Follow by Email

Monday, September 26, 2011

No. 72 Ridin' the School Bus

One bright and sunny fall afternoon in October of 1960, as I arrived home from school, I saw my mother waiting anxiously on the front porch. Even at a distance I could tell that she was excited. As soon as I came within earshot, she started telling me something she was anxiously waiting to tell.

“They won,” she almost shouted, “the Pirates won! Their second baseman (Bill Mazeroski) hit a home run in the last inning and the Pirates won!” She was letting me know that the Pittsburgh Pirates had defeated the New York Yankees in the seventh and final game of the World Series. She loved the Pirates, and because she did I did too, and she was excited to let me know that our team had won this time, especially against the Yankees.

She knew exactly when to expect me to come walking along the road, because that day like every other day of my grade school experience, I had taken the bus both to and from school. For eight years, without an exception that I can remember, each morning I walked the fifty yards or so from our front porch and across the road to Edith (Guthrie’s) store. My brother Teff and I would gather there with as many as a dozen others just like us, and wait to be picked-up by an orange-colored school bus driven by Miss Frankie.

Just like clockwork, at about 7:30 in the morning, the bus would pull to a stop, extend a brightly colored “stop” sign, and then open the door to let us get on. There were another few stops both before and after and they were spaced so as to allow for neighborhood groups to gather for economy of both time and costs.  Even so, we would arrive at school no more than five minutes before the first bell rang announcing the beginning of the school day.

A few of my classmates lived near enough to walk to class, and even fewer were dropped-off by a family car, but most of us shared the experience of commuting each day on a school bus. Once in school we were divided into classes, but at the bus stop and until we were let off, we were all, from first graders to eighth graders, packed together and part of a special group.

Edith’s store (see post no. 38 “More than just a Store”) was a rectangular building, painted white and made of cinder blocks, that was no more than 12 X 24 ft in size. She had a gas-powered stove that we gathered around on cold winter mornings, but most of the time we amused ourselves outside as we waited for the bus. The store had #2 pencils that were 3¢ each, or two for a nickel, as well as both nickel and dime packs of paper. The pickings may have been small, but those were about the only two tools then used in a classroom, besides books and desks.

Some friendships and relationships were forged at the bus stop and on the bus that were unique in my childhood experience. I recall how older kids, usually but not always girls, would take special care to make sure that the younger ones were seated and safe. Sometimes they would even ask about homework, or if you had your lunch money for the day. They would also protect the weaker children from the “bullies” that were, and probably always will be, a part of growing up. As the years progressed, we younger ones matured into the same roles and responsibilities. Many years later I still recall with affection the special friends that I knew so intimately only on that bus.

The dynamic of the bus stop and bus ride would change only a little when I started high school in the fall of 1967. Even then I was never among the select few who traveled to school in a car. The daily routine of commuting started a little earlier and ended little later, as the ride went from being a little less than one mile to more than ten. And, because of after-school practices for football, basketball and baseball, I often had to find another way home in the evening.

My situation was no different from the vast majority of my contemporaries. Hard as it may be for today's students to imagine, there were almost as many buses as cars in the parking lot of our school. Most of us lived in a world where only parents had cars of their own, and not even all of them. My mother did not drive and my father didn't own an automobile until after I had left for college. I took my drivers license exam in a car that belonged to my brother-in-law. Even after I was able to buy for myself a 1959 Ford Fairlane that my sister and I painted black with brushes to hide the rust, the cost of gas alone made driving back and forth each day impractical.

So the school bus remained my primary transportation until the very end of my school years at home. On the day I graduated from East Carteret High School in the Spring of 1970,  I left from home on Bus # 27 that picked me up at Edith's store, and I jumped out of the same bus at the very same location almost nine hours later.

During those halcyon days at Harkers Island Elementary, when the final bell of the school day rung, usually at 3:00 in the afternoon, the Principal, Miss Wade, would announce that the “first bus” could gather at the front door. The “second (last) bus” crowd that included me would have to wait another half hour or so for the bus to return. We would then be packed back into our seats and backtrack the same route we had followed in the morning. When Miss Frankie put our the stop sign and opened the door, I would run across the road in front of the bus, where I would find my boyhood world just as I had left it, except on special occasions like when the Pirates beat the Yankees in the World Series.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

No. 71 Some things are even worse than a heart attack!

Not so long ago, in the days before the recent improvements in dealing with coronary issues, serious heart disease was assumed, and often was, a “death sentence.” So assumed an old-timer on the Island who suffered what he thought would be a fatal heart-attack. He was rushed to hospital, but once there his pains steadily increased in severity until he became certain that his death was imminent.

He was immediately joined by his family, including his wife and several children, and by his pastor. Seeing the preacher and expecting this to be his last chance in mortality to cleanse his soul, the sick man determined that there were some unresolved issues in his life. In spite of the presence of his family, he proceeded to confess some things that might stand in the way of his path to Heaven.

Even as he gasped for breath and grimaced with pain, he begged his company to be quiet and listen, and to allow him to unburden himself of some things he had carried for what then seemed like a lifetime. In rapid succession he listed several indiscretions, the memory of which were taunting him, including have stolen some money from a friend and lying about an accident. Finally, just before slipping out of consciousness, he blurted out that he had carried on several extra-marital affairs; one of which had resulted in an illegitimate child.

With that, and an audible gasp by both him and his family, he slipped from consciousness. Within a few more minutes he was in surgery where, to everyone’s surprise, it was determined that his condition was caused by an infected gall bladder, and had nothing at all to do with his heart. After a few days of treatment, he was released and allowed to go home.

Once there he soon learned that his physical ailments were much more benign that the relationship issues he had created. Although his family was relieved that his life had been spared, the better-off he became, the more intensely they focused on his confessions. His wife, especially, was devastated by what she had heard, and took every opportunity she could find to remind him as much.
The tension and estrangement were so severe that after just a few days, the recovering and repentant old man determined that there are some things even worse than a heart attack; and that he couldn’t live with either. He decided to try and relieve his anguish and suffering by thrusting himself in front on a moving car as it passed by his house. Fortunately both for him and the car’s operator, he was so slow in his movement that the driver was able to avoid hitting him by swerving sharply into an adjacent ditch. Once out of the car the driver rushed to the old man to find what had happened to cause him to try and sacrifice his life.

Shaking his head, and apologizing for the additional trouble he had caused, the old man explained his plight to his listener. “A week ago,” he lamented, “I thought I was gonna die. Now, I’m wishing that I had!”

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Posts so far (16 Sep 2011) 1-70

Posts so far (16 Sept 2011) No. 1 - No. 70

No. 1 "You'll freeze to death this winter!" (Telford Willis)
No. 2 "Have you ever been to Chicago?" (Charlie Claude Jones)
No. 3 "A mattress made of seaweed (Tom Styron)
No. 4 “Billy Hancock ‘soaks’ Sam Windsor” (c. 1870)
No. 5 "That ball was high!" (Creston “Sno’ Ball” Gaskill)
No. 6 "The closest I ever come to having a job." (Louie Hancock)
No. 7 "... if you wait until tomorrow morning, most of 'em will be gone!"
No. 8 "Prince" and the fudgesicles" (Calvin Willis)
No. 9 Ole Pa's House
No. 10 "Has there been a blow or something?" The Storm of '33
No. 11 "We didn't even get a chance to bat!" (Charlie Claude Jones)
No. 12 You ain’t gonna ‘mount to nothin’ (Charlie “Ole Pa” Hancock)
No. 13 Manus Fulcher was headed home ...
No. 14 "The sweetest sound in the whole world"
No. 15 Danny Boy Lewis, "I know twice as much as my father!"
No. 16 "... I want one so bad, I’ll take a pack of them.”
No. 17 "Mullet fishing, an old man, and World War I" (Luther Willis)
No. 18 The "Booze Yacht," a journey, and the "sweetest fumes I ever smelled."
No. 19 "Bittersweet Memories of Grade School on the Island"
No. 20 "Miss Ollie & Dr. Moore"
No. 21 "... as much as anybody else in this graveyard!"
No. 22 "What about that oak tree over there ..." (Ed Russell)
No. 23 Some unforgettable lines that may someday be forgotten ...
No. 24 The Boats that lined the Shoreline
No. 25 Horsepenning
No. 26 “All I wanted was a chance.”
No. 27 The Silver Maples are Turning (Ralph Hancock)
No. 28 “... we ain’t gonna get nowhere if you keep stopping ...” (Donald Guthrie)
No. 29 "It just weren't meant ... to see no mountains!" (Tommy Hancock)
No. 30 How Sea Scallops changed the shoreline forever
No. 31 ... disappointed at her proofs ...
No. 32 “Just look at you crowd ...” (Mary Willis)
No. 33 “They grew so fast ... they were keeping me awake at night.” (Louie Hancock)
No. 34 “Why don’t you fly somewhere before somebody shoots you?” (Cletus Rose)
No. 35 Barbershop Lessons
No. 36 Loke & Lemmis — stewed loon & tied-up chickens
No. 37 Dallas Rose "... in two hours we'll be headed out again."
No. 38 More than just a store!
No. 39 Louie Larson's unfinished story
No. 40 "Dack" and the Eggman
No. 41 "Are you now or have you ever been ...?"
No. 42 "... Wouldn't that be an unsafe movement?"
No. 43 "Somebody might see us!" Joel Hancock, Jr.
No. 44 The Dredge Boat Captain from Lennoxville who was my Grandfather
No. 45  "... something that no true waterman could do without - a skiff."
No. 46  “Lying Willie”
No. 47  Annis & Mississippi
No. 49 The Day They Started Tearing the Old House Down - Lillian Hancock Michels
No. 50 Joel Jr: "The Day I Saw Mike on the Roof"
No. 51 "I love you just as much as I love Tommy!"
No. 52 A League of Our Own (with apologies to Cindy Marshall, Tom Hanks & Gina Davis)
No. 53 A Winner’s Cup and a Loser’s Lament
No. 54 "... do you wanna cut the grass, or do you want ..."
No. 55 "The Wild Chicken"
No. 56 Thoughts On My Island Home (Joel G. Hancock, Jr.)
No. 57 (Part 1) Neighborhoods, Families, Homes & People
No. 58 (Part 2) Neighborhoods, Families, Homes & People
No. 59 (Part 3) Neighborhoods, Families, Homes & People
No. 60 Harkers Island “Cowboys” - Mike, Bill & their horses
No. 61 The "Tiny World' of Cecil Nelson
No. 62 An Island that was part of the World
No. 63 To my dear friend, Libby Jean
No. 64 Aunt Gracie's scrambled eggs
No. 65 "I've got two lists ...," My brother Mike's fishing boats
No. 66 My daddy’s very personal “GPS”
No. 67 Video of Hurricane Hazel on Harkers Island as recorded by Vernon Guthrie
No. 68 A long ago visit to the Cape
No. 69 Remarks at "A Taste of Core Sound" event on Harkers Island, 25 August 2011
No. 70 The Island “Showhouse”

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

No. 70 The Island "Showhouse"

Jimmy Styron was my father’s closest friend as a young man. Beyond that, what I know most about him is that he loved the actress Marlene Dietrich. More to the point, he loved the characters portrayed by the German starlet who was a queen of American cinema throughout the decades of the thirties and forties. He waited anxiously for her movies to come to the local theater, and when they did arrive he was there to watch almost every showing.

So it was that for one special Saturday night feature, Jimmy Styron with several of his friends, including my father, enjoyed a Marlene Dietrich movie together, leaving their wives and children at home. Such male bonding was not uncommon among married men and fathers of that era. This evening they sat together and watched as the character played by one of their favorite actresses came to an untimely end in the film’s finale. Jimmy was visibly upset as he walked home to the westard after the movie along with his friends. My father recalled that “he just kept looking down, shaking his head and asking, why did she have to die?”

Daddy and the others assumed that Jimmy’s depressed mood would wane as the night drew on, but this time their friend carried the movie with him well into the evening. The next morning word reached my father that when his friend got home, still fretting the movie’s outcome and needing an outlet for his disappointment, Jimmy Styron systematically pulled out his family’s best china, and “broke every dish in his house!”

This is just one of the dramas in which the small wooden theater on Harkers Island played a starring role.

If the Island ever had a “downtown,” a “business section,” or a “main street,” it was at the intersection of what are now the Island & Old Ferry Dock Roads. On the southwest corner was Fillmore’s Store, across the main road on northwest side was Henry’s Store, and on the northeast corner was Garfield’s store. A mere stone’s throw away were Henry’s Fish House, the Post Office, R J’s gas station and Charlie Davis’ store- eventually replaced by Billy’s

The Charity Theater on Harkers Island
Amid this beehive of commercial activity was the center of social and cultural life for the whole Island. It was on the southeast corner of the crossroads and was known officially as the “Charity Theater.”Actually, we seldom if ever called it that. Some of the time it was called the just the “theater,” but most often it was the “showhouse.”

It got its official name from an early civic organization on the Island, the “Charitable Brotherhood.” The group organized soon after the arrival of the newcomers from the Banks at the turn of the century as an ad-hoc support group for members and their families. One of its services was to collect an assessment from subscribers to support a member’s family at his passing. But its most lasting contribution was the building of a lodge, that later became a theater, where the people of the Island could watch the parade of movies that film producers began to turn out in the decade of the 1920's.

Before there was the internet, cable or broadcast television, or even a radio in every home, there was the “silver screen.” For more than half a century that stretched from the “roaring” twenties to the mid-seventies, it was on movie screens, both inside and outdoors, that most Americans  found their entertainment, and with that a sense of national community. Newsreels, cartoons, and feature-length dramas from New York and Hollywood provided a common cultural experience for anyone who could afford the cost of admission. Despite its relative isolation on what was sometimes described as “the edge of civilization,” Harkers Island was no different from other small towns and villages when it came to the movies.

Admission was still only 20¢ through the mid-sixties. Soft drinks, candy bars & popcorn all cost a dime, and a pickle (dill or sour) could be had for only a nickel. A center seating section, of perhaps as many as eight seats and twenty rows was flanked by “couples seats” on both sides. Many a first-date was had in those side seats, and the arms of both boys and men began to rest around the shoulder beside them not long after the lights went down. Because everyone there knew everyone else, and the setting was so intimate, it was not unusual to overhear comments and conversations among the patrons throughout the show.

Tandem projectors concealed behind a raised balcony were operated by teenage boys who found a way to combine an evening at the showhouse with a part-time job. My brother, Ralph, was one of those, and the experience left him with a love of movies that spanned a lifetime. He eventually acquired a collection of both Beta and VHS tapes that filled several large boxes, and that was accessed daily as he picked out his preferred evening entertainment.

As a concession to work schedules and the lack of week-night patrons, normally there were only three showings a week. One title would run on Thursday and Friday evenings, and another would be highlighted on Saturday night. This meant that on most weeks we had access to two feature films, even if it was months and sometimes years after they had shown in larger towns on the mainland. But that never mattered to us, as the “showhouse” experience of being part of the crowd was many times more important than the movie itself.

The advent of cable and then of VCRs eventually led to the demise of  many small town movie theaters, including the one on the Island. By the late 80's it sat both empty and abandoned, and was eventually demolished. But even after a home was built on the spot, most Islanders are still prone to describe that area and even give directions referring to “where the showhouse used to be.”

Several generations after Jimmy Styron walked out of the front door so incensed that he took out his frustration on plates and saucers, many others can still recall the wonderful experience of going out to a movie when and where everybody knew your name.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

No. 69 Remarks at "A Taste of Core Sound" event on Harkers Island, 25 August 2011

On Thursday (25 Aug 2011) I spoke at a gathering of the Core Sound Waterfowl and Heritage Museum on Harkers Island. I had been asked to speak about the upcoming book about Harkers Island stories (The Education of an Island Boy). Most of what has been included thus far in this blog is intended to be included in the printed edition.

My remarks lasted for twenty-two minutes and were recorded. I read from two of the posts, including the stories of the first black man I came to know, "Mississippi" (no. 47), and of a survivor of the great hurricane of 1933, "Tom C." (no. 10). The latter was chosen in recognition of impending Hurricane Irene that would approach the Island the next evening, and actually passed directly over us early the next morning.

I have posted on YouTube several excerpts from the video, prepared for the museum by Chris Hunter. This one is the complete event, minus the beginning of Karen Amspacher's introduction. Smaller segments of the presentation are also posted.

I assume that there are at least some readers who might enjoy hearing the stories "told" in addition to seeing them in print. As might be expected, most of these stories have a somewhat different dynamic when they are spoken, especially in the vernacular and cadence in which they were first related and preserved.

Joel Hancock

Saturday, September 10, 2011

No. 68 A long ago visit to the Cape

Leaving Diamond City on foot early in the morning of December 31, 1897, two young visitors from Utah made their way to Cape Lookout across a narrow ditch that later would grow into Bardens Inlet. They spent the entire day exploring the lighthouse and life-saving station that were focal points of the village, and were plainly fascinated with what they saw and heard.
Cape Lookout Lighthouse photo taken in 1913

What they found, and how they described it in their journals, paints a vivid and unique picture of the Cape at the close of the Nineteenth Century. It remains important because their impressions were uncolored by any previous experience at the coast or among the seamen whose livelihood depended on both the lighthouse and the life-saving service.

When visited by Elders John Telford and William Hansen, the Cape Lookout Lighthouse had been in use for half a century, but the day-to-day routine of the keepers was almost exactly the same as it had been when the light first illuminated in 1859. Changes would come rapidly after the turn of the century, so their description might be among the last ones available of the original lighthouse and lifesaving routines.

Once at the Cape, and upon making the acquaintance of Mr. John Davis, the keeper of the Lighthouse, they were taken on a guided tour of the structure that still overlooks Lookout Point. William Hansen, ever the avid listener, vividly detailed what he learned.

“The Lighthouse was 156 feet high. The walls at the bottom were eighteen feet through, and at the top were four feet wide. The large lamp burned seven gallons and one quart of oil each night. When the nights were clear and no fog, this light could be seen forty miles out in the ocean. When the day was gloomy and foggy, this light was burning all the time. We climbed the long winding iron steps from the bottom to the top.

Elder William Hansen in 1897
Elder John Telford in 1897
“When we went on the outside we found a porch, or walk, all around the tower about three feet wide. A heavy iron rail was around it too, which one could hold. The wind was blowing hard up on top of the Lighthouse but there was no wind below. We could see for miles and miles, and could also see small and large ships out on the ocean.”

Leaving the Lighthouse and heading toward the Life-Saving Station, the travelers encountered what they described as a sandstorm. In the course of their two-mile walk, the wind blowing in off of the ocean began to hurl the light, dry beach sand into their faces. By the time they reached the station their faces were sore, "… so much so that when [they] would wipe them with [their] handkerchiefs, blood would show on them."

At the Life-Saving Station they found eight men including the Captain and cook. All seemed happy to meet the visitors and the Captain, William Howard Gaskill, was particularly gracious and courteous. The Elders were impressed by the orderly nature of both the personnel and facilities at the station. "Everything was in its proper place. The men [were] all dressed in white, neat and clean, as was also the building, both inside and out."

After enjoying a fish dinner, "and all that went with it," Captain Gaskill showed his guests around the station. William Hansen's delight in that experience is readily evident in his description of what they saw and heard.

“The building had a tower on it that was sixty feet high. Here was a small room with windows all around it so that one could see in all directions. One man was stationed there night and day. The purpose of this man was to discover when a shipwreck took place. Then he would give the alarm to the entire crew and he with all the others would set out to give help to those in distress.

“They had a long wagon on which was a large long-boat. This boat was so built that it was waterproof, with a door on top which could be closed and would keep the water out. Then they had a large pair of mules already to jump under the harness… and was hitched to a wagon in a very few moments. Then it was up to the mules to take this wagon down to the shore in the direction where the wreck could be seen. To this wagon was also fastened a small cannon. 

“In this cannon was loaded a heavy weight in the shape of a bullet with a rope attached to it. When shot out over the water it would go for miles. This would reach the boat or ship in distress and the life savers would be placed or fastened on this rope and drawn into shore. They had a practice every Tuesday and Friday afternoon at three o'clock.

“When night set in two men from the life-saving station would go to the shore and patrol from six to nine. Then two other men would take their places until midnight. Hence four changes were made each night. These men, when reaching the shore, had a distance of two miles to walk. At the end of each was a post with a clock fastened to the post. This clock would be adjusted by the man, thereby letting the Captain know that they had done their duty…

“During the day time, if a ship passed … and wished to commune with the station they would raise a flag on the highest mast. In turn, the man in the tower would raise his flag, and in this manner a conversation would be carried on. While we were there, a ship passed and the man in the tower informed the crew on board the ship that "two Mormon Elders" were at the station, giving our names and where we were from.

(From the Missionary Journal of William Hansen as quoted in my earlier book, “Strengthened by the Storm.”)

Thursday, September 8, 2011

N0. 67 Video of Hurricane Hazel on Harkers Island as recorded by Vernon Guthrie

Vernon Guthrie was born and raised at Harkers Island, but moved with his wife and children to Utah in the late 1950's. Before leaving he used his small Super-8 Film Camera to record hours of video on and around Harkers Island. Among his archives, shared with me by his son, Vernon Evan Guthrie, is this two minute clip shot during and immediately after Hurricane Hazel in 1954.

This copy was made from a VHS video that was recorded from the original film while projecting it onto a screen.  The voice you hear is that of Vernon narrating what is showing, but hardly audible due to the sound of the film projector in the background.

The fish houses shown are those of Henry Davis and of Alton Willis. Notice how far the water reached up the shore, the debris floating in the water, and even the home that had lost its entire top half.

If anyone recognizes any of the people, houses or stores shown, please add a comment pointing that out.

Joel Hancock
Sept 2011

Monday, September 5, 2011

No. 66 My daddy’s very personal “GPS”

My Daddy, sitting on his fence.

“Where did you go? he would usually begin.

“Just to Wade’s Shore and across to the beach,” I might respond.

“Did the engine run alright?” he would follow.

“Never missed a pop,” I would assure him.

“Did you have a good time?” he would ask as he headed back up the path and towards our house, satisfied that nothing had gone wrong with me or with the boat.

“Yea,” I would tell him, maybe adding something along the line of, “but the tide was so high that ...,” or, "there were so many yellow flies that ...”

A few minutes later we both were back at the house. I would be washing off under a water hose, and he would be back at work on his net or on something he was building in our small back yard.

Such were the conversations that followed an “unsupervised” day at the Banks in my father’s boat when I was a boy.

A half a century before I was born, and before hurricanes had left it largely uninhabitable for people, Shackleford Banks had been the home place of my ancestors for many generations. But for my generation of young boys it was a Summer wonderland. Less than three miles distant, it was always visible on the southern horizon. Bordered by both a gentle ocean and peaceful sound, it seemed to call to us to come and enjoy – a natural theme park that charged no admission.

Most Island families had a boat of some kind, and by the time we approached our teenage years, we were deemed responsible enough to use those boats without adult supervision. More often than not, our chosen destination was the Banks. And once we got there we could play and enjoy to our heart’s content. Swimming in the ocean, diving and skiing in the sound, chasing after herds of wild horses and sheep, blazing trails, or digging for clams, — time seemed to fly on wings as the days raced by. But each day eventually came to an end and we were obliged to return to our boats, and head back across the sound to home.

It was at the end of that return trip that a mystery began to unfold in my life. Each afternoon or early evening, as our boat approached my father’s dock, I came to expect that he would be there standing at the shore and awaiting my return. And as together we secured the boat he would ask about my day of fun, even as he inspected the boat to make sure all was in good order. All along I assumed that the latter was his primary concern.

As the youngest of seven boys, I had the good fortune of enjoying the freedom of the Banks even earlier than my brothers. And as the years passed and I grew older, and my brothers eventually had boats of their own, the time came that my father entrusted his boat to me alone. Now, with my friends and younger cousins, we would repeat the same routine that had become an irreplaceable part of summer life on our Island.

But even as I matured and the dynamic of using his boat became more routine, there was one thing about my father that did not change. No matter what the occasion, or how long or short the stay, he was still there walking the path from our home to the shore at the very moment our boat came into view.

It seemed to me as if he had access to some internal GPS or tracking device that allowed him to know the very instant that I headed for home. Try as I might by staying later than usual or heading home early, I could not elude him. Intuitively, or so it seemed, he could sense my direction and knew exactly when I would approach the shore.

Even after I grew up and had a boat and a family of my own, whenever we would go out for a day on the water, my father was always there to welcome us back to the dock. “How does he know?” I used to ask myself. “How can he tell exactly each time that I am headed for home so as to be there to meet me?”

The passing of time, and having sons of my own who asked for permission to spread their wings by boating alone, eventually revealed my father’s great secret. For by then I had a deeper understanding of the dangers of the water. The very first summer afternoon that my two sons headed out into the sound and ocean, I came face to face with the very sensitivity that used to draw my father to the shoreline. Because, from the moment that my sons’ departing boat slipped beyond my view, I would stare almost without respite towards the same horizon and wait for their return.

After a few hours, that invariably seemed much longer to me, as my sons made their way back to our mooring, I could see them in the distance long before they could ever take notice of me. Then, just as with my own father, I would be there at the shore to reassure myself that all was well, not so much with my boat as with my boys. Since then every time I catch the first sight of my children as they break the horizon for home, even in boats of their own, my mind is drawn to a specific verse in the Biblical parable of the “Prodigal Son.” “When he was yet a long way off, his father saw him ...”

My daddy died nine years ago, after a lifetime of looking in the direction of his children and grandchildren who had ventured into the Sound — be it every so tranquil and serene.  A lifetime of experience had taught him that the waters of the sound, just like the ocean, can quickly change demeanor, and that even the most placid marine setting can hide unseen dangers.

As age and experience have made me more aware of those dangers, I have come to value much more the mental image I have of my father waiting on the shoreline. There was a time when my overriding impression was that his constant attention was because of how little he trusted me. The wisdom of the years has convinced me that it was, rather, because of how much he loved me!