A long narrative poem of strangers and friendship.
|--- The Old Salty Poems ---
The Old Seadog
In 1900, he is a stranger come to their town,
now renting, living in the old O’Grady place,
not to farm, not to fix up despite its being rundown,
just to live out his days, what with Death staring in his face.
The word around is he has no family, no friends,
that he has spent his whole life sailing the seas,
but, what to believe, since, when rumors fly, the truth bends.
Reports of disaster at sea…just leave him be, if you please.
As time does pass, the townspeople’s suspicion turns to fear.
The children are warned to keep away from him. “He’s not one of us!”
He ventures into town only for supplies, mostly liquor and beer.
Keeping to himself, he does nothing to allay their fear and distrust.
The children going to and from school walk quickly past his house,
until one day little Sarah happens along as he is at his mailbox…
and she smiles at him…”You don’t look like such a mean old souse,”
she says, repeating what she has heard him called. Her remark shocks,
surprises him, but then he laughs. “Neither do you! What’s your name?”
“I’m Sarah. What’s yours?” “Lately I’ve been known as Jonah mostly,
but since I’m an old seadog, call me Salty.” Every day, the same –
he’s at the mailbox as she passes his house. Then, comes finally
the day she tarries to visit, decides to converse, and his stories begin,
wondrous tales, tall and true, of far-off lands with fantastic sights,
of mysterious beasts, strange adventures, desperate battles to win,
bounty and riches galore, and fierce storms that rage for days and nights.
Soon, Sarah’s friend or two is stopping to listen to Salty’s tales.
More friends, still more…until the parents learn of these sessions.
But, when they come to put an end to it, a story of ships with sails,
South Sea Island natives, and pearls draws them in, changes impressions.
Old Salty becomes the most popular storyteller in the region all around,
never too busy to oblige with a sea tale, always willing to visit awhile
with parent or child. At last, he knows happiness, as friendships abound.
Countless lives he enriches -- all because one little girl wasn’t afraid to smile.
The Legacy Of Friendship
Old Salty and young Sarah share a staunch friendship
until the day he dies. Then the doctor drops by.
“Salty had no relatives. He lived aboard a ship
for more than fifty years. He expected he would die
a lonely, old drunk, but he credited you with preventing that.
So, he wanted you to have all his worldly possessions of value.”
Sarah’s bequest is one battered, old, sea trunk that once had sat
in Salty’s bedroom. Sorting through it, Sarah thinks, it’s true,
that it was nice of Salty to think of her so fondly after all, but
what is a young girl to do with maps, charts, and diary
after diary recounting his travels. Then, at the bottom, what
is this – a leather pouch containing handfuls of small stones. Sorry,
but she was hoping for some of those pearls he had told tall tales
about. Still, these are a pleasing mixture of pretty greens and reds.
The trunk is stored for years, but all of Salty’s stories she tells
to her children over and over, then to her grandchildren, instead
of reading them fairy tales. At each retelling of Salty’s stories, she shows
them the pretty stones, letting each child hold some in their hand.
These stories create unique family memories, each generation knows
them by heart – enriching their dreams, keeping Salty a remembered man.
Decades come and go, changing their town from one of farming
into a mill town. Most townspeople merely switch from an
existence of share-cropping to mill working, their hardships alarming.
When Sarah donates Salty’s trunk to the university library, the man
goes beside himself with glee, calling the charts, diaries, and maps
a true treasure -- this was back in 1960. Now Sarah, nearing 100, thrives.
She has 4 children, 17 grandchildren, 31 great-grandchildren – and naps
twice a day. But, when awake, she’s still the greatest storyteller alive!
The mill is closing; their jobs going overseas. Times for the family become
grim. Still, to celebrate her centennial, all in the family contribute to pay
for having Sarah’s pretty story stones mounted into a necklace at some
big-city jewelry store. Money in hand, two of her daughters silently pray
that they’ll have enough to mount all her stones. At this fancy jewelry store
they are greeted with disapproving looks, as though in the wrong place.
Their explanation given, the jeweler examines a stone, then looks at more.
As stone after stone is examined, disbelief grows larger upon his face.
“Where did you get these?” “They’ve been in our family 90 years, I’d guess.”
“This amazing collection of rubies and emeralds is…absolutely…priceless!”
[Note: This storoem won Second Place (and the prize of $1,000) in the 2008 Tom Howard Poetry Contest.]