Most people on both sides of its black Atlantic grave know about the TITANIC. And about its horrific sinking 100 years ago this month. What most of them don’t know are the unfitted ripples of unintended consequences that have washed over my family ever since.
The TITANIC, as its name intended, was to be the world’s greatest and most unsinkable ocean vessel. Yet when it struck an iceberg that dark April night, everything that could go wrong did go wrong. Within 24 frantic hours, this majesty of man’s manufacturing pride plunged forever into the ocean. With it, 1500 lives and humanity’s persistent delusion it can somehow rule over all it surveys.
We’ve been writing about this epic event ever since. But not about my young Mother’s frontier family who set sail across that same North Atlantic route precisely seven years later. At 13, she was too young to realize the full consequences of the family’s adventure. But my Grandfather surely did.
They were a family of five living in the tiny copper-mining town of Morenci, Arizona where he operated a “company store.” A bakery for the immigrant who crowded this dusty niche in the red mountainside where all-night saloons, six-guns, and the the Apache-warriors of Geronimo still existed.
But now it was 1919, and Grandma yearned to visit her dying mother back in Italy. They had not seen one another since Grandma had left her mother behind in 1900 to marry the great love of her life on his way to his fortune in Arizona. And so this cramped 2500 mile railroad trip to the port of New York; then aboard the “Marseilles” in route to Genoa, Italy.
The second night out it happened. Again. The heavy gales and high winds of the eternally hungry North Atlantic looking for more victims. As Mom remembers, it was a traumatic few hours during which Grandpa finally pulled out his Colt Revolver swearing he would, “kill us all here instead of being sucked into the sea like rats!”
The end of the story is not the end of the story.
They survived the storm. The “Marseilles” landed at Genoa. Life went on. And yet never the same. My Mother inherited a fearful dread of the water for the rest of her life. It burrowed into her DNA so deeply and contagiously she unconsciously passed it on to her children, and even to other mentored members of her extended family.
Evidence…? I don’t know if any of this qualifies, but there were two deaths by drowning, four boating accidents, and the fact I get sea sick just writing about the sea. Perhaps that’s why I joined the Air Force instead the Navy. Not that either branch of service would be at all interested in the reasons for my uneventful decision. If they did, though, I assume the Navy would have thanked me.
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