Dragged to Shore

by Gaia Klotz

I watch my granddaughter sew her first baby dress, the stitches crooked and the thread tangled at both ends—how lucky she is. Her forehead wrinkles with concentration: down, through, up, through, and out. I know that with time, the stitches will straighten out, the needle will not find home in her thumb, and that she will be able to do all this without looking because she is a smart girl. But, of course, I was too.


The neighbors called us the Daniels girls: dirty, rough, hell-cats that were not to be reckoned with. I was the oldest, then Claudia, followed by little Rochelle. I took it upon myself to beat up anyone who called Claudia, “fatty, fatty four eyes,” or made fun of Rochelle’s lisp because it was I who sewed all of their outfits by hand and slept in the same attic room every night. It was what sisters did for each other.

We weren’t always the Daniels sisters; we had a mother, of sorts. A mother who made empty promises. Dorothy divorced our father and ran off to Wisconsin, promising all the while she would come back for me, for us. We would all lie awake at night, waiting for her arrival, but it never came.

So, my days were spent with Grandma Eini and Grandpa Punk in a one bedroom house in Munising, Michigan. Eini slept with rollers in her hair and was eternally wearing an apron with rick-rack sewn around the edges. Every year during the three months of summer that we had in the Upper Peninsula, Eini would march out in her cotton dress and start to garden. She had a special hill on which she would plant all of her favorite flowers: honeysuckle, daffodils, lilacs, day lilies, black-eyed susans, peonies - anything with blooms. But Grandpa Punk had a very different job: he was so poor he couldn’t even afford a real name, or at least that’s what he told.

Punk was a heavier set man with dirty black glasses that were endlessly sliding down his nose. I now know that those glasses let him see better than anyone else, but maybe not well enough. That is why one night, while Punk was fast asleep at work as the deputy of the jail, the prisoners stole the keys and locked him up in one of his own cells. But even the cold-hearted inmates couldn’t watch old Punk go to waste, so they handed over a cold pasty and a Coke to him through the bars before they made their escape.

So this is how we grew up: on welfare, with one bathroom, one kitchen, and one old beat-up Ford pick-up truck.


“Go play,” Eini had ordered, looking down on an eleven-, nine-, and four-year-old through her cat’s-eye glasses. Eini’s fake rhinestones glimmered in the summer sun as we set out with three fishing poles on another adventure. It was Claudia who spotted the boat first, which reflected our sunburnt cheeks in the polished silver. So we “borrowed” the boat for the afternoon.

The bay was cool and calm as we settled down with our fishing poles, and without life-jackets, until Rochelle broke the silence with a lisped, “Wha’ss dat?”

“What?” I snapped back.

“Dat,” she said, pointing off at a huge shape floating in the middle of the bay.

Closer, closer, closer.

“I think it’s a body,” Claudia whispered, pushing her glasses up her nose. We could all see it now, the body face down in the bay—dead as a duck.

“Poke it,” Rochelle dared. We jabbed at the corpse with our fishing poles until it flipped over, and we were sure it was dead. The puffy white face stared back at us, eyes flung open in judgment, lips gnawed off by time. The pale white feet pointed up in the air, naked and gnarled.

“Gee whiz,” we whispered in unison.

Claudia and I decided it was our duty to bring it back to shore. After locating some sturdy rope we wrapped it around the corpse’s ankle and towed it towards land.

Closer, closer, closer.

By the time we had pulled the boat in, the sun had begun to set and the unidentified body was still floating in the water, with the sturdy rope tied to its ankles, three feet away. It took all three of us together to hoist the putrid lump of flesh up out of the water and into the boat. I decided Rochelle would stay in the boat with the corpse, while Claudia and I rushed up the hill to tell Grandma Eini. We left Rochelle there, at four years of age, with only the pallid corpse sitting upright in the rowboat to keep her company, their figures outlined by the setting sun.

 First stop, Eini, who fussed over our wet hair, picked the slivers out of our hands, and scoffed at our story. Second stop, the neighbors, who took one look at us and slammed their doors. It had been almost an hour as Claudia and I trudged down to see Grandpa Punk, our third stop, sitting half awake in his favorite chair in the jailhouse. When we told him the news, he leapt to his feet, his glasses slid further down his nose, and he exclaimed, “Well, let’s go take a look!"

 Hand in hand we walked down the hill; soon we spied them. Rochelle waved to us, as if we had never been gone and continued the conversation she had been having with the slack-jawed corpse.

“And diss iss my Granmdpa, Punk,” Rochelle lisped. 

“Well, I’ll be dammed if it isn’t good old Sisu,” Grandpa Punk exhaled slowly. “I reckon he had a bit too much to drink, wandered into the water, and drowned his self.”


I now live in a house with many rooms, I cook in a kitchen full of food, and I am able to buy expensive presents for my family and sisters, Claudia and Rochelle, who have the same lives as I. Our pasts look nothing like our present, but there are times we wish for what once was. We have beautiful daughters who are doctors and professors and travel the world, but these daughters offer up empty promises, false smiles, and our grandchildren still do not know how to sew because they don’t have to.

To the outside world, our daughters have everything they could ever need. But we are not that blind. We see the shadows that have formed beneath their eyes, the way the corner of their smiles droop, the new lines carved by worry set that have set deep in their faces. To us they are the living dead.

But still, here is my granddaughter, struggling to pull the needle and thread through cloth. The clock ticks the minutes away on the wall behind me as I look down at my hands. Beautiful, deep lines etched by time lie in my palms. Coarse, indestructible calluses have formed from the strain of oars against my hands, towing my daughters towards their destinations. These were not there before and these changes are not only skin deep. They are around my eyes, my heart, my soul. I trace them with my finger—down, through, up, through, and out—like a needle pulling thread.

Gaia Klotz is a recent graduate of Midland High School.  She will be spending next year in Ankara, Turkey through Rotary Youth Exchange.  When she returns to America, Gaia plans on attending Wayne State University to peruse a BA in Theater with a minor in social psychology in order to become a drama therapist.  In her little free time, Gaia enjoys reading, Glee, volunteering, Zumba, and attempting to cook.

© Gaia Klotz, 2011

Photo by Anderson Mancini.