A STORM LIKE IN MY CHILDHOOD
Kingston, 3-rd of October 1719
I am writing in order to forget fear. Yes, I have prayed and I’ll keep praying for those who are here with me, hiding in the cellar because it is the safest place, for those who are in town, in places less safe than this good, strong manor, and for those I love who are at sea.
Little Richard is now asleep in his mother’s lap – he didn’t want to stay with me anymore when feeling sleepy, so I can write. Nobody must know that I am afraid of storms since “Colomba” got sunk. (Actually, since it is not the paralyzing kind of fear, I succeeded to hide it rather well while aboard the HMS “Rose”. A big sign of the cross, a prayer, and keeping focused on the task).
It was raining for a while, with the rain pelting against the window panes and the wind whistling down the chimney top, but all of a sudden it got as dark as if the sun got to hide at the edge of the world and nothing was the same anymore. Big hailstones started falling faster and faster, hitting the ground and bouncing back. The other servants, most of them born here, said that they had never seen so big ones, and that they were unusual for this time of the year. The wind howled, everything around started creaking, and booming thunders rolled through the domain and up to the sea.
When things got even worse, we had been told to go down to the cellar, and here we are. We started praying, calming down the youngest and most scared ones, then some servants started telling stories. My mind wondered to other realms, far away, and other storms from my young years.
I remember such a storm at sea, when my old Nonno, my Venetian grandfather, Capetan
Andrea Pasqualigo, who had spent his last three years of life with us, aboard “Colomba”, had taken the helm in his rheumatic hands, doing what he had to do in order to avoid putting us on the rocks. The ship was rather small for the huge waves rode by the craziest wind of the biggest storm we had ever seen then, which swirled the ship in all directions. When the tallest wave was ready to strike and uncle Yanni, who was at helm then, lost hope and control, Nonno invoked the saints, made a big cross, took a knife and did what his father had taught him.
Yes, on my mother’s side, we are a long line of Venetian seafarers. Only my father had been the first generation. Sometimes I wonder whom exactly do my brother and I inherit, but the answer I get is probably both sides. My father and my uncles, quick learners and fighters, in their way, and my Nonno, with all his ancestors roaming the seas from Venice to Kefalonia and from Kefalonia to Crete or Thessaloniki.
Anyway, we two are the only descendants alive and the first in our family to have crossed the ocean to the New World. Another reason to be proud of our maritime legacy.
After the storm passed, he had explained to all three of them how he had done it and, especially, in which moment. Some people would call it magic, but if the saints are invoked, and the Holy Cross, is it quite magic, or just another best sailors’ secret?
Of course, we were little, I guess I was not yet seven, and Andrea was eight, when it happened, but afterwards, Diamandis had the opportunity to apply what he had learnt from Nonno. These times I was older, and I remember how to do it too. They had always wanted the children around, to learn what’s to be done during the storms, and the position of the wave when it must be acted upon had been carefully explained – first by the Nonno to them, afterwards Diamandis explained to Andrea and to me. Well, to Andrea mostly, but I was there, all eyes and ears…
I had never reproached Nonno the fact that he had loved Andrea more than me; I had understood his combination of reasons and never hold grudges. For him, I was just another girl in the family, and a not too pretty one, while Andrea was bearing his name, he was the grandson he was proud to have as his late wife had given him only a daughter to live past her first year of life…
Moreover, Andrea was the one looking more like our mother, while I have always been our father’s copy… Thing which he reminded me too – “You are so unlike your mother! Stubborn and ambitious like a boy.” But it helped me a lot to learn from him everything my elder brother learnt…
Andrea was also the heir of the ship he had constructed when life was more generous with him, as after he had sold “Colomba” to my father and uncles and he had given away his daughter in marriage, he had wanted to remain independent, getting embarked on another ship. For a few years, sometimes we were meeting in ports, as the world of Ionian, Adriatic and Aegean Seas wasn’t too big. (Yes, we had trips on the Black Sea, and further in the Mediterranean, but not as many as in our known waters.) And my father was respectful and understanding; he willingly accepted, when his father-in-law was too old and crippled by rheumatism and no captain would have hired him for another trip, to invite him to remain aboard the same ship obtained from him with long and strenuous negotiations seven years before. He was there mainly for us, to teach us, and to advise the three men when his own hands and legs weren’t anymore good for effectively helping them. To pass to his son-in-law and the man’s brothers the secrets an old captain had learnt from the previous generation of ship captains, with the hope that they will get to his grandson, the next captain to be, the one who shared the same patron saint with him.
I wonder if Andrea still remembers how to make “pendalfa
”, the magic sign calling Gorgona to the sailors’ help to get them safe from the storms. It might be useful on such a weather… People here don’t know what our ancestors knew. They don’t believe in Gorgona, they don’t know how to call her for help.
And while remembering about my Nonno – God, have mercy on all those at sea! On Andrea and Leif, on little Ned and my friends, wherever they are, on the privateers who had set sails three days ago… I am praying for everyone. But sometimes, writing helps better to calm the fears and not to think “what if it was the same as when Colomba
May saint Andrea, his patron saint, saint Nicholas and Virgin Mary, protectors of the sailors, saint Elias, the keeper of the winds, and Gorgona, our queen whom we devotedly serve, watch upon my brother and his fellow crewmates!