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Saved By A Hair MAG
Lifting up our dirty pinafores, my best friend Anna and I clattered stiffly up the rotted wooden steps to the clipper ship's top deck. Our legs were cramped from sleeping in the communal room below, which was empty this morning. As we hopped onto the worn flooring, a great gust of wind sent Anna's long auburn hair waving like a shining flag. After a short while, the wind began to die down and our skirts no longer billowed in the breeze.
Though we were almost perfect opposites, Anna and I had been best friends since our first year of school. Anna, who had always been quite tall, yet delicate in her tiny movements, was very different from me, the light-haired short one, who was stronger. We contrasted in almost every way, except for our thoughts....
We both had been searching for jobs from the time we turned 14, but because times were hard in Poland, we hadn't found work. Our families told us that we should plan to immigrate to America, along with several other families and friends in our community. People had informed them that jobs were available and life there was free of the European people's daily troubles. Mutually agreeing that, now 16, we were ready for a new world of challenge, Anna and I together decided that we would head for America on our own. Our parents understood, so we departed one month before the others, with stinging tears in our eyes.
Now, we were watching crewmen raise our Polish red and white striped flag higher and higher up the massive pole, which seemed to stretch to the grey sky and back. Gazing out over the rippling waves, I squinted my eyes as though this would enable me to see past the faint horizon.
Suddenly I heard a loud crackling noise and the ship jerked rapidly from side to side, almost tipping over. I lost my balance and was about to smash into the side railing. Instinctively, I thrust my hands in front of me, grabbing the rail just in time to save myself from being pushed into the seething ocean. By now, I realized that our ship was sinking. The water level rose higher with every second.
"Nellie," I heard Anna's voice call to me, "Come over here." My eyes skimmed the deck, searching for Anna. I spotted her crouched uncomfortably in the corner, obviously as petrified as I. As I ran unsteadily toward her, I looked up to see a tremendous blue wave hovering above me. It crashed on my back. I felt the chill throughout my body. The fear that hung in the air crept into my body and prevented me from moving. Ear-splitting sounds came from the bow of the ship. More water crashed over it, making a sound louder than a thrashing waterfall.
Shouts and cries could be heard from the two lower decks. My mind wouldn't work. I couldn't think. A voice kept shouting over and over in my mind, Our ship is sinking! Our ship is sinking! Our ship is sinking! Fast! But I couldn't think of anything to do to save us. Like a dragon taking a great breath of air before letting out its fire, the ocean was inhaling our ship into a whirlpool in its vast mouth.
I looked up into the swirled grey clouds that swam gracefully in the sky. I noticed a brown-haired crewman clinging to one of the ship's white poles. When I looked closer I realized that he was grasping some sort of rope. With his free arm, the young man waved a calloused hand in the cold air. I waved back. He shook his head, though, and pointed downwards, yelling something inaudible. We fearfully ran to the pole the crewman had climbed. A clear voice bellowed down from above, "I have just lowered the rescue boat. Jump into it now before the ship tips over. I'll be right there."
The great ocean had submerged the entire stern of the clipper and was just about to swallow the whole ship. We were soaked and our stocking ankles were engulfed in the salt water that was rising with growing speed. Our safety lay in the small brown rescue boat which, now that the waves had carried it, floated 30 feet away. The boat was roughly made, but sturdy with a red stripe circling its rim. It was far enough out to sea that we would have to swim to it - something that Anna had never learned to do. Scared, I tried to let my practicality take over. "Anna," I shouted over the loud gushes of water, "Just hold your nose and kick your legs. On the count of three we'll jump. One, two," I took a giant gulp of air, "THREE!"
Anna and I plummeted down into the frigid ocean. My arms tried to pull my body to the surface of the water, but my clothing added extra weight that I couldn't lift. I flung off my shoes and kicked as hard as I could. I still was unable to swim. Time was running out and I knew I only had a few seconds before I would no longer be able to hold my breath. I began to panic. I thrashed, I kicked, I inhaled mouthfuls of water. I sank further and further into the deep corners of the ocean. Then, everything went dark.
Suddenly, I felt a tremendous pull on my hair. I was dragged, half-conscious to the surface. Something lifted me into the lifeboat, still grasping my hair. I wearily started to come to and I felt a massive pain in my head. Opening my eyelids, the blurry picture slowly came into focus. A dripping wet Anna sat across from me, coughing. I looked to my left and found the muscular crewman who had saved my life. Using his rugged hands as make-shift paddles, he sat, rowing the boat. He smiled with two silver teeth gleaming in his wide grin. Out of the clipper ship that had held 167 people less than 30 minutes before, we were the only three survivors. With a sad feeling sifting through our stomachs, we rowed on to our destination, America. n
Author's Note: This story was written about my great-grandmother's sister "Nellie," who actually immigrated to Canada around 1907. My great-grandmother told it to me a few years back and I've remembered it. The basic story line is true. It could be called historical fiction, since I tried to put myself in "Nellie's" shoes.