She remembered it well. Ben made no bones about it, as he told his little sister, "You want to make something of your life, you got to get out of here and don't look back." And he did just that, saying his goodbyes to her as he embarked off into the army.
There's a whole other world out there than just Jasper Island
How terrifying of a concept that was to Rachel back then. Ben was almost three years older, and without him it was just her and Pop . Jasper Island was all she knew, and at the age of sixteen that was a terrifying concept to a shy girl who had been sheltered her whole life.
Rachel envied Ben. Between the two of him, he was the only one who really remembered their mother. She was close to three-years-old when her mother left this earth. Ben was six. Her recollections of her dear mother were like vapors, like dreams that had lost most of their definition.
There was only one time she really could envision her mother correctly. She could just faintly recall her mother hanging up sheets outside, and they were blowing in the wind like sails, matching her mother's windblown skirt. Rachel was giggling as her mother tried to shoo her out from getting caught up in those magical sheets. She could still remember the beauty of her mother as she snuggled up against her, her mother catching up to her impish daughter as she twirled up in one of the sheets like a girl trying to play dress up. Her mother's skirt smelled like a soft perfume mixed with the sea.
Everywhere, as a child, Rachel was surrounded by sea. It made her dreary home pleasant after she lost her mom. The sea was a constant friend. With its mystery and its beauty, the sea gave her a right to dream of what lay beyond it. Ben was right. She needed to get out from under her little, protective shell. She would read Ben's letters that came Germany, where he was stationed, and would dream of being there, herself.
Pop never mentioned Ben, again, like he didn't exist. Her father was a distant man, a fisherman who never had much for conversation or desire for closeness. Rachel was used to his distance, for that was her norm. But as she grew up, she realized he was bitter when he lost her mother. Rachel's aunt, Roberta, her father's sister, clued her in on his former life before marriage. She told Rachel, "Your father never was a man to show his emotions. He shied away from people and would rather tinker around in his tool shed or be out on his boat. I sometimes don't know what your mother saw in him, for she was quite a social gal."
Rachel saw herself more in her distant father, more than she cared to see. She was artistic, and felt more at home with a paintbrush than with anything else. She would paint pictures of anything--the quaint homes around where she lived, the woods and nature, and especially anything to do with the sea.
Everyone told her she had talent. She won a talent contest in her school, though the pool of artsy students was small. Her island school was about three times the size of a one room schoolhouse, and it was quite easy for her to shine there. Was she really that talented? Many of her teachers saw and encouraged her abilities. They wanted her to do something with her gift, and surely not to waste it. Everyone said so--except her pop. He never took much notice.
Ben was right. Frightened as she was, Rachel decided to try to make it on the mainland. It just became too irresistible of a notion. She promised her father, "I'll write to, Pop". He didn't even face her as she was saying goodbye, so she repeated, "Pop...I am going to write, will keep in touch".
"Don't bother", he simple replied. He wouldn't even look at her, but buried his nose into his newspaper.
Eight years later, on Jasper Island, Rachel stood before the home she grew up in. Those words still stung.
Pop had died. Aunt Roberta was the one to inform her, and she wasn't able to get back in time before the funeral. It was a small one--you could count the attendees on one hand--but her pop probably wouldn't have cared either way. Rachel felt numb about it all. How should she feel? She knew she should grieve for her father, but the tears didn't come. He was such a hard man to know.
It would be nearly half a year before she returned to Jasper Island. She was living in Europe at the time, and she had moderate success in living off her art. It was enough of an experience in which she could support herself. She first saw her brother in Germany then eventually went to Rome, to Paris and to London, working her way through as she traveled. Eventually, she stayed in London and became an art teacher. But now here she was again on Jasper Island.
She looked upon her hold house for the longest time. It looked so different. There were new shutters, a new coat of paint, and it didn't seem right with the backdrop of the sea. The house was yellow and the plastic pink flamingos were an eyesore to her. New residents occupied the house, and it just didn't seem right or real. Though she had no claim on it anymore, it still was her home. Now it was sold off soon after her pop died. She never even got a chance to stand inside for one last time, to peer into her old room or sit upon the back porch and bask at the beauty of the sea.
She tried not to appear too nosy, as she looked out back. Clothes were hanging up on the line, blowing in the breeze, and she thought of the faint memory of her mischief with her mother so long ago.
Rachel didn't dare to knock on the door. Perhaps, she knew the people inside. Everyone knew everyone on that island. If she did know them, she didn't really want to know the details. She was the intruder, after all. Or was it the other way around?
She made her way around and marveled how time seemed to catch up with her island home. There was a new movie theater in place of the beat up one that she knew as a child. The playground by the school looked so much better it wasn't filled with children. Hardly a soul was there, like all the children had grown up, or something.
Aunt Roberta was her only real link to her old home now. The few friends she had left a long time ago, just like her. Her mom's people vacated the island long before she ever met them. Aunt Roberta was still there to receive her, though. She had something special for her. Gathering up two shoe boxes, she handed them to her niece. Rachel wondered what what the contents were, and she couldn't believe her eyes.All the letters she promised to write to her pop were all in there in those two boxes.
"I found them," Aunt Roberta said, amazed herself, "after cleaning out my brother's closets. He kept them all, it seems."
Rachel promised that she would write home, and she did. And it was true--her pop saved every single letter or postcard she ever sent him. The envelopes were all opened up, so he obviously looked at them. She was amazed that he didn't throw them away or burn them. Never once, did he write her back, and Rachel thought he had completely dismissed them and disowned her.
Holding those envelopes and postcards in her hands was like finding some rare and valuable artifacts, and now the tears would come. For the first time in quite some time, Rachel felt something when it came to her distant father. It was everything rolled into one--her island home, her mother, her brother, her father, her sense of self--and she just wept freely as her aunt held her tight and comforted her.
Rachel never cared about the money. Her pop never made a will. He never owned much, but Aunt Roberta would make sure she was fair about the money. Rachel would have traded every cent of it if only she was to see her father one last time. She wanted to come back sooner, but she feared she would not be welcome, that the door would be slammed in her face. Now her only way to see her father was at the cemetery were generations of fellow island dwellers met their resting place.
At the grave, her parents were buried side by side, and the sea was their backdrop. It was just as her father would have wanted it. Rachel cleared away a few weeds, and she placed a handful of wildflowers at her mother's grave. "Hi, mamma", she said out loud. "I miss you and wish I could you could be here, again. I see you in my mind, and you are that young, delightful mother I still think of. " The sound of the breezes, and the birds constant communication of chirping, was a calming response.
She then addressed her father's grave, "Pop", she started to say, "Thanks for keeping those letters. I know it was hard for you now. We all left you, didn't we? Mamma, Ben...me..."
Rachel looked out into the sea. The sun was shining well, and it was like the waters were filled with diamonds. That enchanting sea--that is what her father cherished the most. He taught her how to swim there, not to be afraid of the waters but to respect the strength they held. He protected her from feeling so small and scared by it. He taught her about what was in the sea and how to fish from it. She smiled and thought of how she would have rather collected pretty seashells than to handle a slimy fish . He reaped so many things from the sea, and she knew he belonged to it. She closed her eyes and tried to think of such moments between her father.
Before she left, she held an unopened letter in her hand and said, "Pop, I got really, really sad looking at all those letters, especially because I can't write to you anymore. I'm just amazed you have them. I hope you read them, and if you did, I hoped you knew I really loved you". She smiled at what her dad would probably think as silly sentiment. He probably was rolling in his grave right now, squirming from all this mushy stuff. But at least now, she could tell him she loved him.
Rachel put her hand on his tombstone and stroked its rough exterior. She added, "Well, then I thought--who is to say I can't write? So I did. I got a letter for you,Pop, and I'm going to read it to you, now. Hope your listening."
She didn't know when she would come back for another visit to Jasper Island, but she knew she would return. Unlike Ben, she would not go way and never look back . How could she deny it as her home? She opened the letter, cleared her throat, and read it out loud, "Dear Pop, I hope you are at peace. I hope you are proud of me and that you hear me now. Take care of Mamma, and I'll see you on the other side." After she stopped, the tears came again, rolling down her check. She closed up the letter, put it on her father's tombstone and laid a rock on it to anchor it well. Eventually, the elements would get to it--the sun, the rain, the changing seasonal forces--but for now it was in good shape,
As the ferry made it's way from Jasper Island, the land became smaller and smaller, until it was just a speck in her view. But once it was the whole world to her, not just a destination to visit. Nevertheless, it wasn't some insignificant blip on the many maps of the world. It would always beckon her. Rachel could never forget Jasper Island.