He stopped working a little after three and walked to a small shed that sat near his dock. He went in, found his fishing pole, a couple of lures and some live crickets he kept on hand, then walked out to the dock, baited his hook and cast his line.
Fishing always made him reflect on his life, and he did so now. After his mother died he could remember spending his days in a dozen different homes. For one reason or another, he stuttered badly as a child and was teased for it. He began to speak less and less, and by the age of five he wouldn’t speak at all. When he started classes, his teachers thought he was retarded and recommended that he be pulled out of school.
Instead, his father took matters into his own hands. He kept him in school and afterwards made him come to the timber yard where he worked, to haul and stack wood. “It’s good that we spend some time together,” he would say as they worked side-by-side, “just like my daddy and I did.”
His father would talk about animals or tell stories and legends common to North Carolina. Within a few months Noah was speaking again, though not well, and his father decided to teach him to read with books of poetry. “Learn to read this aloud and you’ll be able to say anything you want to.” His father had been right again, and by the following year Noah had lost his stutter. But he continued to go to the timber yard every day simply because his father was there, and in the evenings he would read the works of Whitman and Tennyson aloud as his father rocked beside him. He had been reading poetry ever since.
When he got a little older he spent most of his weekends and vacations alone. He explored the Croatan forest in his first canoe, following Brices Creek for twenty miles until he could go no further, then hiked the remaining miles to the coast. Camping and exploring became his passion, and he spent hours in the forest, whistling quietly and playing his guitar for beavers and geese and wild blue herons. Poets knew that isolation in nature, far from people and things man-made, was good for the soul, and he’d always identified with poets.
Although he was quiet, years of heavy lifting at the timber yard helped him excel in sports, and his athletic success led to popularity. He enjoyed the football and track meets, and, though most of his teammates spent their free time together as well, he rarely joined them. He had a few girlfriends in school but none had ever made an impression on him. Except for one. And she came after graduation.
Allie. His Allie.
He remembered talking to Fin about Allie after they left the festival that first night, and Fin had laughed. Then he’d made two predictions: first that they would fall in love, and second that it wouldn’t work out.
There was a slight tug at his line and Noah hoped for a large-mouth bass, but the tugging eventually stopped and, after reeling his line in and checking the bait, he cast again.
Fin ended up being right on both counts. Most of the summer she had to make excuses to her parents whenever they wanted to see each other. It wasn’t that they didn’t like him-it was that he was from a different class, too poor, and they would never approve if their daughter became serious with someone like him. “I don’t care what my parents think, I love you and always will,” she would say. “We’ll find a way to be together.”
But in the end they couldn’t. By early September the tobacco had been harvested and she had no choice but to return with her family to Winston-Salem. “Only the summer is over, Allie, not us,” he’d said the morning she left. “We’ll never be over.” But they were. For a reason he didn’t understand, the letters he wrote went unanswered.
He decided to leave New Bern to help get her off his mind, and also because the Depression made earning a living in New Bern almost impossible. He went first to Norfolk and worked at a shipyard for six months before he was laid off, then moved to New Jersey because he’d heard the economy wasn’t so bad there.
He found a job in a scrap yard, separating scrap metal from everything else. The owner, a Jewish man named Morris Goldman, was intent on collecting as much scrap metal as he could, convinced that a war was going to start in Europe and that America would be dragged in again. Noah didn’t care. He was just happy to have a job.
He worked hard. Not only did it help him keep his mind off Allie during the day, but it was something he felt he had to do. His daddy had always said: “Give a day’s work for a day’s pay. Anything less is stealing.” That attitude pleased his boss. “It’s a shame you aren’t Jewish,” Goldman would say, “you’re such a fine boy in so many other ways.” It was the best compliment Goldman could give.
He continued to think about Allie at night. He wrote to her once a month but never received a reply. Eventually he wrote one final letter and forced himself to accept the fact that the summer they’d spent with one another was the only thing they’d ever share.
Still, though, she stayed with him. Three years after the last letter, he went to Winston-Salem in the hope of finding her. He went to her house, discovered that she had moved and, after talking to some neighbours, finally called her father’s firm. The girl who answered was new and didn’t recognize the name, but she poked around the personnel files for him. She found out that Allie’s father had left the company and that no forwarding address was listed. That was the first and last time he ever looked for her.
For the next eight years he worked for Goldman. As the years dragged on, the company grew and he was promoted. By 1940 he had mastered the business and was running the entire operation, brokering the deals and managing a staff of thirty. The yard had become the largest scrap-metal dealer on the east coast.