Muddy, in what she assumed might be her final days, had begun to think of humanity in general ... she realized she had come in the world alone and would go out of the world alone. Next she had realized that most people aren't remembered once they were gone ... so it had come to Muddy that what was truly important in a life was the relationships one has with others as well as what relationship one has with herself, and that the Golden Rule seemed to be the most applicable to all religions, philosophies, and positions, whether a believer in God or not. from Drifting Too Far from the Shore, page 37
Television reports horrific crimes daily, yet people tend to forget quickly, and the lives of victims are lost in passing time, unremembered and uncherished. But Charlotte "Muddy" Rewis is getting up there in years, and knows how precious memory -- and life -- are. Her own memories seem more real to her than the world around her, and she dreads a time when her children will decide that Muddy is too weak, or forgetful, or eccentric to live on her own. The only thing Muddy can do is to live each day purposefully and as precisely as she can, for being careless might cause her to slip and mention that her late husband Claude still whispers to her now and then, something she suspects wouldn't go over well with her grown children.
In some boxes in her bedroom, Muddy has kept newspaper clippings of events she doesn't think should be forgotten, old photos, and memorabilia. With her heart giving an odd beat now and then, she feels that it is time to sort through the stuff to leave each of her children something to remember her by. In one box she finds a letter from a little boy who had been a friend of her sons and daughter, a boy who was sent to a boys' school after his mother re-married an abusive man. In the letter -- which Muddy does not remember -- Hank Holloway plaintively begs to be allowed to come live with them, to be rescued from the beatings and privation he experiences at the Florida School for Boys in Marianna.
Deeply troubled by the decades-old letter, Muddy enlists her computer-savvy sons and seeks to find out whatever happened to poor Hank, even coaxing one of her sons to drive her to the school itself to see if there are any clues to what might have happened to the boy.
Drifting Too Far from the Shore draws the reader in to a small-town place in which everybody knows just about everybody else, and any news is all over town in minutes. Just how quickly the neighbors know all your business, and how an elderly woman with a mind of her own manages to life on her own terms leaves the reader chuckling and wishing that Muddy Rewis lived next door. And yet there is a deep lesson to be learned from this story: that remembering those who have passed is in itself a memorial to their lives.
Two things stood out for me in this book. First, it took me back in time to the tiny town in which I grew up, before people moved around so much, when your neighbors shared a lifetime with you, and if you were seen doing anything out of the ordinary, your mother got a phone call reporting exactly what you were seen doing. And the other was the detail of Muddy's daily routines, a way of taking care of herself that was simple, unassuming, and unpretentious.
Niles Reddick has written a charming, heart-lifting gem of a book that I would recommend to anyone.