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The Stone That Did Not Sink
My name is Mary Stone, and I have never done anything extraordinary except survive. I grew up in a large family, not well off but we always managed to pull through life’s many difficulties. My father used to say that “No one could beat a Stone on stubbornness.”
Our family was a running joke in our community. Everyone was constantly surprised by our hardiness and will to survive. Instead of saying “as hard as rock” people who knew us said “as hard as Stone.” My father juggled many jobs at once, my mother took in wash from other people’s houses and sold almost everything we managed to produce, from rag rugs to our famous raspberry jelly.
Although one would imagine that since I came from such a family I would be naturally stubborn and hardy, I was really one of the more picky and easily frightened of our family. I remember refusing to pull out the guts of a chicken, with tears streaming down my face. My mother had no sympathy for my weakness. “There are a lot of things that are harder in life than pulling out a little chicken gut.” She told me this often, substituting “pulling out chicken gut” for whatever other task I found difficult at the time.
Some people would resent my mother and her harshness, but instead I learned to outgrow or out-smart the problems that faced me. There were to be many problems in my life. My mother helped prepare me for them, not letting me have weakness, which would have been my downfall.
When I was old enough I began taking jobs of my own. I learned to never turn down a job, and saved almost every penny I earned so I could support my family and get an education. My policy did not change when I got a job as a cook aboard a tugboat known as the Tornado.
This seemed like the ideal job for me, until I realized that I had never been on a boat before.
Needless to say, it was no regular job. First of all, I was to cook on a metal tugboat. Secondly, the crew I was to cook for was five men, the biggest eaters east of the Mississippi. There was the Captain William Manwarring, Captain George Ferris, Mr. Moses Ackerson, Mr. Patrick Clark, and lastly a Mr. Zebulon Stone, who was not related to yours truly.
When I met them, they were all polite and helpful, especially when it came to loading on the heavier items. Moses Ackerson, the Engineer, seemed to have detected my wariness of the tugboat. He smiled and kind of swaggered over to me and said in a low voice, “You’ll be safe on this tug, little missy. This here boat has the soundest engine I ever did see, a monkey could manage this thing. You won’t even notice that you’re on water.”
I tried to smile, tried to seem reassured, but I really wasn’t. I would never trust something that was made of metal and floated. I could understand that wood floated. But I had no idea of how that tugboat managed to stay afloat.
I made a meal for them after they loaded up the ship at the suggestion of Captain Ferris, and we ate at about ten at night. They ate and ate, you would have thought they didn’t have dinner. After that all the men went off to their posts and left me to clean up and go to bed, although I swore to myself that I would not lay my head down until we set off.
We finally set off at one o’clock in the morning. Mr. Ackerson was not correct in that I did notice I was on water, but the boat did run smoothly. I went to my cot sleepily, but once I laid down I could not fall asleep. Eventually the tugboat stopped, about a mile or so off shore. I just lay there, looking out the small porthole at the sky. It seemed like hours had passed, though I knew that only about an hour had gone by. I finally drifted off to sleep.
BOOM! I was jolted out of my cot and fell to the floor. I looked wildly about me, trying to figure out what had happened. I tried to stand up but found the floor had tilted almost vertical. I saw water swarming up and filling my quarters. I shrieked for the first time in my life, and let anyone who was alive know of my terror. Everything seemed out of joint, but I climbed up the floor to the door and sprang out, not onto the deck but into water. I looked crazily about me and saw pieces of the ship floating upward, I grabbed a large piece of wood and kicked my feet until I broke the surface.
When I finally reached the surface I gasped and choked on the water that had managed to plunge up my nostrils. I started sobbing, but sucked in my lips until I stopped. I lay there for a moment, until I managed to control myself.
I realized that the engine must have exploded. What else could make such a loud noise? I looked for the other crewmen, but I could not see anything in the dark night air. Did anyone survive besides me? I called out, hoping desperately that someone would answer. Captain Ferris answered back from somewhere in the darkness. I knew him by his refined, almost genteel manner of speaking, even in an emergency. I asked who else survived, and he said that only he and Mr. Clark had survived.
The hours passed and I several times almost fell asleep. I was cold, cramped, floating in water but I somehow found the driftwood a hundred times more inviting than my cot had been. I knew I had to stay awake though, and strained my tired eyes and tried to think about anything that would keep me alert.
The sun was finally starting to rise was when the boat came. I don’t remember much after that, except I fell asleep for the short ride home and was taken to a warm bed when we reached shore. I had never felt more tired in my life.
When they found Zebulon Stone’s life vest, I wept. I felt numb during the whole time after the rescue to that point, but when I was told I started crying. Why did I live, and the other crewmen die? When I asked my mother, she just looked at me and said very slowly, “Mary, no man deserves to die while another lives. But it happens all the time, whether anybody likes it or not. Life has given you a good turn for once. Take advantage of it.”
I will always remember those words, for those words helped me move beyond the explosion of the Tornado. My mother is right, that we should not hang on to and worry about the past, but we should learn and take a step forward. I am Mary Stone, survivor and lover of life.