My Water Path
by Timothy Joseph
Mississippi, the late 1950s. After the death of his father, eleven-year-old Jory Sheppard runs away from an unwanted life in foster care. Trying to make it on his own, he is caught in a violent storm on the Mississippi River, but when he is rescued from the raging waters by an old black man named Moses, it becomes the event that will change his life.
Taken into Moses’ family as one of their own, Jory is introduced to a world so familiar and yet so very different from the one he once knew. As he learns and grows under the benevolent care of his new family, he struggles to make sense of the society in which he lives—a society that would spit on a man such as Moses simply because his skin is black, and make every effort to rip Jory from the family he loves.
Quickly entrenched in a struggle that is much bigger than himself, Jory must learn the difference between what feels necessary and what is right, what pity is, and what hate is. If he wants to fight the injustice and uncertainty that surrounds him, he must learn what it really means to stand up for what he believes in. Can a young white child battle prejudice and the law to remain with a black family, or will he be ripped away?
It is available on Kindle at Amazon.com. If ordered from this site, it will be a signed copy, if you have any questions please let me know at: firstname.lastname@example.org Thanks for your interest. Tim
EXCERPT –Chapters 1 – 3
The Good and the Evil
THE GOOD IN A MAN, THE EVIL IN MEN, that is the way it was, the reality of it revealed to me when I was a little boy. I had lived both, yet I shall never comprehend the dichotomy. Life gives us two-sided coins; love or hate, condemnation or forgiveness, and we alone choose which side to spend. I have been breathing for sixty years, and if I breathe for another sixty, I will remain appalled that a mind can hate so intensely and wish to destroy goodness because of one’s color or belief. Yet, that was the way of things back then. Sadly, it seems the passing of time has not been able to heal the peril.
I sit today in this peaceful cove, watching a pair of ospreys circle and dive for fish. It amazes me how a bird can drop from the sky, hit the water fast, submerge in the lake with wings spread wide on the surface, then, by some marvel of strength, lift its wings and free itself from the lake’s grasp with a fish in its talons.
How they do this, I do not know. What I do know is that water gives these creatures all they need, just as it gave me what I needed. Water took me there. I was a little boy ripped to shreds by loss and sent out into the world, vulnerable and unprepared. Water showed me the way; not just how to make it in this world, but how to comprehend life itself, deal with adversity, and how to pull away from the grasp of misfortune just as the osprey pulls away from the lake’s grip. My water path showed me the truthful side on the coins of life. It gave me air under my wings, knowledge of flight, desire to soar the highest of heavens—it revealed life’s true purpose, all by taking a frightened child to a man named Moses.
IT WAS LATE AFTERNOON WHEN I PEDALED my bike to my campsite on the river. I took the few groceries I had purchased and placed them in the box in my rowboat when I realized it was my eleventh birthday. That realization sent me back to the great birthday parties my dad always arranged. However, this time there would be no celebration. The black bottoms of thick clouds turned day into night, sending away thoughts of cake and ice cream. A storm was building, so I laid my bike in the stern of the boat and made sure the canvas tarp forming the shelter over me was tied securely to the gunnels. I looped the bow rope around a branch of the big tree that had fallen into the river some time ago, tying it back to the boat in my usual way.
Rain came heavy. The wind blew hard, so I checked the tarp again and closed the front flap over me. I was glad the downed oak tree provided some protection. A small kid in a small boat—I was frightened. I needed Dad.
Under the tarp, sheltered from the storm, I opened a can of tuna, a box of saltine crackers, and ate an early dinner. Gingersnaps and the rest of my milk were my birthday cake and ice cream. The wind picked up and the boat rocked more than ever. I thought about pulling it on shore, but I did not want to get out in the rain and wind. The noise under the tarp was loud and scary. I was glad I had tied the tarp on the outside of the gunnels, for the only place rainwater was coming into the boat was at the bow from under the tarp where it was tied to the old windshield brackets.
The kerosene lantern hanging from the center tarp support swayed back and forth. I rolled out the sleeping bag on my canvas mattress, and got out The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Leaning against the backpack, I read more about life on the Mississippi River, a life I was now living. I could just see Huck Finn, all alone and even scared, until he lucked out and found Tom. Even though Tom was older and Negro, they became like brothers.
The wind and waves got even worse, and the rocking was sending the lantern light in a wide arc. I put out the lantern, set it on the floorboard under the bed board, and moved a box next to it so it wouldn’t fall over and break. I put the book, the transistor radio, and my journal in my backpack, and shoved it under the front deck. The gusts and heavy rain whipped at the tarp hard and loud, so I got out Dad’s raingear just in case, set it on the boat seat next to me, and crawled inside the sleeping bag, hoping the storm would soon pass. My eyes closed quickly to sleep.
A flash of light and an incredible boom woke me. The boat tossed fiercely in every direction, while lightning and thunder raged continuously. Waves were crashing against the hull, and the wind waged war with the canvas. I left the security of the sleeping bag to pull the boat toward land to prevent all the rocking. How long I had been asleep was uncertain.
Crawling out of the sleeping bag, I grabbed the rope tied to the tree to pull the boat closer so I could get out. When I ended up tugging the entire rope into the boat, my heart skipped a beat, for it meant I was not tied to the tree on shore. The boat tipped violently and the wind was relentless. Ducking under the flap, I could not see shore, only waves and rain—I was blind on the Mississippi in a violent storm. Chills covered me. I had to get back to shore and shelter; waves were growing larger, and worse, a barge could run me over.
Donning the yellow raingear, I slipped the oars under the tarp and into the oarlocks. In order to see, I untied the front flap to roll it back to the middle seat so I could row, and instantly it became a huge parachute filling with the wind. It pulled out of my hands, thrashed the lose end violently, and the lines holding it in place snapped like threads. Off it went, sailing into the river, still tied to the stern. I untied a line and tried to pull the tarp in, but as I lifted it out of the water, the wind was so strong it ripped it away again, snapped the last line, and tossed it far out into the river. My blanket and sleeping bag lifted off my bed boards and tumbled out to join the tarp.
The rain stung my face. I thought bullets were hitting me when marble-size hail joined the rain. I grabbed my jacket from under the bench seat, put it on over the raingear, slipped the hood over my head, and tied it under my chin, while hail pelted me like it was being fired from a machine gun.
I scooted to the middle seat, grabbed both oars, and looked for the shoreline. The wind was blowing straight downriver, which meant I had to parallel the waves to get to shore. I started rowing as hard as I could, but the waves rocked the boat so violently that, half the time, the ends of the oars were out of the water. Shore was so far away I could barely make it out, and I didn’t think I could ever make it with the waves hitting the side of the boat instead of the bow. Against the rain and hail, I could barely keep my eyes open. The water was over the floorboards, and my things floated all around my legs.
Each time I did get a good pull on both oars, the water in the boat moved toward the stern, and the weight made rowing nearly impossible. Afraid the boat was going to sink, I started bailing as fast as I could, tossing buckets of water and hail into the river, while shivering uncontrollably. Terrified, I asked myself what my dad would do in this situation. Bail. He’d keep bailing.
When the water level reached the floorboards, I went back to rowing. Dim lights far off showed me the direction to shore, so I tried to row toward them.
A bolt of lightning struck so close I thought it hit the boat; the explosion so loud my heart nearly stopped beating. I screamed as my hands flew up to cover my ears, and I fell into the bottom of the boat. On one fishing trip with Dad, storm clouds suddenly appeared over the river. He told me we had to head in because it was very dangerous; the boat was the highest thing on the water and acted like a lightning rod. I thought for sure I was going to be struck.
Through the driving rain and hail, I pulled and pulled on the oars, but the boat was going nowhere. The waves were so high and hitting me broadside with such force, rowing was dreadful. Wave after wave crashed over the port gunnel filling the boat. I let go of the oars to bail again, for sinking was the worst thing that could happen.
The wind, rain, hail, lightning, and thunder engulfed me in terror. Suddenly, above all the chaos of the storm, I thought I heard a voice. My dad! Dad’s here to tell me what to do and save me. My father’s face appeared—he was here to rescue me the only way he could. He would tell me exactly what to do. All I had to do was listen.
“Dad! Help me! Dad!”
I lost all vision of him; he wasn’t shouting back. There was no voice after all. I felt myself go cold.
I BAILED AGAIN, HARD AND FAST. Rowing was a wasted effort. The wind was getting stronger, the rain heavier, and the waves higher. Soon they would win this battle, and I was going to sink; it was surely my fate.
“Hellooo! Hellooo! Son!” pealed through the storm.
I did hear a voice. I stopped bailing and looked all around, but saw nothing—my mind was tricking me again. Suddenly, I saw it as a huge wave lifted it to its crest—but I could not believe my eyes. Coming toward me was a little skiff, smaller than my rowboat. When it topped a wave, the boat’s bottom was all I could see, and then suddenly it shot down the wave like a surfboard, only to crash into the next. In the stern, an old colored man had one hand on the gunnel and his other on the tiller handle of an outboard motor. I could barely hear the sound of the motor, but the man’s voice was loud and clear.
“Hello! Boy! Do you have a rope on the bow?”
Nodding violently, I cupped my hands to my mouth and shouted, “Yes!”
“When I get close, you toss it to me!”
“Okay!” I dropped the bucket and crawled quickly to the bow, rolled up the rope, and anxiously watched him. He pushed the tiller handle and the little skiff surfed down another wave right toward my bow, surely to crash and sink us both. The little boat was completely covered with canvas stretched tight, port to starboard, bow to stern. The only place uncovered was the very stern where the old man sat. The end of the canvas was bunched up against him and the rainwater, hail, and waves poured off the canvas into the river. He pushed the tiller handle again, and at the last second yanked it in the opposite direction. The bow of his skiff came within inches of my bow. He was moving quickly by me as his big, black hand reached out.
“Your rope!” he shouted.
His wrinkled hand was open wide. I was afraid to toss—I could miss. I grabbed hold of the gunnel, reached out as far as I could with the rope in my hand until I felt his fingers upon my wrist slide quickly to my clenched fingers to grasp the rope. In seconds, he fastened it onto a cleat. ………