Sam Writes in his Journal

March 22, 2009

Concrete Evidence

Sam writes in his Journal
     
      The Friendly Lady is a registered sailing vessel of the United States. Sam Friendly is listed as the owner’s name and Captain of the thirty ton sailboat. According to maritime custom, I could offer a marriage on the high seas—or a funeral. Neither occasion has risen.
      On deck the teak is well oiled, the decks are scrubbed, and the lines are neatly stowed. The sails are furled and covered with canvas to protect the Dacron fabric from the deteriorating effect of the ultraviolet saturated New Orleans sun.

      Down below, where I am at the moment, I put my feet up on the bunk and leaned my aging frame back against the padding under the old eight tract music system. I have extracted an unusual log book from the locker under the bunk and have started an entry that is long overdue. The log book, one might have given the one hundred year old volume in my hands the modern name of daily memo, is small enough to fit in my jacket pocket. The journal is protected by hard-cured hand-tooled ox hide and contains over a hundred pages of tough but thin, blank, well-preserved sheets of pure linen paper. A stylized tree decorates the cover and the pages are bound together with waxed linen thread of the highest quality.

      I bought the unused antique journal back in the 1950’s in a shop in Brighton, England, during one of my trips to the U.K. where I was busy gleaning information in computer security and cryptography. The Brits at that time were rather more advanced than the Americans in this field due to an early and canny interest in computerizing intelligence data dating back to the WWII. The journal according to the dealer, once belonged to Darwin, himself, though I rather doubted that that was anything other than a good sales pitch to a gullible American tourist. Since then I have come to believe that the provenance is at least possible.
      For reasons of boredom I had been browsing through the old ship chandler’s emporium downtown in New Orleans and ran across a classic fountain pen that used the old fashioned carbon ink. Putting the pen together with the antique journal inspired my imagination so that I decided I would set down some of my thoughts and a brief personal history in a way that might prove interesting to future generations. In fact, I have written this explanation down in what seems like nineteenth century antique English, as if my history is somehow already over and done with.

      After such an auspicious introduction, I placed the current month and year, October, 1977 across the top of the second page where I also included an extra blank line so that I can address these words to Morgan when the time comes.
      But before I could begin, I had to think about my story—what to include, what to winnow from the chaff-rich opacity of my life.
      My mother, Catherine, was a lovely woman from an East Texas family who was insane enough to marry my father and agree move near Lexington, Kentucky where my father had accepted a position as Dean at a small college. Mother once told me that I was born at home, helped into this world by a country doctor who was as familiar with his bottle of moonshine as he was at birthing babies. My father once joked about finding me in a basket in the woods. A record of my birth without a date was on file, but the text says that the original documents were lost when the courthouse in the little Kentucky town of Nicholasville burned down—a newspaper clipping described how the Feds and the local tobacco growers got heated up over allotment records. And that was about all my mother ever told me except to say that she was really glad to move back to New Orleans.
       In my line of work, a tenuous record of the past is occasionally useful. But what about my line of work? Morgan knows something about my consulting business, and I hope she will be interested enough to take over the public aspect of my consulting services if or ever the time for my retirement imposes itself on my will.
      Like most family histories, some of the stories are true and some are suspect. The generally accepted, short version of the family history tells us that the grandfather for whom I am named, Samuel Adams Friendly, married Morgana Lee Featherstone and settled down to a successful life of trade in a small town on the south side of Vicksburg, Mississippi. His two sons, my father Lee Adams Friendly and my father’s brother John Morgan Friendly, both married and had families. My uncle chose a farming sort of life and remained with his wife in Mississippi where he had one daughter, my cousin Mary Lee, who then married one Percy Nightwing in 1948. My father was more the wandering type, matriculated at Tulane in New Orleans where he received a degree in administration, then married my mother after meeting her while she was visiting New Orleans from her home in East Texas. After our return to New Orleans where Father accepted a position managing one of the more affluent private schools, I received one younger brother whom we lost when he was killed in Korea.
      I like to remember the trips from New Orleans to the Friendly farm in Mississippi when my brother and I were children. Our parents bundled us onto the early morning train that ran up north along the east bank of the Mississippi River from New Orleans. We traveled by ourselves carrying a lunchbox which we were supposed to share but often argued over. Late that afternoon, after an exciting day of starts and stops, waiting while our locomotive took on water, exchanging passengers arriving or departing at each of the numerous small towns along the way, we would be met by my Uncle John ‘s wife, a friendly, rather rotund woman named Matilda who smelled like hay and fresh butter.

     Aunt Matilda brought along my cousin Mary Lee as well as some of my cousin’s friends so that the neighbor’s children could both enjoy the ride and have a chance to see the big city of Vicksburg. Together, we drove back into the country laughing and screaming, sometimes hanging out the window of the old Ford, and no doubt driving poor Aunt Matilda half out of her mind.

     The Friendly holding was in the best part of a section of poor farm land where ignorant agricultural practices and unchecked erosion since the Civil War had carried most of the once-rich soil down the slopes in the direction of the Mississippi River southwest of Vicksburg. This was land steeped in history, or so we as children imagined. Several times, while playing in some of the abandoned fields, we came across civil war artifacts consisting of  broken bayonets  and fire bent gun barrels, a can full of rusty buckles, and some iron fragments of broken cannon balls. There were some bones that we weren’t allowed to keep, but Uncle John said they were old deer bones and weren’t important, anyway.

     I still possess some of these happy childhood items displayed in a glass case at my home in New Orleans which is located south of the Lake levees and west of the Seventeenth Street Canal.
      I had to pause in my writing to consider several important points.  I had lost track of my cousin on account of some minor feud between my father and his brother that led to the estrangement between the two families. When I was contacted in 1967 by my cousin’s lawyer, a New Orleans attorney named Noel Webster, I had received both sad news and good news. Mary Lee had died, but her daughter Morgan Lee Nightwing was anxious to reestablish family ties with me. I should have been delighted, but it seems as if I had resisted plunging into new relationship with my cousin’s daughter—misplaced pain of guilt, no doubt.  Maybe I hadn’t responded seriously or quickly enough when Noel told me that Morgan’s father, Percy, was threatening her over the inheritance of her mother’s few possessions.

     Dear God, what a terrible error!  Too late; Noal’s daughter died and Morgan had nearly been murdered by Percy right in my own home on her eighteenth birthday party. My relationship with Noel Webster has been close, yet difficult every since—and why not? I as much as promised him that I would rescue his daughter and I failed miserably, as it turned out.  Also, as I looked back over what I was determined to set down, I winced because I could see how I was building a case against myself.
      Not that Morgan would hold any of this against me.
      Thinking back through my uncertainties reminded me of someone with whom I had shared both the good times and the hard times—a man named Walter Onley. I was in the middle of wondering how much I could explain concerning my relationship with the mysterious Mr. Onley when tramping noises on the deck overhead announced that someone had come on board the Friendly Lady. Before I could rise, the hatch slid open over my head and a familiar face peered down into the cabin.
      “Uncle Sam!”
      I could tell by her expression that Morgan was both surprised and embarrassed at finding me on my boat. “Why Morgan, what a pleasant surprise. I didn’t expect to see you out here at the boat, this afternoon,” I returned, wondering to what occasion I owed the unexpected visit.
      Since I had heard two sets of footsteps on the deck above, I waited for Morgan to decide to introduce me to the person accompanying her. Eventually she gathered her wits about her and pretended to be overjoyed to see me.
      “Sam, I’m so glad you’re here so you can meet my friend, Mark Peters,” she had the decency to look embarrassed.
      Mr. Peters poked his head past Morgan’s shoulder and waived at me through the hatch opening. “Sorry to bother you, sir.”
      I recognized him as the clean cut kid that had taken up some part time work doing some rigging for a friend of mine who owned a yacht dealership. Knowing Morgan as I do, I suspect she was bringing Mark out to my boat for more than a bit of wine and conversation. At least I could offer the wine. They’d have to go somewhere else for the other matters. I managed to keep the smile off of my face, but I don’t think I fooled Morgan. “Open up and come one down,” I invited the youngsters. “I was just going to go through the wine cellar and see what needs drinking,” I added.
      Mark looked more interested than Morgan who was still looking vexed.
      “You have a wine cellar on board?” he seemed to find this interesting.
      “Well, nothing quite as grand as it sounds,” I reply. “The temperature in the bilge stays pretty constant being below the waterline, so I had a waterproof locker built in under the extra drinking water tanks. Morgan, why don’t you go select us something that looks good.” I emphasized good so Morgan, who knew where my stash was, would select something from the premium end of the collection—something perhaps like  the five year old French cabernet. Morgan brightened considerably at my suggestion.
      Morgan made her way towards the bow and opened a hatch under the eight track music system. I heard some clinking as she shifted the wine bottles on the rack. “So, how’s the rigging on that new Morgan going?” I asked Mark.
      Mark, who had fixed his gaze on Morgan’s rear as she was bending over the hatch into the bilge area, looked back at me. “Oh, I remember you, now,” he exclaimed, turning slightly red as he realized what he’d been doing. “You were watching us trying to step the mast last week.”
      “Looks like you were having a devil of a time slipping the mast through the blocks on the cabin roof,” I commented. I was referring to sixty two feet of heavy, cumbersome aluminum mast swinging about above the boat yard.
      “Well, the watertight boot was too small, so the whole thing seized up half way down. We had to winch it out twice before we could get it all the way to the keel block.”
      “Nice rigging design, though,” I add. “I’ve never seen a better dual spreader setup.” The spreaders are the struts that stick out of the side of the mast and brace the wire shrouds at an angle to the sides of the hull and stiffen the mast from side to side. Wire cables called stays brace the mast fore and aft.
      “Yes sir,” Mark followed up with, “but I don’t like the way the shrouds are attached to the hull. The best way is to attach them to straps molded solidly into the fiberglass, but these straps are bolted to the outside of the hull with half inch bolts over rubber sealing washers. I’d bet on them working loose and leaking in a heavy sea.”
     
      “Merely a minor nuisance,” Morgan announced by thumping a bottle of my best wine down on the galley top.  She located the corkscrew under the sink and cut the foil seal off the top of the cork with the rigging knife she has tied to a loop on her belt.
      I thought that bottle was well hidden at the back of the rack. “I see you found the better stuff,” I commented wryly, but Morgan merely turned one of her sphinx-like smiles in my direction. Mark had better look out!
      “What are you working on,” she wanted to know, indicating the log that was open in front of me. She handed the bottle to Mark and waited patiently while he struggled with the extraction, making it seem more like pulling a tooth. The cork made a nice little pop coming out and we all breathed a sigh of relief. I’d hate to think my forty dollar bottle of wine had gone bad.

About charles frenzel

I've been writing all my life. I've also painted, composed, sculpted, contributed to molecular research, advanced some mathematical concepts, lived on a sailboat, and worked for a Nobel Prize winner. Nothing in my life has pleased me more than to share my life with my wife and friend of over forty years.

View all posts by charles frenzel

11 Responses to “Sam Writes in his Journal”

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