Today I paused during my walk to watch Holland America’s Westerdam weigh anchor and sail past the mouth of Indian River on its way to Seattle and asked “Will this be the ship that carries me away?”
It’s a question my grandfather asked as a boy in Ireland. An uncle named Morrison had sailed away to America to make his fortune. When he came back on a fine large ship he erected a cairn of stones on the road from Greencastle to Moville, paced off the length of the ship he returned on, and erected another cairn of stones. Because of Ireland’s blue laws a person had to be a confirmed traveler to buy a drink on a Sunday. Confirmation as a traveler was achieved by traveling 3 miles. On Sunday after mass Greencastle and Moville, which are three miles apart, exchanged populations. Before there was the Sunday drive there was the Sunday, hike, the kids tagging along each Sunday, hearing Uncle Morrison talking about his fine big ship. After school grandpa sat on the shores of Lough Foyle watching ships sail out of Derry, around Inishowen Head and into the North Atlantic asking “Will this be the ship that carries me away?,” until the day when, at age 13 he got on one of those ships and ran away to sea.
When I was a kid my grandfather and I sat on the fire escape of his third floor cold water flat in Jersey City and watched the ships sailing past the Statue of Liberty. He taught me to recognize the livery colors on the ships’ funnels. Red white and blue for United States Lines, yellow, green and white for Holland America, red and black for Cunard, buff and black for White Star. White Star had merged with Cunard more than a decade before I was born but the old White Star ships still carried her old livery. My grandfather was proud of that because he was an old White Star man, and, I suppose, because they were built in Ireland. As we watched the ships grandpa would ask “Richard, Will this be the ship that carries you away”
And one day the red, white and blue funnels of the SS United States carried Grandpa and me away to visit Ireland and we sat at the place on Lough Foyle where grandpa had originally posed that question to himself.
Years later, long after Grandpa had passed, my mother asked me why I was always traveling, why I had moved to Alaska, why I loved working in places around the world, why I not stayed “home” like she had? I started talking about Grandpa. Mom was amazed at the stories he told me, she had never heard such stories. (Of course Grandpa would not have told his daughter “where a man can go to have some fun in Baltimore.”) I realized that grandpa had never asked his daughter “Margaret, will this be the ship that carries you away?”
On this fine summer day, watching the Westerdam sail through Eastern Channel, I can’t help but ask “Will this be the ship that carries me away?”