As promised, here is a wonderful piece of writing that my grandfather, Leonard Dankmar Weil, wrote in 1941. I have edited it lightly, changing little. Here, first is a picture of the first page of the manuscript as I have found it:
Here is the text in a more readable form:
SALVAGE FROM THE SEA
The sea has always been generous to us. Her gifts have been many through the years, but never have they been so lavish as of late, now that we are turning over her contributions to Uncle Sam. When we began to live on Outer Island, we were the ones to make the donations. Our predecessor on the Island had lived there for forty years, and, so far as we could ascertain, nothing that he had brought to the Island had ever been removed again.
The house that we moved into was a squirrel’s nest of ancient odds and ends. We looked upon them with amused surprise. That one man should have hoarded so much of nothing throughout the years was amazing and terrifying.
From rusty bolts to musty stuffed birds, from jars of unnamed powders to crates of frozen pipe-fittings ran the loot, and, as it had no associations for us and, to our knowledge, no value, there was little to do with it, but give away the stuffed birds and throw most of the rest overboard. The birds were promptly given back and the sea returned much of the rest. A mattress of sawdust reappeared on our beach with a horseshoe crab riding in splendor upon it. A home-made bathtub and a box of shavings drifted in again. A tin of moldy bread came back but I tossed it off once more. Since then, my cast has been answered with Scriptural lavishness.
The sea shore has been a wonderful for our children. They seldom have wanted for a ball or toy boat but they could walk along the shore and retrieve one. At least once a week, a beach ball, a golf ball or a tennis ball was there; once, a tiny tin football floated up with a message in it to communicate with a boy the same age as my son. Tiny wooden boats washed in with regularity: little tugs made by tacking one block a-top another; carefully carved hulls; store bought sailboats with tiny bedraggled sails.
One year my son’s birthday came around to find us without the time or funds for a gift worthy of the occasion. My wife and I were walking along the rocks discussing this predicament. We ransacked our minds and made our wishes. Then suddenly it was there, as though I were the fisherman who had captured the royal fish and had let it go again. We had asked and the sea had provided – a small square-end rowboat, five feet in length, just made for a boy’s seventh birthday.
Our guests, on occasion, would say that they mustn’t forget to buy a gift on the mainland to take home to a child. With all seriousness, our children would say that it was not necessary. “Just come with us,” they would recommend, “and you’ll have a present in no time.” It seldom failed, the gift of the sea would be there as regularly as firewood.
What a boon this firewood should become in this talk of heat problems! It has always been there – in quantity – in all lengths. No need to cut. Kindling or backlogs, they are there for the collection.
Long poles appear at frequent intervals, sheared off or broken as they stood as markers for oyster beds. One, straight and firm, is now our flag pole. Others serve as bumpers for our dock, as poles for a badminton net, as beanpoles.
Old engine oil in cans makes a periodic appearance and is promptly spread upon pools in which mosquitoes might otherwise breed. And once a barrel of clean, pure engine oil – fifity-six gallons of the best light marine oil – enough to keep all my machinery going for many years – banged against our rocks, notifying us to come and rescue it, which we gladly did.
My son became the envy of his schoolmates, when, one day, hunting for clams among the rocks he uncovered the sturdy brass remains of a Very pistol, a handsome and dangerous looking object. Though its days for signaling with rockets were over, it was perfect for the youthful daring-do, and he carried it with him on all important occasions.
A pumpkin in fine shape came up in time for Hallowe’en this year. Chairs and mattresses are periodic jetsam. We find art works from the sea, enough to stock a dozen surrealist exhibits…oysters growing on curving branches…worm-eaten carved wood from the bows of ships…wires and knotted roots in beauteous weathered shapes.
Occasionally objects that had lost their usefulness or their appeal were jettisoned from our shores. If they reappeared later, among the rocks, they were somehow beautiful again. I began to accuse my wife of depositing things overboard to age in the sea. Perhaps, if she learns to control it completely, she will have the makings of a nice little industry.
There have been surprises of a more personal order. Mermaids? Perhaps. Maybe the wrong recipient found this for I didn’t investigate. In any case a bottle floated up with a note saying, “We are three nice girls from Meriden out for a boat ride, and we thought…” It gave names and addresses, too.
Other manuscripts found in bottles have been less promising. They say “We are enjoying a boat trip from New York to Boston” or more simply, if less politely, “You are a Fool.” One epistle offered us health, wealth and happiness if we would only write to a certain old lady in Maine. We wrote, but somehow most of these things were not sent. Perhaps they were lost in the mail.
When the hurricane came, the Island gave up as much as it received. A tool shed, a chicken house, a float and a sailboat were all victims of its waves. But there were things in return.
Our cottage was given a beach upon its floor – rippled sand and mud, the length and breadth of it. Fish and clams sat in the open, gracing our Island with their fragrance. On our rocks, a yacht settled. Perhaps this was a propitiating gesture, like the gift from a puppy that brings in the neighbor’s paper. But, like the neighbor’s paper, the yacht afforded only fleeting benison. The side of the yacht had been broken open and much had been poured out, including bottles of ginger ale and white rock which had been imbedded among the rocks, but which – so help me – were unbroken. They were thrice welcome as our well had been fouled and we needed much liquid for the thirst which the efforts at restoration brought. As for the rest of the contents – all that was valuable was diligently found by the owners who overran our island with salvagers all autumn, and these salvagers left the hull in a position to destroy our sewer line as she banged against it in the Winter storms.
We thought that this was the end of the yacht as we burned its final ribs in our fireplace, but we hadn’t reckoned with Uncle Sam and salvage.
When word came that scrap metal was needed, we all went straight to the job. Our town called out stridently for salvage. It needed old iron a-plenty to hold its head up among neighboring towns, and the islands were visioned as a source for glory in the junk world.
We began with a survey of what was no longer needed. We glanced at woodshed and attic. Lord! We were delighted for the nation, but horrified for ourselves!
We who had made so much fun of our predecessor, we who had said that he had saved everything from the ashes of his pipe to the parings of his fingernails had accumulated more junk in fifteen years than he had in forty.
If he had saved owl feathers, we had saved a burst water tank. If he had saved ancient bed castors, we had them both new and old. Our kitchen middens were merely a stratification over his.
It was a lusty pile when we had collected it at pier’s edge. Lead from old batteries, wire from motor armatures, frozen pipe fittings. Yes, we had saved those, too. We hadn’t known in what a magpie’s nest we lived. Sections of rubber hose that had been used to sheath wire that held up trees that we had straightened after the hurricane, parts from a discarded ice cream freezer, aluminum trays from a refrigerator that had long since been discarded, these graced our pile and, we hoped, would soon be armament in the fight to make the world safe for islands.
Still there was not enough. It was good pile, but it would never make our town shine in the rubbish collecting world.
We were troubled until we observed tiny piles of scrap metal that we had never noticed before, little mounds of screws in the ashes of our picnic fires. These in turn made us notice the quantities of hardware in the driftwood that came to our shores. Then we became conscious of strips of sheet iron that had been used in a long discarded weighs. At low tide we noticed, embedded in the sand, heavy iron rings that had been weights in a fish trap. Not far from it was a great stretch of cable, discarded by the telephone company. Where the hurricane boat had been dismantled, blobs of lead remained, drippings from the melting of the keel. Apparently another boat had gone aground in days gone by, because parts of a steam engine were visible where they could be reached without deep wading.
Salvage searching became the best way to entertain guests. They joined in the treasure hunt, trying to outdo us in the search for wasted metals. As a game it out-ginned gin rummy for excitement and was better for the muscles than badminton.
We and our guests put on rubber boots or risked it barefoot as we set our limits well beyond the tide line. We came back with bolts and a mess of sponge rubber and lengths of twisted pipes and hanks of old wire and a bicycle tire; not to mention a mess of clams.
Before long, the children joined the competition. They turned over rocks and found beneath them a quantity of small metal of all sorts. They collected the brass ends of spent shotgun shells. They pushed and tugged at boulders to dislodge pipes. They found discarded metal from the hurricane-torn boat: a twisted porthole, a battered pan, drain pipes and basins and parts of a stove. Like the shell hunters of Sanibel, they went out searching at dawn and they prayed for storms that might bring up new wonders and uncover old treasure.
An old cannon ball made its appearance, perhaps dropped among our rocks by some battling frigate. The children were certain that it had been in the chase for Captain Kidd, and they were more certain when they found a piece of eight. Still the piece of eight was in a small bag with coins of a more recent date. But they dismissed the anachronism in favor of the romance.
Before long we knew that our island would take the small town high in the world of scrap collectors. When the boat appeared to collect our stash, there was a pile of scrap iron weighing more than two tons. And there were close to a hundred pounds each of lead, brass and copper. There were sixty pounds of aluminum and forty of zinc. And a small pile of rubber and a large one of rags.
We are still at it, I assure you, and so could you be, near any water’s edge.
This writing reminds me a a wonderful cartoon - Barnaby -that was written around the same time about a little boy and his fairy godfather. In this strip they are hunting for metal for the war effort: