When I was in sixth grade I remember reading The Cay by Theodore Taylor. The book captivated me at the time and it was one that stood out from all the books I read.
The Cay is a short, but powerful, book. It was written in 1969, and dedicated to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It shows the reality of racism and how - especially prior to and in the early part of the 20th century - not all people were treated with respect and valued for who they were.
In that book, a youth's blindness (due to an accident after the boat he was on was torpedoed) symbolically represented how Taylor would like us to see all people. It was Taylor’s intention to show through Timothy (the older African-American gentleman) that the value of a person is not found in the color of their skin, but who they are as a human being. Eventually Philip (the youth) does overcome the prejudice his mother had instilled in him.
So, for the 40th week of the Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks challenge, I was interested in reading Timothy of the Cay which is a prequel-sequel to The Cay. The 27-chapter book alternates (for the most part) between Timothy's life prior to arriving on The Cay and Philip's life after being rescued from The Cay. The theme of this story is making dreams a reality.
Timothy's life revolved around his life in "Back O' All," the poorest section of the squatter's village Charlotte Amalie, on the U.S. Virgin Island of St. Thomas. He was abandoned as a baby and raised by Hannah Gumbs, a former coal carrier turned washer-woman.
As a boy, he dreamed of being a captain of his own schooner, which he meant to name after the woman he called "Tante Hannah." Even though she was not Timothy's biological aunt, Timothy still referred to her as this.
Hanna Gumbs died during Timothy's first four years at sea.Timothy worked long and hard enough to be able to afford a schooner. He gained much knowledge of the sea to be able, in his last months, to help Phillip Enright, Jr. survive on a cay in El Boca de Diablo, "the Devil's Mouth."
After the captain of the Hettie Redd died, Timothy was asked to bring his body back for burial. As the temporary captain of the ship, he reluctantly agreed, suspecting that a violent storm might strike. One did, and sank the Hettie Redd all all its crew and passengers - except him. He felt guilty for the rest of his life, and often wished he too had drowned in the storm.
When he was 70 years of age, Timothy signed aboard the S.S. Hato, the Dutch-registered freighter that, according to The Cay, was sunk in April 1942, as an A.B., an able-bodied seaman, in response to a call for volunteers placed early in 1942.
When the S.S. Hato picked up Phillip Enright and his mother in Curaçao, of what were then the Netherlands Antilles, they were fleeing to their native Virginia. Instead the S.S. Hato was torpedoed. As it sank, Phillip was struck on the back of the head by a piece of loose timber just as he was being thrown aboard a raft, which blinded him two days later.
In Timothy of the Cay, the focus of Philip's story centers on life after being rescued from The Cay in El Boca de Diablo. Phillip was reunited with his parents and they explored the possibility of having a high-risk surgery to restore his vision.
His mother was very concerned about the surgery since there was a risk of death, paralysis, and/or no change in vision. The success rate had been mixed. Philip's father, however, felt that Philip should be given the opportunity to make his own decision about whether to undergo the surgery. He had, after all, survived on the island both with Timothy and then on his own.
Philip decided to move forward with the surgery, and the operation was a success, restoring most of Phillip's vision, though he would need glasses from that day forward.
He and his father made plans to visit The Cay where he and Timothy had survived for just over three months, until Timothy had been killed in a hurricane that had struck The Cay when flying debris had severely lacerated him. Timothy had given his life to protect Phillip's, using his body to shield Phillip from the debris. Phillip had survived alone for almost two months afterwards, thanks to Timothy's having prepared him for just that.
The end of the book focuses on the voyage that Philip and his father took to The Cay. It looked at the closure Philip needed after the experience as well as to see the place that he and Timothy shared. In that trip, he realized how wise Timothy was - far beyond what he had even known when Timothy was alive.
Although I preferred The Cay to Timothy of the Cay, the latter book was worthwhile to read to better understand who Timothy was and what happened to Philip after being rescued. It would be interesting to go back now and read The Cay over again with this information and background in mind.