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  • It was another methodical, restless day at sea, but only because I was stuck in the lab, with another 100-count or winkling or something similar that had to be done for the sake of science, in the name of science, but of which was otherwise dreadfully mundane. I much preferred to be on deck, in the open air, pouring over a nautical almanac or standing dutifully at my favorite post on the ship—the helm. Actually, my favorite place may have, in fact, been atop the elephant table, sitting among furls and furls of sails. There, the wind, the sea, and the rhythm of the ship resonate a sacred orchestrate that only every sailor who has ever lived is privy to, as only sailors see, firsthand, the sea as the interface between world and heaven. Then, with the sea all around, a sailor can also hear its song.

    The trouble with the elephant table is that if you were on it, there wasn’t much usefulness to be done there, and so, you were contributing nothing to the ship’s onward hove. Being a farm girl, myself, and therefore, used to the dwellings of a place where one’s work is never done (and idleness is just as sinful and destructive a sin as any), I probably spent a mere hour atop that elephant table for the entire track of the Caribbean. It was a lovely place, nevertheless.

    But alas, I was not there, even for a second, on the day to which I refer. Instead, I was in the lab, as aforementioned, and there was nothing but drudgery to occupy the mind until a fellow student asked a seemingly simple question: if you could go to dinner with any three people that ever lived, who would they be?

    Compared to the 100-count tally sheets resting under my fingertips, I found that quite an interesting question, and I was more than obliged to answer, and very thankful for some excitement to occupy a mind very much at unrest. On any other terms, I would never have minded being in a lab focused upon a microscope or chemistry apparatus. One time, I had a professor teach general distillery through the introduction of moonshine, and despite my aberration for the drink, I’m afraid I’ve always had a fondness for the subject ever since. However, that is another story. It’s just that open sea is far more interesting than anything when it’s only a porthole away from you.

    Farm girls are raised to be frugal and practical and this was much to my friend’s disappointment in not being able to ridicule what he expected my answer to be, for my list included neither a Backstreet Boy nor the current president nor even himself, of whom he naturally thought quite highly of (and therefore, worthy of such a dignified position, in comparison with all the other billions of choices that ever lived and of which I could choose).

    Without careful consideration, which is rather unlike me, I happened to blurt out that I should like to dine with my grandfather, as I had never met him. He was a Polish Holocaust survivor, and although I just implied he lived to tell his tale, he never told it for as long as he lived, which was a year and a month before I was born. His family was affiliated with the aristocracy of Poland, who, at the time, resided in the Rydzyna Sulkowski Castle, which still stands today. But he never saw it again, after the day he was taken from a streetcar by a Nazi soldier. He was fourteen years old, and he was on his way to school in the underground.

    I don’t know anything else besides that he was taken to a labor camp and later escaped. He fought in the underground army for awhile, made his way to South America, and eventually, the United States of America. I can’t explain the depth of curiosity and innate disorientation I feel regarding my grandfather and not knowing him. I very much like to think surviving adversity is in my blood, but maybe that comes at a price, because I’ve also heard and picked up along the way that my grandfather was not very pleasant. I have been oddly fascinated with the Holocaust long before I knew my ties to it, so I know all about post-traumatic stress disorders and the studies and stories and tendencies of survivors and their families.

    Even still, I do not want to shame my family by talking ill of my grandfather. But I don’t think there is any harm in saying that rarely does my dad speak of him, and rarer still, a kind word. In fact, I think it has only happened once, and it was not too long ago. We were watching a period piece on the Great Depression in Canada and I commented how the rich grandmother in the story was extraordinarily selfish and absentmindedly cruel. I wondered how she was able to get up in the morning with such cold blood. I’d spend the entire show loathing her—each and every week—and then, at the very end of each episode, she would do or say something profoundly timeless. In an instant, I was left in awe by such a rare and remarkable capability for humanity. The same astonishment was always felt by whatever character happened to be playing the benefactor-ee. I attributed the whole thing to excellent writing and acting—the way my hate shifted into love for a fictional soul that could be equally cruel and good, week after week after week.

    And then, at the moment I finished vocalizing this entire thought, which was really just meant for myself, as my dad usually accuses of me of incoherency in my affliction for thoughts and wordiness, my dad, instead quite readily replied how I had just precisely encompassed my grandfather.

    I can’t say why, exactly, but I was very proud then. Of my grandfather.

    And it would be an awfully long dinner, as there is so much I want to know about him. It might be even longer if he would want to know about me, although, I’m not sure that he would. From what I’ve heard, he would not.

    The second position at the dinner table was a bit trickier to decide upon. There is my great grandmother—a Cherokee Indian—but I feel so much like her, and I already know myself, so Captain Blackbeard or Mister Rogers or L. M. Montgomery or King Arthur were equally strong contenders. I guess I was mostly an adult when that question was asked of me, but it’s hard not to feel and think adventurously, which is virtually synonymous to childhood, when you’re out at sea, even if you’re also in a lab.

    As for my last guest, I told my friend that I didn’t have anyone in mind to fill it yet, nor did I intend to do so. The world seems so big and so treacherous when you’re at sea, and even bigger and more treacherous when you walk on it again, but this time, with sea legs. Also, a farm girl just never knows whom she might hear about or become fascinated by and wished she had gotten the honor to meet, although I never expect it will be a dignitary or Albert Einstein or anyone whom anyone is likely to have heard of. For a farm girl’s interests and relations and loyalties tend to lie with the unsung, unheard of heroes, anyone who wears Carhartts, and the legendary elders: the cowboys you’ve never heard of, for they are the handiest. The horse whisperers who never speak louder than what is required for a horse to hear, as those are the real ones. The old men who talk (exaggerate) about how far they walked to school barefoot in the snow. The farmers who still use draft horses to sow and plow their fields, as that is the true and original meaning of being green. The mountain men, who are said to still live in the mountains, as only they know what it’s like to live among God and His mountains, and also because, they’d likely prefer to eat out by a fire, and there’s no better place to eat than out by a fire, although gimbaled tables are pleasant places to eat, too.

    I’m sure there are plenty of more clever people I should have considered, but as I said, I didn’t give the matter any consideration, and besides, I rarely make dinner plans ahead of time, nor do I usually prefer a large company. An even poorer excuse is that I also do not know (of) nearly as many people as I should. However, it probably was not especially Christian to have failed to immediately request Jesus or Mary or Joseph or a disciple. Where better to discuss the last supper than at supper? But you know, I’d like to think that when one says grace, the Lord is already there, so not only do I eat with Him every night, but He’d be a fourth party at the dinner in question, simply by default.

    I don’t know if there is a moral to this story. I was just thinking of my grandfather. I do that a lot, sometimes. I guess, maybe, it should be that if there’s anyone you’d ever like to invite for dinner, and they are around to do so, you should…and then you should ask them lots of questions. I sure wish someone would have invited my grandfather to dinner and been brave enough to ask if he had anything to say, should he ever have a granddaughter who might wonder an awful lot about him some day.
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