.

A week later they found it, washed up on shore…many miles from the point where they started, but to their big surprise, everything was still in it, and in good condition.

Then…once again, a third try…a YEAR later they decided to chance the trip again. But this time, this boat was in mid-Atlantic when it started to sink.

And yes, ALL the brave men on that boat sacrificed their lives. It was the code.

But here’s the “love” story, as told by my mother.

All the women were on board the life boats. All of them got into the life boats. But my great-great-great grandmother refused to leave her husband’s side. She insisted on dying with the men. She was so adamant about it, so stubborn, she caused such a problem that the men on board the ship decided to let my grandfather go with her. He was the only man allowed to live.

Looking back, the men on board probably did this to ease their own hearts, because after all, a boat with all women and no men out that far in the ocean, was not exactly a good thing. (especially in those days with all the long dresses and stuff) The men probably thought having one man on board the lifeboat was a good idea, but I'm just guessing.

And that man was my great-great-great grandfather. And yes, they made it back to England…and yes, the trunk, once again washed up on shore.

You would have thought after THREE failed attempts they would have given up. But Noooooooo…that’s the great thing about freedom…and our country. It’s always been the dream of the world.

So, once again---after six months, they tried a fourth time.

And this time, they made it.

What is so interesting to me about this story, as remembered by my mom, is not the fact that my grandmother by her actions, basically saved her husband's life..

But the fact...that no one could believe that...that damn trunk actually kept coming back to shore! Amazing! Who could believe it!

Think about it...the question of devotion and love in our family was very commonplace, but the fact that a trunk swept up to shore and was found...intact....after floating for months on the water...was basically a miracle.

My----how times have changed. Today, it would be the love devotion that would seem miraculous, and the trunk...well...

The Toelle's build a house right on the Mississippi. I’m sure they watched Mark Twain cruise his ships by their house. They never took another ocean trip.

When the love of her life died, it was said my great-great-great grandmother was so upset that she insisted that her husband was still alive and talked to him all day long. She never really got over his death. It was hard for everyone to watch.

Now, I have no idea how much of this story is true, and yet...I have no reason to doubt it. These were poor people whose stories did not make it to the front pages of newspapers.

Like Denis, I too have seen the Titanic exhibit, AND the movie of course.

And I thought that James Cameron’s interpretation, showing the differences in the classes, how the men AND the women of the lower classes were sacrificed, hit home even harder. Even though the noble rich men died with the ship, those rich men also knew that there were many women AND children locked in the hull of the ship, destined to drown. They were only concerned about their own wives and children, which is human nature. Noble they were…to a point.

The good news is; nobility is not dead. Men sacrifice their lives for women and children, they do it every day…in Iraq, on our police forces, special forces…working hard to not only support their families, but America. There are still many noble souls left.

And yet, I also remember a woman who sacrificed her own life not too long ago to give her small son a life in America. A woman that nobody even remembers. A woman forgotten as much as we forget our garbage. A woman who floated on a rubber tube for days.

She wanted a better life for her son. She was willing to die for it.

Do you remember her name? No…neither do I. But then, I bet that’s a love story being told and will be handed down generation to generation…in a family in Miami.

And I also bet there is a little boy who dreams of her at night, in his Cuban school.

So I too join in to thank Denis, for bringing back a story so long ago forgotten by me, and reminding all her readers of the decency still to be thankful for.

Nobody’s Perfect: Unfortunately, inside the lid of that old trunk are some very inartistic crayon marks, in red. When you are two, red crayons improve just about everything.

Nobody Knows: Is there anyone in the world, upon seeing the scene in the movie where the old lady throws the diamond back into the ocean…is there anyone who didn't shout... “IS SHE CRAZY?!” Even my great-great-great-grandmother wouldn’t have done that.

Nobody Cares; This is a picture of my great-grandmother(their descendant) and her husband, who loved each other, just as much. I supposedly have the family Prussian Toelle eyes. It was her grandmother that saved the chest.

Hopefully, everyone’s got such a great story in their family, and if you don’t…start asking before it’s too late, and feel free to share, they are all our American treasures.



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5:29 PM  

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