Long ago and far away…
On a windy day, the young man stood at the far downhill edge of his family’s farm, looking out at the broad and blue water of the gulf. He had chores to do, as he did every day, of course, but there was a glorious white ship passing and the boy could not tear his gaze from it no matter that piles of cuttings clogged the fields and hungry animals went waiting.
The ship’s long, narrow bow sliced the water and launched churning waves to its sides. A red and blue insignia decorated the stack, now belching dark grey smoke. A colorful foreign flag spanked and cracked from the stern. The young man had watched many ships go by while avoiding the real work of the farm, but never had he seen any this graceful, this beautiful. And on the deck, he saw an officer standing proud, erect, focused on the place ahead where he would soon dock his vessel. The officer’s coat had rows of shining gold buttons, shining gold braid on the sleeves and shining gold emblems on the lapels.
The young farmboy was completely transfixed.
About to burst with excitement, he could no longer bear to stand still for another second on that drably brown farm, not with that beautiful ship gliding by. Just looking at it made his heart ready to explode. There was no stopping his feelings and there was now no stopping him. He dropped his hoe and ran, following the ship’s path.
It might have been hours, for all he knew, that he ran to reach the ship, now safely tied to the dock and, unlike the boy himself, at rest. He might rightly have expected the still ship to have lost some of its beauty, its majesty. But, if anything, being so close made it seem all the grander still than it had cutting through the deep blue water of the gulf.
The boy’s eyes were afire, his mouth agape.
The ship’s captain, leaning on an impossibly high rail, noticed the boy watching him and doffed his cap with a smile. At some level, the man must have known the boy was hooked. And, in his defense, it was quite common practice to recruit young sailors this way. So, he waved the boy onto the ship and into the start of a new life.
He couldn’t have known, when he climbed up the gangplank onto the beautiful white boat, that war was coming to his country, even to his family’s little dirt farm. He couldn’t have known that his family would, fearful of the coming waves of the war’s death, disperse to the four winds. A generation hence, the families started by he and his brothers would find themselves at the farthest reaches of the earth – South Africa, Ecuador, Australia and America.
He came to see places he’d never heard of – Africa, South America, India, the many islands of the south Pacific, and the magical ports of the Orient. He met people of excitingly unfamiliar customs and appearance. He worked on many ships – for he didn’t last long on the beautiful white ship that had initially seduced him into the life of a sailor – that carried the men and material that would come to win wars and build mighty empires.
He, as they say with high spirits in the context of swashbuckling fiction, sailed the seven seas. He must, in literal truth, have sailed around the world a hundred times by the time of his death. But he never spoke to his family again, or saw them or the beautiful farm that had fed and nurtured him throughout his young life.
That connection, or re-connection, was left to subsequent generations.