Author Archives: sammozart

Maggie S. Myers, Video

Here is a link to the video, by Michael Oates, 302 Stories, of the raising of the Maggie S. Myers, her condition and what is to come.

https://www.302stories.com.

The Sinking and Raising of The Maggie

The Maggie S. Myers is a treasure. She is a living legacy. She is a 130-year-old two-masted, fully restored, wooden oyster schooner. The Maggie S. Myers is the only working Delaware Bay oyster dredge schooner under sail in the United States. Commissioned in 1893 and built in 1892 by Rice Brothers in Bridgeton, New Jersey, she has never been out of commission. Last week, two days before Christmas, she sank. They don’t know yet what caused her to sink there at her Bowers Beach dock in the Murderkill. But, there was a terrible storm, a Nor’easter.

One sunny and cold, very windy day in January 2004, I was working in my friend Robert’s hair salon when this guy walked in and said, “I want my ponytail purple. Robert, who loves coloring hair, jumped on it and before you could say toadfish, this guy had a purple ponytail.

“I can’t wait to see what the guys think when I go back out on the boat tomorrow!” he exclaimed.

“Oh, what boat?” I asked.

It was the Maggie S. Myers, 111-year-old wooden oyster schooner, he told us. He and his fellow watermen, under the Maggie’s captain, Thumper, worked her on the Delaware Bay, sailing out of Bowers Beach, Delaware, every day, dredging for conch, blue crabs, oysters and more. But, this day it was too windy to go out so he came to get a purple ponytail.

I was a freelance features writer for the (Wilmington, Delaware) News Journal, daily newspaper at the time. I thought featuring the Maggie and Thumper’s way of life would make a fascinating story, so I asked my editor and he gave me the go-ahead.

My story of the Maggie evolved into a three-part cover story. My editors called it “The Fish Package.” Since then I have published a series of stories about the Maggie, including for Delmarva Quarterly, a literary magazine. For this latter story, I engaged in deep research via primary sources and archives and cross-checking my facts. I have posted this story, “The Low Whistle of the Wind,” below and have provided a link to the magazine clip. If you want to know the history of the Maggie from her beginning and accurate facts about her 130-year voyage from 1893 until now, 2023, you will want to read this story. She is listed on the National Historic Register.

Over the years since Captain Thumper, Frank “Thumper” Eicherly IV, and his wife Jean Friend bought the Maggie, saving her from scuttling in 1998, the two have put nearly $500,000 into her restoration, encompassing restoring her two masts, for which Thumper makes the sails. He dredges out on the bay, under sail, conditions permitting.

In between, Jean and Thumper have hosted soup kitchens for watermen–Jean would make an oyster stew or other soup and we would bring the bread. The couple helped the watermen with other necessities, too, like blankets and clothes, whatever they needed.

In September 2004, I sailed with Thumper on the Maggie in the middle of the night, the Maggie carrying a 50-foot yellow pine pole, up the bay from Bowers–we had to sail with the tide–past great, hulking freighters lit only by “ghost” lights on their decks, to the Cohansey River in New Jersey, and navigate that river to Flanigan Bros. boatyard in Fairton, where the Flanigans, shipwrights, would restore the first of her two masts, the 50-foot pole we were carrying.

“I have to go below deck for a couple minutes,” said Thumper. “Will you steer the Maggie?” It was sunrise and there I was, left to steer a 50-foot long, 18-foot wide, 111-year-old oyster dredge schooner up the narrow, serpentine Cohansey. I’d never steered or piloted a boat before–of any kind. “Ohh–hhh.” But, Thumper wasn’t gone long and I managed.

Then the Maggie sank. It was overnight, two nights before Christmas this year, 2022, in a terrible, pummeling Nor’easter. Moored at dock in the Murderkill, she was up to the top of her wheelhouse in water. A 130-year-old Delaware Bay wooden oyster dredge schooner–GPS, other electronics, her motor and rare maps that Thumper had charted from his experience of years on the bay, all lost or filled with silt.

Thumper worked quickly: All came together, the mayor and people of Bowers and with the coordination of a crane, straps, airbags, divers and, finally, the electric company to deactivate wires, they brought her up, to a cost of $35,000, not to mention the hundreds of thousands of dollars to restore her once again. I have posted below three stories I published and have provided links to others.

A GoFundMe site has been set up to help Thumper and Jean restore this venerable oyster schooner, one of a kind, working, in existence in the world. We must not lose her legacy. To help Thumper and Jean who have helped so many, here is that GoFundMe link, where you can also read the latest updates on the Maggie’s refloating, and they say they will post photos. “The list of gear we outright lost or must scrap and replace is staggering … and every time we turn around to do something we notice more.” Thumper and his stepbrother, Brian Howard, the Maggie’s historian, said. https://www.gofundme.com/f/maggie-s-myers-needs-your-help-to-survive?qid=9ab57adbb998782f4f6d6d49b42ff2d5.

“White Gold; Delaware’s oystering history” by 302 Productions in 2012. https://www.302stories.com/white-gold

The Low Whistle of the Wind

Maggie Gets Her Sail

A Song to Maggie

Thanksgiving

Maggie Rescue

FishPackage

It Came Upon a Night So Clear

Behold

We stood shivering in the dark on the dock of the Murderkill Creek as we watched the lights on the top of the Bay float slowly, slowly towards us. It was 6:30 on the evening of December 16, 2004. The historic oyster schooner, the Maggie S. Myers, with her newly restored mast and sails, was making her way into the cut at Bowers Beach, Delaware. The tide was so low that her captain, Frank “Thumper” Eicherly IV, had to cross the bar from the Delaware Bay to the creek at almost a standstill because the Maggie’s bottom was scraping the sand here and there. At 6:45 she tied up at the public dock.

“Oh! She’s beautiful!” we all exclaimed. We were friends and family of Thumper and his wife, Jean Friend, the Maggie’s proud owners. The Maggie had been to the rail to get her sails back and we had gathered to welcome her home. “She’s so awesome!” exuded Jean’s mom, Dot, 82, visiting for the holidays from New Hampshire. “Oh, she’s beautiful!” each of us said again, in turn.

Indeed, she was beautiful with her white-painted, fifty-foot yellow-pine mast and her colorful sail Thumper had sewn, and jib riggings. She looked like the boat she was born to be. She was once again: The Maggie.

Our gathering went back to Jean’s and Thumper’s house a few blocks away, the one with the chimney Thumper built from conch shells. The long table was laid with soup Jean made and bread the guests brought. Thumper said the blessing, and after we ate, he played his guitar and sang a song. Then Dot played the piano; Sadie, Thumper’s old dog, leaned against the wood stove; and a cat jumped onto the table and almost lit her tail in the candle flames.

The Maggie S. Myers, was built by Rice Brothers boatyard in Bridgeton, N.J., as a Delaware Bay dredge schooner and commissioned in 1893. She is the twenty-second boat to get a New Jersey oyster license. She has never been out of commission. She is fifty feet long, eighteen feet wide, drafts five feet and weighs 24.62 gross tons. “She can carry her weight in oysters,” said Thumper.

In the 1940s, like most oyster schooners of the day, her masts were cut and she was motorized.

“Maggie had two masts, sails, and probably some very large oars in case the wind didn’t blow,” Thumper went on. “Maggie is thick-skinned, beefy. Her wooden hull is six inches thick. She won’t get crushed by ice like some boats. In fact, on cold winter days she cuts through the ice in the bay.”

Love at First Sight

The Maggie was not always a part of Thumper’s and Jean’s lives. They rescued her from the brink of scuttling in 1998 when her owner could no longer afford her annual tens of thousands of dollars upkeep. The owner sold the Maggie to Thumper and Jean for five thousand dollars.

“The instant we saw her, it was love at first sight,” said Jean.

“She looks so cool,” Thumper observed. “She’s low to the water and dredges by hand. She turns on a song, like a snow goose flying around in the air.”

Today, with her sails restored, the Maggie is believed to be the oldest continuously working oyster schooner under sail in the United States. She is listed on the National Historic Register.

She is the little schooner that could.

For me it was love at first sight, too.

The Gift of Candlelight on the Snow

A few nights after the Maggie came home with her new mast and sail, many of our gathering were back in Bowers, this time to attend the Candlelight Christmas Carol Service at the little wooden historic Saxton United Methodist Church, which Jean and her friend Lonnie Field had recently restored, where Thumper, who taught Sunday school there, played his guitar, accompanying the organist, and sang two hymns.

All Creation sang for joy, making offerings and gifts, and as we sang the song of the angels—“Angels We Have Heard on High”—the angels must have heard, for it seemed they had come in. A member of the congregation read an abridged O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi.” Outside it began to snow. We sang “Silent Night,” and in the candlelight, through the gothic church windows I watched the virginal white flakes journey slowly, peacefully, soundlessly towards earth—some alone, some in gatherings. Following the service, women of the church served hot apple cider and homemade cookies.

Then we went back to the house. Jean served vegetarian lasagna and oyster stew made with oysters Thumper had just dredged. It snowed throughout the evening and driving home was difficult, but we made it.

—Samantha Mozart

I excerpted parts of this story from one I published in James Milton Hanna’s  Delaware Bay Stories, Past & Present, published by Cherokee Books, 2008.

Photo by Robert Price.

 

Maggie Coming Through the Cut

The Low Whistle of the Wind

Photo courtesy of Flanigan Bros.

THE LOW WHISTLE OF THE WIND

How a Renaissance Waterman Saved the Maggie S. Myers, an Historic Oyster Schooner

 

I published this story under my byline Carol Child in Delmarva Quarterly, Spring 2009

Every star in the sky shone upon the Maggie S. Myers historic oyster schooner that night she sailed across the Delaware Bay from Bowers Beach, Delaware to Fairton, New Jersey. She navigated up the shipping lanes, her clipper bow gracefully folding the waves like fine lace back over the bay. She carried as cargo the 50-foot yellow pine pole that would become her new mast. Huge hulls of freighters and tankers of exotic registry loomed up beside her, dimly lit as by a single candle. They whispered past her in the blackness.

She reached the Jersey shoreline soon after sunup. Her captain, Frank “Thumper” Eicherly IV, guided her five-foot draft up the shallow, curving Cohansey River to Fairton and her rendezvous with the rail at Flanigan Brothers boatyard, home of second- and third-generation boat builders. That was in September 2004.

Today, with one mast and sails restored, the Maggie S. Myers is believed to be the oldest continuously working oyster schooner under sail in the United States. The 115-year-old Delaware Bay oyster schooner has never been out of commission. Her two masts were cut down when she was motorized, probably during World War II when the states of New Jersey and Delaware lifted power-dredging restrictions and most captains outfitted their schooners with motors and wheelhouses.

Eicherly and his wife, Jean Friend, both from Bowers Beach, have owned the Maggie Myers for 10 years, devotedly sinking most of Maggie’s earnings into her restoration. Indeed, nearly daily, weather and regulatory conditions permitting, Eicherly and his crew of up to six, sometimes all women, have worked the Maggie on the Delaware Bay out of North Bowers dredging conchs, oysters, horseshoe crabs, blue crabs. They catch toadfish for the Chinese market in New York City. They collect mussels. At the end of the day, which can be up to 15 hours long, they unload their catch onto trucks waiting at the Bowers dock.

The Maggie S. Myers was built as a two-masted Delaware Bay oyster-dredge schooner by Rice Brothers in Bridgeton, N.J., and commissioned in 1893. She is 50 feet long and 18 feet wide. The 24.62 ton schooner is the 22nd boat to get a New Jersey oyster license. She can carry her weight in oysters.

When she was built, below deck the Maggie had four berths and a wood stove for cooking. The Maggie and her crew would stay out all week, as did the other oyster schooners. It took too long without a motor to sail into dock every evening with the catch.

On Friday they’d sail the oysters up to Philadelphia, often piled so high the captain had to close the windows of the wheelhouse so the oysters wouldn’t spill through. The crew then hurried home for the weekend to be with their families.

The Maggie is living history and Eicherly is enthralled by her past. He beams, almost dancing, as he recalls the 16-foot oar he stumbled upon years ago. Besides her masts and sails, Maggie probably had some very large oars in case the wind didn’t blow.

Five Years Without Underwear

“Maggie is thick-skinned, beefy,” he says. The ship’s hull is eight to 10 inches of thick wood, and on cold winter days, she cuts through the bay ice with ease.

U.S. Coast Guard records show that the Maggie was motorized before 1946. The forward mast was removed to make room for a fuel tank, and the centerboard trough, running bow to stern along the bottom center of the hull, was cut and capped off to accommodate the pair of motorized winches which operate the two dredges. The centerboard runs longitudinally along the hull to stabilize the boat and prevents it drifting with the wind. Eicherly finds that the Maggie’s mast and sails help stabilize her, as her original design intended.

She has had a series of motors. Her current engine is a 611 Detroit diesel, commonly used in World War II tanks and other military vehicles. Eicherly says it is a popular truck engine, reliable and economical. He had the engine retooled in Virginia as a marine engine, four-valve rather than the usual two for more power.

The Maggie S. Myers was listed on the National Historic Register in 1983 by Harry and Jeannette Killen. They bought her in 1960 from John DuBois of Mauricetown, N.J., and worked her out of Leipsic dredging crabs, oysters and clams. Killen family photos show the Maggie’s crew shoveling oysters into piles that climbed halfway up the wheelhouse. John DuBois was an oysterman and operated Mauricetown Shipyard in New Jersey. He died in 2001. The Maggie’s original name board is mounted on the wall of the DuBois Maritime Museum in Greenwich, N.J.

In 1946 John DuBois sold the Maggie to Seacoast Oyster Co. of New Haven, Conn., and bought her back in 1950 when the company dissolved. James E. Munson, manager of Seacoast, negotiated the transactions. He kept a diary. His son, Bob Munson, of Port Norris, N.J., 13 in 1946, saw the Maggie and recalls that the mast had been stubbed already, further evidence that she was motorized prior to that year.

Munson’s diary notes that one of the interesting mechanical changes Seacoast made was to install a coal-powered, steam-generating boiler on deck used expressly to boil starfish. They had an apparatus that looked like big mops — steel with cotton mesh — that snagged starfish when dragged along the bay’s bottom. Starfish are a main crop in the Delaware Bay and they eat oysters. The starfish were boiled and tossed overboard. Today, the few starfish Eicherly and crew dredge up amid the other catch are thrown overboard, or dried to become tourist trinkets and Christmas ornaments.

When Harry Killen underwent open heart surgery in 1985, he and his wife sold the Maggie to Willis Hand. They hated to see her go. Hand’s son, W.C., worked her out of Port Mahon, Del., crab dredging; but with only 22 days of work a year, Maggie wasn’t paying her way. The Hands owned another boat. They were watching the Maggie deteriorate.

Then one day in 1998, Eicherly heard Captain Willis Hand talking to W.C. about the Maggie. They planned to salvage the motor and beach her.

“The instant we saw her, it was love at first sight,” says Jean Friend.

“She looks so cool,” Eicherly observes, with childlike awe. “She’s low to the water and dredges by hand. She turns on a song, like a snow goose flying around in the air.” Fat Maggie, he calls her. Indeed, when she comes straight at you across the water, she looks like an overfed goose.

Hand sold the couple the Maggie for $5,000.

They bought her to use as a pleasure boat, but their dreams soon foundered when their working boat, The Phragmites, berthed next to the Maggie at dock, was crushed by ice.

The Maggie had to go to work.

“She had holes the size of golf balls,” Eicherly recalls. “Once we had thirteen pumps to keep afloat. She looked like a fireboat. It took a hundred trips to get the down payment to take her to the rail.”

They commissioned Donald Flanigan of Flanigan Brothers boatyard. “One day Jean called us,” says Flanigan. “‘Do what Maggie needs to make her float,’ she said. ‘Oh, boy…,’ I thought.”

It took three months to repair her that first year, 2001. “That was the beginning of the Maggie Myers Restoration Project,” Eicherly says with a half laugh. The couple’s out-of-pocket expenditures went up to $60,000 annually.

Friend says in her raspy voice, “The Maggie’s at the boatyard so much that when I go there, the guys greet me with, ‘We hear you’ve gone five years without underwear!’”

The Flanigans’ Web site, www.flanigan-bros.com, meticulously documents each step of Maggie’s restoration, in stunning photographs and simple text, including her new bowsprit installed in the autumn of 2007.

Bard, Waterman, Conservationist

At the boatyard, when he is not running a chainsaw or up in his bosun’s chair installing stays and riggings to the mast, the slightly-built Eicherly, wearing his knit cap and looking like an early-day, bearded Pete Seeger, picks up his guitar and serenades the workers with a sea chantey or a song he has written about them. Eicherly – he and Friend are Delmarva Friends of Folk members, occasionally performing at their venues – wrote and performs the Flanigan’s Web site theme song (http://www.flaniganbros.com).

Maggie at the Rail – Photo Courtesy Flanigan Bros.

Thirty years ago Eicherly read Donald H. Rolfs’ Under Sail: The Dredgeboats of Delaware Bay. That book made him want to eat, sleep and feel what oystermen felt. But there were earlier influences; namely, Moby Dick – he saw himself as a young Ishmael – and Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer that he read growing up on the Susquehanna River in Columbia, Pa. “They called us river rats,” he says. “I thought, ‘I’m gonna build a sailboat and sail away.’” Eicherly’s lifelong dream has fueled his and Friend’s will to survive in a chosen way of life nearly as timeless as that of the venerable horseshoe crab and led the earth conscious pair to adapt and employ innovative means to secure a livelihood and maintain their lifestyle.

A few years ago Eicherly made history when he introduced his innovative mesh bait bag design that utilizes only a quarter to an eighth of a horseshoe crab, which watermen traditionally have used for conch bait, thereby cutting his needs by more than 75 percent and leading to its use by watermen up and down the Atlantic coast. Eicherly represents watermen and conservation in a number of regulatory and preservation organizations and in particular at the annual Green Eggs & Sand award-winning workshops where, says Gary Kreamer, coordinator, at the Delaware Aquatic Resources Education Center in Smyrna, “he overturned preconceived ideas among educators that fishermen are the bad guys through demonstrating what he does and the conservation ethic behind it.”

“The greatest sadness over the last several years,” says Glenn Gauvry, founder of Ecological Research and Development Group (ERDG), “has been the contention between the watermen and the environment. The watermen have been so easily marginalized or villainized in the media or public hearings. Organizations never take the time to recognize these people as people. I am impressed with Frank’s concern for the natural world and his humanity in general.”

Dr. Carl N. Shuster Jr., who is recognized as the world’s foremost expert on horseshoe crabs, calls Eicherly “one of the shining lights in the whole story in the Delaware Bay.”

Eicherly and Friend served on the Atlantic Fisheries Commission Horseshoe Crab Advisory Panel. They have assisted the U.S. Geological Survey tagging and indexing horseshoe crabs out on the bay. USGS biostatistician Dave Smith, who headed the survey, says, “Thumper is a uniquely conservation-minded waterman. He possesses traditional ecological knowledge that stems from adapting his life to the rhythms of Delaware Bay.”

They have taught at Delaware Department of Environmental Resources and Control (DNREC) Green Eggs & Sand workshops. They hosted University of Delaware students on the bay for a day as part of their geography class, Environmental Videography, taught by adjunct assistant professor Michael Oates. They also helped members of the Sierra Club learn about horseshoe crab conservation and shorebird preservation.

Recently the Maggie towed a benthic (underwater) sled affixed with a camera along the bottom of the bay to observe the patterns of horseshoe crabs. Neil Shuster, Carl Shuster’s son, designed the benthic sled. Emmy-nominated (PBS horseshoe crab/shore bird documentary “Dollars on the Beach,” 1999) independent video documentarian Michael Oates, “302 Stories,” produced the video.

Ever the innovator, Eicherly glows as he relates that this past summer he discovered that he can use mussels for conch bait eliminating the need for horseshoe crabs altogether.

Securing a Legacy

Friend worked on the water with Eicherly for eight years until they bought the Maggie. “It was different then; it was hard work; we fished; we had a smaller boat,” she says. Now she keeps in touch by radio the same as Eicherly does out on the Bay with fellow watermen.

“The Maggie supports many mouths,” says Friend. That is Maggie’s main mission, she asserts. “You’re only as good as your crew. When they are wet, you give them dry clothes; when they are hungry, you feed them; when they are thirsty, you give them something to drink.” All last winter Friend, a New Hampshire native, a kind of Mother Hubbard whose cupboard never runs bare, operated a weekly soup kitchen in Bowers Beach, renting the space, buying and preparing the food herself. “Anything anybody needs, they know they can turn to us,” says Friend. “We’ve given them bed covers, food, anything.”

She produced an annual Bowers horseshoe crab festival, wrote and published a monthly Bowers newsletter and much more – up until this year. Caught in the ever-tightening net of fishing regulations, the couple have had to curtail their efforts. Consequently, Maggie forewent her rendezvous with the rail the fall of 2008, despite her immanent need for a new wheelhouse and centerboard.

“We must get all Maggie’s restoration done in the next five years or not at all,” says Eicherly, “while Donald Flanigan is still working, and while oyster schooners and watermen are still working.

“It’s like putting the schooner through college,” he reflects.

Their concern is for the Maggie’s legacy. “We want the Maggie to be used even more to educate, especially children” say Eicherly and Friend. “We want her to become an educational living museum. We want to pass her down as a living archive in Delaware. All we need is five years.”

Frank “Thumper” Eicherly IV is a waterman and conservationist. He spends much of the Maggie’s earnings on her restoration.

And so, as the mornings roll in, one upon another, Friend gets up and makes the coffee for Eicherly who gets up and sails away on the Maggie, dredging under sail when conditions allow, thereby cutting his fuel use to a third. Eicherly sews his own sails out of Gore-Tex. “It’s lightweight and doesn’t rot because it’s resistant to UV damage,” Eicherly says. Gore-Tex is a waterproof-breathable material made from a plastic laminate that is sealed onto fabric – better than the old cotton sails that mildewed and rotted and weighed 600 to 800 pounds.

“How quiet…”

He tells his story of sailing home for the first time the evening of December 16, 2004 across the Delaware Bay on an 1893 wooden oyster schooner under sail.

It was sunset when he and the crew got to the Ship John Shoal lighthouse. They circled the lighthouse and raised the Maggie’s sail. He idled the engine. Going against the tide and with a light breeze they made one and a half knots. They looked over the stern and saw little bubbles as they moved.

Then they were going three and a half knots, too fast to dredge for oysters. They had discovered an oil leak on the way over, so Eicherly turned off the engine, and again they were sailing at one and a half knots, just the right speed. He went below deck to capture the oil and put it back in the drum and save it.

From below, he recounts, “You could hear the sounds of the crew above, working. You could hear the sounds of the other fishing boats out on the water; and you could hear the chain dredging, running along the bottom, the riggings as the boat tipped and moved and the low whistle of the wind as the breeze caught the sail. Imagine if all the boats out on the Bay had sails, how different it would sound. How quiet it would be.”

###

Let Freedom Ring

Here She Comes The Maggie at the End of the Workday

Here She Comes
The Maggie at the End of the Workday

The Maggie S. Myers Coming Through the Cut from the Delaware Bay to the Murderkill River where she is berthed.

The Maggie S. Myers Coming Through the Cut from the Delaware Bay to the Murderkill River where she is berthed.

July 7, 2012 — I spent the evening of July Fourth out on my friends’ 119-year-old oyster schooner, the Maggie S. Myers, under sail on the Delaware Bay off Bowers Beach, Del., eating, listening to acoustic guitar music and watching the fireworks along the coast.

Maggie Coming Through the Cut

Maggie Coming Through the Cut

Our friends Jean Friend and Frank “Thumper” Eicherly IV, who own the Maggie, invite a group of us out each year to enjoy the camaraderie and celebrate our nation’s independence. Last year someone on shore ended the evening by setting off Chinese lanterns, hundreds of them, that floated in the dark over the bay like spirit flames.

Freedom Flag Unfurled

Freedom Flag Unfurled

My friend Robert Price, https://www.assemblage333.com shot these photos of our event this year. With his camera he created a beautiful documentation of the night.

Along Bowers Beach -- Anticipation of the Show

Along Bowers Beach — Anticipation of the Show

Jean and Thumper bought the Maggie fourteen years ago, rescuing her when her former owner was about to beach her, and since have sunk tens of thousands of dollars into her each year, maintaining her and lovingly restoring her, in 2004 restoring one of her masts.

Maggie Moored Before the Cruise

Maggie Moored Before the Cruise with the Flag Atop Her High Mast

The Maggie S. Myers was built as a two-masted Delaware Bay oyster-dredge schooner in Bridgeton, N.J., and commissioned in 1893. She is 50 feet long and 18 feet wide. The 24.62 ton schooner can carry her weight in oysters. She is listed on the National Historic Register.

Maggie Unmoored on the Murderkill

Maggie Unmoored on the Murderkill Coming to Get Us at the Public Dock

The Maggie has never been out of commission. Thumper and crew work her nearly daily on the bay dredging for conch, blue crabs and oysters. She is believed to be the oldest, continuously-working oyster schooner under sail in the United States. She is living history.

Freshly Painted Lady

Freshly Painted Lady

“She’s low to the water and dredges by hand,” Thumper rhapsodizes. “She turns on a song, like a snow goose flying around in the air.” I can tell you his claim is true; I piloted her briefly up the serpentine Cohansey River in New Jersey that early morning in 2004 on the way to the boatyard to restore her mast.

At Dock Ready for Boarding

At Dock Ready for Boarding

This July Fourth night it was hot out on the boat, but far more pleasant on the water than on land, with a light breeze, the water like glass. A guy with a house on the beach, and apparently money to burn, buys and shoots off fireworks every year. They go on for over an hour. Simultaneously, someone nearby again this year set off Chinese lanterns. The fireworks go on longer than displays in local cities. They are beautiful, too. Deep blues and golds and some purple along with the standard colors. People build big bonfires all along the beach. Someone on shore set off a couple of red rocket type fireworks that sailed right over the boat — over, thankfully. We were getting ready to jump. Awestruck on seeing them, I stepped back from the gunwale, stood between Jean and Thumper and said, “‘The rockets’ red glare’ springs to mind.”

Flower Child Captain Frank Eicherly IV

Flower Child Captain Frank Eicherly IV

We had been out on the water in the dark for a couple of hours, when a swimmer was spotted swimming the distance from shore to the boat. “Did we forget someone?” asked Jean.

Holiday Decorated Wheelhouse

Holiday Decorated Wheelhouse

“Throw me the ring!” he yelled. He was yet about 25 feet from the boat.

Sailing into the Sun

Sailing into the Sun – Jean Friend & guests

“He’s nuts!” said Jean in her deep, raspy voice.

Landlubbers Party Hearty

Landlubbers Party Hearty

Thumper tossed out the life preserver. The crew hauled the swimmer aboard. He was J.T., another crewmember. He had hurt himself somehow and was in pain.

Marker 7 At the Mouth of the Murderkill

Marker 7
At the Mouth of the Murderkill

He ate, said “See ya later,” then jumped back overboard and swam to shore wearing a life jacket — hard to swim that way, but at least he wouldn’t tire and drown.

As the Earth Spins

As the Earth Spins

The Maggie’s deck was laid with two Oriental rugs. Tables were laid with food. Jean supplies some of it and guests bring some. Thumper pilots the Maggie from her berth up the creek and brings her to the public dock for us to board.

Crew Looks to the West

At dock in the creek, we have to climb down a ladder (just a household four-step ladder that you would stand on to paint the walls or hang the flag from the porch roof beam) folded and leaning steeply against the gunwale and dock piling — you climb down frontwards, placing your feet on the back edge of the treads of the closed ladder, with two crew members, one on each side of you, firmly holding your hands, supporting you over the foot of black water space between the dock and the boat.

"Sing for Me" Lonnie Fields, Delmarva Friends of Folk Member Host of the Annual October Delmarva Folk Festival on His Farm

“Sing for Me”
Lonnie Fields, Delmarva Friends of Folk Member
Host of the Annual October Delmarva Folk Festival on His Farm

In order for Maggie’s five-foot draft to make it through the cut from the creek to the bay, we have to start as the tide is coming in and then return at high tide. The cut is silted in because new high-roller residents have built houses and dumped more sand on the beach.

Wheelhouse Paraphernalia

Wheelhouse Paraphernalia

After we ate and watched the fireworks two of the guys, members of Delmarva Friends of Folk, sat at the bow, played their guitars and sang the blues for us. There in the dark, a light breeze came up and a shoal of black mackerel clouds etched in silver light traveled across the full moon.

At the Helm: Captain Frank "Thumper" Eicherly

At the Helm: Captain Frank “Thumper” Eicherly

We were under sail much of the time, but barely moved since there was little breeze. Thumper used the engine to move us around.

"Masthead" -- Jean Friend, Captain Thumper's Wife

“Masthead” — Jean Friend, Captain Thumper’s Wife

At the end of the evening, back at dock, we jumped down about three feet onto land. Crewmembers once again held both our hands to steady us.

"Garden of Jean" -- Jean's & Thumper's House The Conch Chimney Thumper Built Is on the Right Side

“Garden of Jean” — Jean’s & Thumper’s House
The Conch Chimney Thumper Built Is on the Right Side

What a wonderful, very special time. A very special annual event Jean and Thumper provide for us.

The Conch Chimney That Thumper Built

The Conch Chimney That Thumper Built

We never did find the apple pie, however, that the friends I rode with brought and carried aboard.

—Samantha Mozart

High Tide at Bowers

High Tide at Bowers

Maggie Unloading Blue Crabs At Normal Workday End

At the End of the Day Working Maggie Unloading Blue Crabs

 

Zinfandel

I hope you enjoy this excerpt from my upcoming book, Leftover Bridges. I originally posted this story on my blog in 2016.

I have come to my blog this afternoon. I haven’t been here in a while. Maybe you noticed. The place is incredibly dusty. Moriarty, the Phantom of My Blog, does not dust. He sweeps up after parties, hangs new headers, and cooks borscht, but he does not dust.

I walk over to the round table. Even the orange candle in the bottle we keep in the center of the table is dusty. Someone has scrawled “Dusty Destry rides again” in the dust on the table surface, and, “Meet us at Bottleneck.” “Oh, so funny,” I think, dryly. “Moriarty.”

I open the windows and let in the light and air. I go into the kitchen. Fingerprints pepper the dust all over the black stovetop, and a stippling of dots, like someone has sneezed. There are a couple of corks on the stove, but no companion bottles. A pot of leftover chili sits on a burner, still warm, the handle of the big spoon sticking out at the rim of the lid. Moriarty must be here. I go into the back kitchen. Fingerprints are in the dust all over the old black stove here, too, and paw prints on the top front edge. And bird claw prints. Odd. I find a couple of rags in a drawer, dampen them and begin dusting. I climb to the catwalk. While dusting the apparatus, ropes and wires along the open spaces, I hear music – Moriarty’s banjo – and then peals of macabre laughter reverberate through the beams and railings. I stop. No … that’s not Moriarty. He doesn’t laugh that way. Silence ensues. A chill runs up my spine. Goosebumps rise on my forearms. This is my blog. I welcome visitors. But this – who else is creeping around in here…? A stranger listening for me? I’ll never get done dusting if I stop and wonder. I certainly do not want to be in here till midnight. I continue dusting. Once or twice I hear a dog bark – Moriarty’s black, fluffy dog, Dickens?

Now I am hungry and the chili back there on the stove smelled good. I come down to the kitchen, rinse out the rags and take a break. I reheat the chili, sit at the round table and eat what is left. In the gathering gloom I think I hear again the evil laughter. I listen; then, stillness unbroken. I look around. I see no one. I get up, go into the kitchen and wash the dishes, chili pot, and the stoves in both rooms. I stay at my blog until well after dark, dusting. Finally I am done. I close the windows. I am ready to go home.

I think I hear Dickens barking. They must be in the cupola. I am tired and want to sit and relax with a glass of wine and good conversation. In the kitchen I find a wine glass but no wine, just bottle corks, and no cheese and crackers. The cupboard is bare. Unusual. I should visit my blog more often.

I climb the creaking, winding staircase, carrying my empty glass, and, brushing peeling yellowing paint off my sleeve, remember that I must get Moriarty to put a fresh coat of paint on these walls.

At the top, the cupola door is shut. Beyond the door I hear muffled voices. The door sticks a little, but I push it open wide. Dickens rushes to me, all wiggly, nuzzling me. He sniffs my hands, to see if I am bringing food, and my clothes. I probably smell like moldering rags. He sneezes.

Moriarty lolls in one chair and across the space, in the half-light, I see a dark-haired scrawny man sprawled in another. The man’s face is sallow, bony and crumpled, uneven, like whoever planned this face hadn’t laid out the parts on a grid first. He has a small mustache and random curls drop over his high forehead. His eyes are sunken, yet bright and beady, like small black grapes. He is dressed all in black, a black turtle neck sweater, with a scarf wound tight and tied about his neck, and jeans. He wears black loafers but no socks, the mark of a Southern man, or one who has lived for some time in the South.

“Samantha, this is my friend, Poe,” says Moriarty.

“Poe? As in Edgar Allan?” I ask, still standing just inside the door, staring at the pair. Poe fixes his eyes on me. They shine with dark intent – mysterious glinting blades. I reach to the doorframe for support.

“Poe is my first name,” he answers. “Edgar Allan Poe is my ancestor. My mother named me after him. He is my ancestor on my sister’s side.”

“…What? Your sister…?” I ask.

“Yeah. Paula,” he says.

I don’t pursue the conundrum. He seems a bit wacky to me. And he is creepy looking. I hear a whirring. Suddenly, a large bird swoops down, close in front of my face, and perches on Poe’s shoulder. I start. It is a raven, having apparently been perched on the frame over the doorway, right above my head: the explanation for the bird claw prints on the stove.

“Come in. Sit,” says Moriarty, waving his arm toward the remaining empty chair. “I see you found my message.”

“The one in the dust about meeting you at Bottleneck?” I say.

“That one,” says Moriarty. His banjo stands against his chair.

“Where’s the wine?” I ask. “I’ve been dusting all afternoon and I’m ready to near-drown in a glass of Zinfandel armed with cheese and crackers serving as floaties. Where’s the wine?”

The two gaze at me blankly. No, sheepishly. Then I spot over in the corner, and lining one wall, even in the gauzy light of the few candles Moriarty has brought up to the cupola with him, a contingent of Zinfandel bottles. They are empty. All of them.

My eyes widen. “You drank all the wine?!”

“We’re having a frightfully good time,” says Poe.

“We’re telling each other spooky stories,” adds Moriarty, “and then singing them.” He sniggers.

I don’t find these two boys particularly amusing. I’ve been scrubbing prickly cactus on a dusty desert all afternoon, reaching precariously over the edge of the catwalk, filling my lungs with dust and my ears with reverberating peals of macabre laughter seemingly out of the ethers, I am moldering and thirsty, and I want at least one glass of wine, a large one. Filled to the rim.

“There’s no more wine anywhere?” I say.

“It was a faulty case,” says Moriarty.

“Now, wait a minute,” says Poe, indignant. “I didn’t think the case in my detective story I just told you was faulty.”

“No, the case of wine,” says Moriarty. “The bottles all had leaks.”

“We should have brought a cask,” says Poe.

“I’m sure,” I say, flatly. “And, no cheese and crackers?”

“Nothing more,” says Poe.

Dickens walks over and sniffs the empty plate on the floor next to the bottles. There isn’t even a crumb for him to lick up.

The raven burps. Dickens trots over to the bird and begins barking up at it, still perched on Poe’s shoulder, Dickens commanding, as if to say, “You ate ‘em all. Cough ‘em up, buddy.”

But, I suspect it was Moriarty and Poe who ate the greater balance of them.

The candle flames flicker in the bare draft whispering through the open window. The curtain rustles lightly. We sit in silence. Poe stares down at the shapeshifting shadow specters dancing a fantastic fandango across the candlelit floor. The raven blinks. Moriarty watches Dickens settle onto the worn red Oriental rug, against my chair. A distant bell tolls.

Poe sits bolt upright. He peals,

“‘And the people–ah, the people–
 They that dwell up in the steeple,
    All alone,
  And who, tolling, tolling, tolling,
    In that muffled monotone,
  Feel a glory in so rolling
    On the human heart a stone—,’

“I think I’ll write a poem about that,” he muses, “something about bells. It has a nice ring, don’t you think? It just rolls – rolls, rolls, rolls, rolls – rolls lightly off the tongue. A tintinnabulation.”

“You’re making me hungry,” says Moriarty. “Rolls and butter.”

“It’s already been written. By your ancestor on your sister Paula’s side,” I point out. “It’s called ‘The Bells.’”

“Ah, iron bells.” The rusty tone of his voice rises from a deep well within him. There is a peculiar, dark nervousness about this man. He twitches and fidgets and then suddenly he is calm, strangely calm, glassy. Then, I notice his eyes are not black, but light, yet acute, and sad, yes, sad. And, every time he twitches and fidgets, Dickens watches, amused, as the raven puffs its wings, roughs its feathers and shifts its position.

“Has Dickens been fed?” I ask.

“Well, smooth, sweet nepenthe. Of that I must have more,” says Poe. “I must get my hat and depart thee. I must get to the store. Then, I am headed to my chamber. I feel an urge, a pressing urge to write ever more.”

He rises, turns and then stops. He stoops and reaches into one of the bottles, the raven hopping, turning, adjusting its wings and claws on Poe’s shoulder for balance. “Look at this. It’s a message.” He sticks a finger into the bottle neck and coaxes out the paper. “A message in a bottle. Cool.”

He unrolls it. “Uh-oh,” he says upon examining it. “I wrote this.” He hands it to Moriarty. I read it over his shoulder. It is faded and hard to read in the feeble candlelight, but I can make out the title, in large print: “MS. Found in a Bottle.”

“You just gave yourself away,” I say. “You’re the real Edgar Allan Poe, not some descendant on your sister Paula’s side.

“I won a literary award for this,” says Poe, “my only one. In 1833. I entered it in a fiction contest sponsored by the Baltimore Saturday Visiter [sic] newspaper. Fifty dollars, I got for my short story.” He reaches and pulls his black cape off the back of his chair, sweeps it around his shoulders, turns and heads down the winding staircase, the raven teetering as they descend as one. He waves a hand over his shoulder, “Ciao,” he says, and he and his raven vanish into the murkiness of the hour.

I turn to Moriarty. “You, my dear Phantom, have an intriguing menagerie of friends.”

Moriarty smiles.

The scent of fresh, wet earth rises as a soft rain begins to fall. Moriarty pulls the window closed and extinguishes the candles save one. He carries it to light our way as we descend the winding stairs, Dickens leading. Our shadows in the lost light glide alongside us like leviathan grotesques navigating inside a diaphanous wall.

“Remember, I asked you to paint these walls,” I say. “Would you do it soon? Please?”

“They have to be scraped first,” he says, “sanded down, to reveal the bones beneath.”

–Samantha Mozart
October 20, 2016

 

The View from the Cupola

VEvery April writers and bloggers come together to take up the Blogging From A-Z Challenge.  In 2015 and 2016, I took up the challenge, too, along with this annually growing group.

Each day we write a blog post themed on a letter of the alphabet, beginning with the letter A on April 1, continuing to the letter B on April 2, the letter C on April 3 and so on.  We take Sundays off.

This one I published on April 27, 2015 deserves reposting, I think, because Alexandra Streliski’s moving music –which I’ve set as a soundtrack here —  lends such depth to an already poignant piece and for which these accompanying words could serve as a libretto:

The View from the Cupola

There’s a piano piece called “Le Départ,” “The Departure.” by Alexandra Streliski, a pianist and composer from Montreal.

One commenter of the YouTube video I have placed below said, “This music describes eternity.”

When I stand at the window in the cupola of my blog and gaze out over the tall grass meadow down to the stream and the woods beyond, I think of those I have known who have departed this life before me.

When my grandmother was in her sixties, I remember her sitting in a chair in the living room and saying wistfully, “All my friends are dead.” I’ve never forgotten that. It is one of the reasons I value my friendships so closely. I haven’t forgotten my grandmother; I haven’t forgotten either of them, nor any of my family members that have gone on ahead of me.

Often, near the end, the dying enter a process of departure, still here and already there. I often wondered where my mother Emma’s soul or spirit went in her final stage of dementia. Sometimes I actually sensed her hovering around – usually her former bright and cheerful self getting up in the morning, yellow sunshine streaming through her bedroom windows, and having things to attend to around the house, her toy poodles to feed, or clothes to choose and lay out to wear for a luncheon with her friends, or telling me something. It was as if she got up out of her body and came around every now and then. And this I experienced only in the last two weeks of her life. Maybe, too, it was my letting go, a clearing.

Caregiving doesn’t end with the passing of the cared for. Suddenly, there’s this person standing in your midst, and it’s you. It’s like meeting someone who’s departed on a long journey and has now returned unexpectedly. You have to get to know yourself again; for, although caregivers are repeatedly reminded by the observers to take care of ourselves, take time for ourselves, we don’t. There really isn’t time. So, you begin a new relationship with yourself. And, then, of course, there’s the family to contend with, who may have found fault with everything you did caregiving in their absence, and the paperwork and finances — all the fallout. It takes four years to regain normalcy, say most former caregivers. I am finding it so.

Of course, there’s the grieving. There is no set limit to the length of time for grieving. Some say the second year is harder than the first. Thus so in my experience. Realistically, you never stop grieving the departed; the process just changes. You never stop caring.

Some of my friends have passed on. I miss them very much. I wish I could pick up the phone or turn to them and say something. When I think of them, is that like posting a thought on the wall of the universe, and somewhere they’ll pick it up? I miss many friends whom I presume are still living. The winds of change over the years drove us apart. I have forgotten none of them. Some I connect with on Facebook after years gusting by like lifetimes. It’s like, “So, hey, how’re ya doing in this lifetime?” It’s very cool. A happy reconnecting.

–Samantha Mozart
Self-appointed librettist

 

CXL. Time and the Russian Clock

I really do have a problem with time. My father told me—Drat! I can’t get the words out and time is just flying by—OK, chill—that his grandfather had a thing about time, that it was passing by too fast. I happened to have inherited that. My father and stepmom had this beautiful Russian mantel clock that his family picked up in Philadelphia around the turn of the last century, maybe earlier—in other words, it came from czarist Russia. It is rectangular, glass in an ornate gilt case, about a foot high. My great grandfather would not allow anyone to wind that clock. And so it sat until it came into my father’s hands. My father wound it meticulously. That clock, whenever I see it, reminds me that time is running out—and, yet, I know it’s only in my mind.

Our brain, it seems, creates its own time, inner time, not clock time, and this inner time guides our actions, according to this March 7, 2008 New York Times piece, “Time Out of Mind.” We get stressed—time is money—and in our perceived lack of time, we stress and take more time to complete a task—we make mistakes, feeling pressed to rush through things.

One rainy night at closing time I was rushed to leave the retail store where I worked so I could make my ride home. My driver dropped me off in front of my house and drove on. That’s when I realized I didn’t have my keys. It was pouring rain, the time was somewhere around 11 p.m. and I didn’t have a cell phone. My keys were on the store checkout counter where I had laid them when I put on my coat. I live alone and I was locked out.

My hidden key wasn’t where I thought I had hidden it. I don’t know what happened to it. The minutes of all the clocks in China and elsewhere on earth ticked away as I stood on my porch, under the roof out of the rain, pondering my dilemma. I decided to ask my neighbor across the street. He’s a young guy and maybe could help me get in somehow, like forcing a window. I rang the doorbell. The door opened. Thank goodness someone was up. It was his mother. He wasn’t home. He was at work and wouldn’t be home until 5 a.m.

His mother let me use her cell phone. I called a friend. His number is easy and I pulled it out of my mind. He was my assistant manager at the store. He is a close friend and lived close by, two miles from me. He had the night off. He had already gone to bed, but he answered his phone despite his not recognizing the calling number. He was at my house in no time—ten minutes—and drove me to the store, unlocked the door, let me in and I got my keys.

He brought me home. We sat in the car and talked for a few minutes, not long, for it was late, after midnight by now. We are kindred spirits. He was born 55 years after I, yet we feel no sense of the space of time between us. Sometimes I feel we traveled across time to each other so we could meet again. We share a favorite song by Snow Patrol—“Chasing Cars”: “If I lay here, if I just lay here, would you lie with me, and just forget the world?”—no stress about time. We like to drink dark Roman wine, and we like “Dark Roman Wine,” the song, again by Snow Patrol. He is sweeter than the darkest Roman wine. And every time, he beats me at Monopoly.

The Russian clock remains in our family. It has meant a lot to my brother and me over our long lifetimes. It’s in the hands of our generation-younger sister now. The hands of the clock return to twelve o’clock, straight up, every twelve hours. It runs on a routine. It is predictable. Unexpectedly, my friend left one day in January. He texted me that morning: “You should know….” A thing happened and there was a job in another state. He had to go away. Where he is precisely I am not certain; he is out of reach. He’s been gone months. I miss him. He has meant a lot to me over our brief four years together in this lifetime. Like the clock’s hands, like the hours, after a time, will he return? I cannot predict.

I stumbled upon a song Gillian Welch wrote with her partner David Rawlings, “The Revelator,” “Time’s the Revelator.” Isn’t it just.

—Samantha Mozart
May 29, 2022
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This piece will be published in my new book of essays, Leftover Bridges.

 

Leftover Bridges

I see so many directional signs along the road when I travel that say “left over bridge” but I seldom see the leftover bridges. Naturally, I wonder, as I’m sure you may have, why are there so many leftover bridges? Did they order too many? Was there a population decline? Did a river dry up? Was there a drought? Why? Why is there a leftover bridge? Maybe because they ran out of materials when they were building the road, so they couldn’t get the road to go far enough to meet the bridge….  Or, maybe it was just a bridge to nowhere.

“You are so silly,” my friend James told me. “Everyone knows that those signs denote where trolls on diets have dined. They used to eat the whole bridge, but since they started cutting back, now there are plenty of leftovers.”

Coming soon, my new book, Leftover Bridges, a gathering of pieces I have written from my musings on my travels and thoughts, things I see from the corners of my imagination, some published, some not, delivered to you in one tasty serving. While Leftover Bridges is in the editorial process, I will post some samples that I hope you will enjoy. I wish I could tell you I’d offer you a glass of wine with them, but I haven’t figured out how to do that yet. Meanwhile, if you’re hungry for more, I invite you to read my currently published books in print form or ebook. Just follow the cover image links to Amazon and buy now.

The Far Shore

My friend drove me up the long, winding mountainside road through the golden aspens, all the way to the top, nearly 10,000 feet. She stopped her little tan pickup truck and we got out. She kept two beach chairs in the back and we carried them to the sand. On the shore of Rock Creek Lake we sat and talked while the four o’clock sun lingered, warming our bodies and articulating raylets of colored light from the shimmering ripples, like fragments of rainbows refracted from a crystal hanging in a sun-filled window. Little rounded polished pebbles lay in soft pastels at the water’s edge, washed by the crystal clear wavelets. From the waterline on the far shore surged the sheer granite mountain wall rising to meet the sun yet seeming so close I could lay my hand on it in the rarified atmosphere. The sky was the bluest of blues, touched by no cloud. Was I in heaven? Was I alive? Had I been incorporated into a postcard picture? Someone pinch me. Yes, this is real.

Today, though, this picture is a dream, a fragment of a vast spectrum of memories I collected during my many visits to Mammoth Lakes, California. I’ve long dreamed of having a home in Mammoth. One day maybe I will. Mammoth Lakes, Mammoth Mountain: In the heart of the Eastern High Sierra, it is among the most beautiful places on earth––or is it simply heaven?

I lived in Redondo Beach, near Los Angeles, when I visited Mammoth and my friend took me to Rock Creek Lake. Four years later, I had a choice of moving to Mammoth or taking a winter working vacation in Naples, Florida. As autumn approached, I let the cards fall, and Naples floated down on top. “You’re not gonna like that humidity,” my friends said. Granted. It was a choice of opposites: Opposite coasts, opposite ends of the country; Mammoth had single-digit humidity while Naples had––I found out later––quadruple-digit humidity. Mammoth sits at nearly 9,000 feet altitude in the heart of the Long Valley Caldera, where swarms of earthquakes are caused not only by movement along faults, as you might expect, but also by pressure of magma rising beneath the earth’s surface. Naples, on the other hand, lounging in the lightning capital of the world, basks single-digit feet above sea level, where swarms of snakes and turtles slither and crawl up from the swamps ahead of the next flood.

Regardless, in October 1994, I packed up my belongings and moved to Naples. My daughter, 27, helped me pack. If you ever want somebody who is an energetic, organized, efficient packer, with a keen sense of spatial relations and a get-it-done attitude, call her.

Ten years earlier, when I moved from a house to an apartment, my daughter helped me. Our two-car garage was filled with boxes containing the history of my life so far––humorous (well, hilarious, I thought) parodies on commercials I had written as a child and an excellent version of “The Night Before Christmas,” yearbooks, scrapbooks, old photos, personal household objects I wasn’t currently using, and I don’t know what else. I stood there in the garage, exhausted before I began, almost in tears, and said to my daughter, “I don’t know where to start.” “Start at the front,” she said. That seemed logical.

So this time when I moved I engaged my daughter’s help posthaste. “Mom … you have a lot of stuff,” she said, packing up the 9,000th box. As a writer, naturally I need to own a library with every book in print, save all newspaper and magazine clippings––or the whole publication––that might be of research value to me someday, and save every draft (pre-computer) and every note of every story or essay I’ve ever written; and, of course, my journals. Yes, there are a lot of boxes.

Nevertheless, I stuffed my pen, notebooks and flyswatter into my little Hyundai and rode off into the sunrise. I saw my quarter century of life in Redondo Beach roll out behind me in the rear-view mirror. I also saw my daughter standing on the curb alone, waving goodbye. I would be back in a few months.

I lived in Naples seven years. When I lived in Redondo Beach, most of the time I actually lived in the Hollywood Riviera, created in the 1920s as a summer place of distinction for movie stars. It was that part of Redondo on a hillside of the Palos Verdes Peninsula overlooking the Santa Monica Bay, which, just before I moved there, was annexed to neighboring Torrance, but retained it’s Redondo Beach postal status. So I drew the benefits of both cities at once. I frequented Torrance Beach (for my friends who had grown up there and my daughter and her friends it was the local beach hangout). I always said I was from Redondo, though (we all did), unless I was using the superb Torrance library or civic center. I kept a post office box in Redondo for a while after I drove away that final time and I have worn my Redondo Beach Public Library 1892 centennial sweatshirt, sapphire blue with white lettering around the seal, into the millennium.

Naples was sculpted from the mosquito-infested swamp and billed as paradise at about the time the chimneyed, red-turreted Hotel Redondo was razed from the moonstone-invested Redondo seaside in 1926. Built on a bluff overlooking the Santa Monica Bay in 1889, with views of the Santa Monica Mountains along the Malibu coastline to the north, the 1,000-foot altitude Palos Verdes Peninsula to the south, and the vermillion sunsets to the west, the hotel was done in by Prohibition and sold for firewood. Its near twin, the historic Hotel del Coronado, built on Coronado Island off San Diego in 1888, continues to host guests in grand style. The streets above Moonstone Beach where the Hotel Redondo stood bear the names of gemstones—Ruby, Diamond, Sapphire, Emerald, Beryl, Garnet, Topaz, Carnelian…. In the stead of the Hotel Redondo, today jutting out over the harbor, high over the waves in water as green and clear as an emerald, stands the bustling Redondo Pier with its restaurants and shops; the present pier has lasted longer than its predecessors lost in El Niño storms every few years. Naples, at the time I lived there, growing faster than L.A., rang of cachet, and cash, a classy resort town on the Gulf of Mexico, great for golf and raising kids; but in the comfortable corners of my mind I continued to reside in Redondo.

I almost got toasted in Naples when lightning struck the ground, fried my TV, VCR, my electric stove, and shot glowing cinders through my jalousied door across the kitchen to the far wall, mere inches from my right arm as I stood at the stove. It was then that I determined to go home to California. (Well, and there was the palmetto bug that was just too big to squeeze between the slots when I was trying to wash it down the drain because I had heard they smell awful if you squash them.)

I bought a pre-owned white Mercedes, loaded it down and headed north to Delaware to visit family before jogging west to California. All I needed was a strip of tassels hanging from the windshield. In Fort Myers flakes of dried rubber started flying off the tires; I had to stop and buy new ones. The dealer hadn’t mentioned that the car had been sitting a long time. “You can trust me,” he said. I should have known. But, I really wanted that car––sun roof, long wheelbase, red leather upholstery, CD player…. Heading east on Interstate10 from I-75 to Jacksonville, I began hearing a helicopter rotor noise. I turned up the music. By Fayetteville, even the music didn’t drown out the squeaking whirring. I spent five days in a motel having the broken rear axle fixed; that and the gasoline leak in the trunk. The cost and length of the repair drove me to believe I was to become Fayetteville’s newest resident.

I might have been more practical had I leased a galleon and sailed up the Atlantic coast into Delaware Bay. I’m always wishing for my ship to come in. As the captain, I could personally sail it in. Ah, but here I veer off course.

When I finally cruised into Delaware ten years ago (on I-95), I realized that my mother, whose life has spanned nearly a century, needed help. I’m still here. John Updike, in his novel “In the Beauty of the Lilies,” describes Delaware as a low, boggy place where everybody always has a runny nose. Be right back. I need a hanky.

Ah, before you, dear Delawarean reader, start pelting me with chicken beaks, let me point out that I have lived in Delaware off and on since I was a kid––involving crossing a lot of bridges, some of them covered, some of them over the Delaware River to New Jersey, burning as few as possible––over the course of my life and have enjoyed the place. I’ve written and published stories about its history, lore and mysterious stirrings. Is Blackbird Forest really named after Blackbeard, the pirate, thriving so near the Delaware Bay he sailed up, and is his treasure really buried somewhere beneath those tall old trees rising out of the bogs? (Carolina bays, they call them.)

Best of all, I like stopping on a fine November day at a red-brick corner of Sixteenth and something in Wilmington where F. Scott Fitzgerald and his daughter, Scottie, waiting in their car for Zelda, sat and talked and watched the faint movements behind the curtains of a house over the way with the loose, banging shutter where, Scott told Scottie, a Fairy Princess in a yellow dress was kept concealed by an Ogre. The Prince has to find the three stones that will release the Princess, he told her. Fitzgerald published his story “Outside the Cabinet-Maker’s” in 1928. He could remember that world but he knew he would never again see it or touch it for himself.

Yet lingering in the corners of my mind memories come up in ripples shimmering there for a moment on the far shore, magically carrying me to one fine day in autumn where golden leaves, like doubloons, shine with a soft tremulous light in a rarified atmosphere. For me now, California remains a state of mind. The shutter slams shut on the winds of change, but it swings open again.

August 8, 1996
Revised November 23, 2010
Naples, Florida

CXXXIX. Konami Moving

SMYRNA, Del.–When I came to Delaware to visit my mother, Emma, I found her in the early stages of dementia. There was no one to care for her but me. I had to stay. I left everything behind in Southern California. I was between apartments, my personal and household belongings were in storage. I thought I was coming for a visit. I hadn’t known I would stay so long. I didn’t even have a winter coat.

For nearly 20 years now I’ve lived in a house with my mother’s glassware, my mother’s dishes and pots and pans, my mother’s table and bath linens, my mother’s color schemes, her furniture, the flowers she chose to plant and her favorite butterfly patterns in wall art, in towels, on clothes. I have lived as a ghost in my own home.

COVID-19 relief plans and the federal stimulus have given me the funds to finally move my things out of storage and have them delivered to me.

I googled, phoned and got moving estimates. I thought I was hiring North American Van Lines to move my belongings. It turns out that this North American is North American Moving, a broker who hired Konami, a moving company I’d never heard of. I only heard of them after I had paid North American Marketing my $789 deposit on November 12, 2020.

Konami Moving picked up my household belongings from a storage unit in El Segundo, California, on November 17. I paid them by credit card half the balance due, $1,157.50, per their contract. They transported my things to a warehouse in Las Vegas where the items languished for 21 days. I didn’t know this would happen. I have moved across country and up and down the East Coast, and the way it worked was that they picked up your stuff one day, put it on a truck and drove as many days as it took to traverse the distance, from door to door and delivered it, carefully placing your individual items in the rooms of your choice. Nobody took it off a truck and left it in a warehouse in a sleezy town in the middle of a desert. Needless to say, I hounded the warehouse over the phone: where are my things? what is the status? On the rare occasions I reached them, your things are in the manifest process, they said. What does this mean? How long does this take? It just depends, they don’t know, they said. The “they” being the young girls of the Tiffany generation: there’s finding a driver without COVID, there are interstate tariffs, there’s the weather, there are other deliveries, there’s….

A week went by, then two. I continually called Konami dispatch. I’d wait sometimes 45 minutes for someone to answer the phone, having to endure four bars of garbled music looping. On the rare occasions someone answered, they exhibited ennui, offhandedly telling me they had no idea where my things were, that they were with the driver and they couldn’t reach the driver because he was driving and would not answer his phone. They kept me in the dark for two months about moving status and delivery date. Over the course, I spoke with Ashley, Destiny, Amber, and one young girl who sounded like she’d just gotten out of bed after the boss’s wife caught her in the act with the boss.

During the course, Konami said they had 21 days from pickup in El Segundo to get my move on the road.

They finally told me they were loading it from the warehouse onto a truck the weekend of December 12-13, it would take five to seven days to deliver it and the driver would call me 24 hours before he arrived here.

What a joy to finally get my things—my essential self—back after all these years and before Christmas.

The driver called me on December 22 and said he’d be at my home at 8 a.m. December 23. He told me I owed a cash balance of $1,157.50. I told him I’d already paid it by credit card on December 11, to Moving Services US, when Konami wanted CASH upon delivery and I insisted I pay only by credit card. He said he’d have to call the office. He never showed. When I called dispatch they said they couldn’t reach him and didn’t know where he was. “Well, he has eight other deliveries to make,” the girl said, “and it could be the weather.” “The weather’s beautiful here and all around us and has been for days,” I told her.

I continually called Konami Moving to find out where my things were and when they would be delivered. At one call, on hearing my name, the young woman on the other end said, “Oh, I’m so sorry your things are broken and lost.” I hadn’t even seen my things, still trying to find out where they were; so, how would I know they were broken, and I hoped they were not lost.

December 28, 2020: I call Konami. Destiny says she has my number and she’s going to text the driver now. These drivers are independent contractors, it turns out, and they can make their own decisions on how long it takes to get to you. She said it could be weather related but she will get back to me today. No rain, no snow, no phone call.

January 14, 2021: Dispatch phones me from Las Vegas and tells me the driver will deliver my things the next day. The driver calls on the afternoon of the 15th and says he will be here that evening at 5:22. He and his helper arrive at 5:45, having driven the truck containing my things down from Secaucus, New Jersey, near New York City, a little over two hours north of my home in central Delaware. Had my precious, long lost belongings sat in his truck in Secaucus for a month, beneath a murky overpass? Is there anything left?

When the two guys arrive they unload my belongings on the sidewalk and grass in the dark. They insist on setting my five pieces of furniture in the living room and dumping my 50-plus cartons of books, phonograph records, china, glassware and clothing in the entrance hall, just inside the front door. The driver says he has another delivery that night, so we have to rush. He refuses to place my items in the designated rooms on all three floors, the third floor being the attic. It doesn’t have lights. He has the contract, he says, producing some crinkled, smudged papers, lays them on the sill and runs his arm over them to smooth them. “Here, this is your contract! This is your signature, right?” He waves it in my face. “It doesn’t say we have to put things in rooms.” “No, this is not my signature,” I say. “This is a copy of the legal document for pickup of my things in El Segundo, that my designated proxy there signed. Here is a copy of the contract I signed,” I say, showing him the copy in my cellphone.

The two then placed my goods in the designated rooms as best I could direct them, for they did not give me time to examine each carton to determine its contents. I instructed them to place and stack the cartons in the center of the rooms, leaving me a path to reach lamps, windows and doors. They stacked items in front of exit doors; they stacked boxes in my living room leaving me no path to get to the lamp in the corner to turn it off. The driver refused to move the boxes. Some were too heavy for me to lift. “Do you want to keep your job?” I asked the driver. “I don’t care,” he said. Finally the helper moved a few boxes to create a path to the lamp. The two were at my home until 7:45 p.m., two hours. They had stacked cartons upside down and cartons of books on top of cartons marked fragile. I have lost count of how many cup handles are broken.

Three pieces of my furniture are missing, one a family heirloom, and a fourth piece, a cabinet, has a leg splintered and broken off. I cannot repair it. My friend Joe and I set it out at the curb. One of those people who drives around in pickups looking for stuff came along and took it. Other items of value are broken or missing. My solid wood bookcase is missing. As a writer, I have a library of books and no place to shelve them. At least I have my books. I bought a new five-shelf bookcase from Amazon. I thought it would be delivered as a solid piece. It wasn’t. It came in a box full of boards and screws and nails with instructions that said to use a number 2 Phillips head screwdriver. I’m more adept at telling you what is a number 2 can of beans than a number 2 Phillips head screwdriver. Fortunately when Emma and my stepfather got divorced in their 70s, he gave her a toolbox. I found a screwdriver in there that fit. Joe is helping me assemble it. It’s taking several sessions because he has a job and other responsibilities and has to do it in his spare time.

I phoned Konami Moving in Las Vegas regarding the missing items. Amber, a young woman I had spoken to previously, upon hearing my name, said, flatly, “Yes. We got your email.” I had not sent an email. When I asked her to send me a copy, she said they couldn’t find it. She told me they do a sweep of their warehouse every Friday and IF they find my things they will call me – not whether or not, just IF. “What if they’re on one of your trucks?” I ask. She does not answer. I have not heard from them.

It happens there’s a class action lawsuit against Konami Moving and Storage with over 100 claimants, all in recent months, as well as an equal number of complaints to the Better Business Bureau, of which Konami is not a member. I have filed with both. One claimant said she actually went to the Konami Las Vegas warehouse to find her things, and found the facility strewn with beer cans and debris.

–Samantha Mozart
March 7, 2021

 

Oranges

The orange is a hybrid of the pomelo and the mandarin. It originated around 314 B.C. in the region comprising southern China, northeast India and Myanmar and traveled to Europe with the Moors. Oranges come in many varieties. Here are the most common.

The Navel orange is a low acid, sweet, large orange. It is seedless and generally easy to peel, easier if it comes from California rather than Florida. The Navel orange season runs from November to January in Florida and in California from January to March.

The Hamlin orange is a nice sweet little Florida orange, somewhat oval in shape and great for juice. The Hamlin orange has a few seeds, though not many. It does not peel easily. Therefore, most people prefer it for juicing rather than eating. Hamlin season is November to January.

Contrary to popular belief, the Florida Pineapple orange is not part pineapple. It does have almost yellow flesh—very light orange—and is very sweet and juicy, like a pineapple. It’s slightly larger and rounder than the Hamlin and is riddled with seeds. It’s not easy to peel. It is considered a juice orange.

The Florida Temple orange is actually a tangor. A tangor is a cross between a tangerine and an orange. The Temple orange is generally small, has a few seeds, resembles a tangerine more so than an orange, and is very sweet and juicy. Because the temple orange is easy to peel and is so juicy, it is good for both eating and juicing. Temple orange season is February and March.

The Minneola tangelo is generally large and bell-shaped, with a small knob on the top (but not always—some are round and quite small), deep orange in color and seedless. Its thick skin makes it easy to peel, and it is super sweet and juicy, especially the Florida Minneola—one fruit makes a whole glass of juice. So, Floridians call them Honeybells. They have a very short season (January in Florida, later in California) and the trees do not always produce well, so they are more expensive than most other citrus. A tangelo is a cross between a grapefruit (hence the bell shape) and a tangerine.

The Valencia orange is the orange you see most commonly sold on the market. It is classified as a seedless orange, although you probably will find a couple of seeds in many of them. It is fairly easy to peel grown in California and difficult to peel grown in Florida. California Valencias are thicker skinned than Florida Valencias. The Valencia orange has a long season—March through August. Valencia oranges are great for juicing or eating.

A tangerine is a mandarin-like citrus; that is, generally with a thin easy-peel skin (zipper fruit) and often seedless, depending on the variety. The name comes from, as you might guess, Tangier, Morocco.

The Satsuma is a mandarin, originating in Japan, typically seedless, easy to peel, sweet and juicy. A must-buy for October to December holiday treats.

Carol Child
for Samantha Mozart
December 12, 2020

Citrus — Selecting and Preparing Oranges

When I lived in California and was used to buying perfectly orange oranges, one day I walked into the produce section of the supermarket and discovered that the oranges were all greenish. “What’s the matter with them?” I asked the produce man, dismayed….

For the answer, click on or tap the magazine cover image below. After my encounter with the greenish oranges, I went to Florida and worked at a farm market, whereupon my boss stationed me in a little outpost just outside the farm stand, next to the citrus display, maybe to get me out of the way, I don’t know. Anyway, I became a citrus expert. The other day, I published a short piece on citrus characteristics and selection in the October issue of this new digital magazine called “The Hip Senior,” on pages 52-53. Check it out. You’ll probably want to read some of the other informative stories in this attractive mag, too.

–Carol Child
for Samantha Mozart
October 3, 2020

 

CXXXVIII. Fugue II

June 28, 1914 — A dustup in Sarajevo. Someone shot dead Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg. That tragedy triggered a Great World War. While the Industrial Revolution had been changing the way we do things, first in Britain and then in America, trains speeding up travel, factory chimneys polluting the air, the changes were gradual. The First World War produced a shock wave, crumbling the cultural towers of society, changing our ways suddenly, unexpectedly and forever.

June 28, 1919 — The signing of the Treaty of Versailles: The Germans were peeved. For some twenty years thereafter they held a grudge. With so many of our faces buried in our smart devices, it might be expected someone will soon start marketing screen savers for our noses. Do we think about the causes and effects of these events leading from one Great War to the next and to the insidious spread of Communism and the Cold War, and on and on and on and on? You know how it goes. Or we should; alas, most of us, no. The interweaving of events of the 20th century and into the 21st has produced one long fugue.

June 28, 2020 — Today a new enemy has ambushed us, one trenchantly parallel to that other, insidious killer of 1918-1919, the Spanish flu pandemic. Our new one is COVID-19. We have to go out in public attired in battle gear – gas masks, pith helmets, gauntlets, germ killers, or something akin to these; at least, that’s what it feels like. And then when we come home, to meticulously shed our attire and shower seems like dismantling a live bomb. In 1918-19 the Spanish flu was spread in large part by the mobilized troops in Europe, and when they returned home, injured, they spread it here in the United States. So many individuals were living young, healthy, vibrant lives; then they got the flu and they died. My grandparents told the stories of their close relatives who died. In 2020, we must be cognizant of history lest we be doomed to repeat the past.

The New York Times published a beautiful and thought-provoking photo essay and story on June 26, 2014: “The War to End All Wars? Hardly. But It Did Change Them Forever.”

My friend R wrote a poem that I want to share here, lest we forget the deeper implications, lest we fail to recognize the profound parallels to our lives today, lest we forget to remain vigilant:

SHADOWS OF WARS

The shadow of war
Revolution, no more
The lesson unlearned
Power, Privilege and Wealth soar
Senate and Congress do hoar
King, Czar, Sultan returned
Tell who’s who and what’s for
 
Observation towers and bunkers
To profits old clunkers
Enslaving the poor
Through to the core
From battlefield to graveyard
The law defines who’s ward
To die on your own
And be buried unknown
 

World War II Observation Towers on the Delaware Bay. From these we watched for German submarines coming up the United States East Coast, from the Atlantic Ocean, up the bay to the chemical plants and refineries lining the Delaware River from Wilmington, Del., to Philadelphia, Pa. Photo by Robert Pennington Price

This poem is thought provoking vis-à-vis the 28 June 1919 signing of the Treaty of Versailles, the 100th anniversary of the First World War; and of the 70th anniversary of the Second World War Western Allies landing on Omaha Beach, D-Day and the Battle of Normandy. Today the battle of COVID.

Poppies grow in the French fields now, shrouding where the unknown soldiers missing in action rest. When will they ever learn? When will they ever learn…?

I watched a 1984 TV series recently, based on the M. M. Kaye novel, The Far Pavilions, set in 1870s India. In the end the Brits crossed the Indian-Afghan border to engage in battle at Kabul to prevent the Russians from taking rule of Afghanistan.  1870s. This 1870s British-Russian standoff was called, not the great war, but The Great Game, a term Rudyard Kipling’s 1901 novel, Kim, made popular, a scenario made even more popular when the Russians invaded Afghanistan in 1979. Where are the poppies of peace in the killing fields of life? Harvested in Afghanistan for opium, one medium of numbing ourselves to events…. How lovely. It’s the human condition. It is as with unresearched declarations on social media, harvested by the masses too lazy to rise from their saddles to research what’s really going on, to ferret out the truth. Rather, let’s educate ourselves, and, then, build our fortifications and defend them.

This fugue interweaving battles and disease plays across the centuries. We cannot flee it. It is never ending. I, for one, am tired of being locked in my cabin. I do go out, but not often, attired in my battle gear, but I don’t do masks well. I can’t breathe, I can’t see over them, so I’m afraid of tripping and falling. At my age I could fracture things and that might even prove fatal. Besides, the mask steams up my glasses.

COVID pandemic, where are the poppies in the fields of wheat? When is VC-Day (victory over COVID)? When will this end? When will this ever end…?

—Samantha Mozart
for June 28, 2014
Revisited & Revised July 25, 2020

CXXXVII. The Gateway

Thursday, April 23, 2020—In the Eastern High Sierra Nevada Mountains of California, the dry air smells of pine sap and granite dust. Hiking up the mountainside, at 9,000 feet altitude and higher, I round a bend, unexpectedly to come upon a waterfall. I stand in awe, mesmerized, watching it shift and lift and change, sonorous, a white lacey veil played by the fingers of the wind. I move on, tripping the light fantastic along the banks of a glacier lake, taking care not to stumble over the plumbing, the pipes running from that lake down to the next and the next, ultimately to supply water for the town of Mammoth Lakes and other California places. The long arm of mankind reaches into the backcountry.

Even so, the place is alive with nature mankind has not touched, yet. It is real, not virtual. All one has to do is be there, be among it. Glaciers, like the one that carved Yosemite Valley where the incense cedars grow along the green Merced, recede, recede. They feed the water that cascades with grace over the sheer cliff face. The ground beneath my feet shifts and even the formidable granite mountain walls grow with every earthquake, and there are many, mostly small, imperceptible tremors.

Unless you’re in a dark closet, be aware of your surroundings. Is your neighbor really cooking dog or does it just smell like that? I don’t know what they were cooking in that California apartment below me, but I didn’t want to eat it. Here, outside my window the vermillion dogwood leaves burnished by golden October sun, against a slate-gray wind cloud backdrop, quiver in the breeze surfeiting a corner of my mind with abundant beauty as I type this, filling the white page with black words in Times typeface.

In the High Sierra, sometimes I hiked with companions; sometimes I hiked alone. Always I listened, felt, watched, sensed, sniffed the air. The pine sap I touched made my fingers swell a little. High above, the sun glinted off an airplane, a silver sliver aloft in the blue, the singular sound of its jet engines in the high dry atmosphere, a sound that carries me back to the Sierra on the rare occasions the humidity is low here on the East Coast and I hear that sound again. Hiking in the Sierra, I didn’t take a cell phone, though always a camera, a bottle of water and a snack. The wildlife was different there from at home in Southern California; there were blue stellar jays, marmots and mule deer. The marmots resemble miniature bears, really miniature; I steered clear of real bears, which at close encounter appear way bigger than portrayed in photographs

Now, here, in middle Delaware, I take a walk on an autumn afternoon. I leave my cell phone home. With my face aglow in the light of the smart phone I’ve buried my nose in, I’d miss my natural surroundings—the golds and reds and browns of the fallen maple leaves and the dry, smoky aroma rising from them as I shuffle through them; the venerable bald cypress incensing my hair and ears and shoulders with exotic fragrance as I walk in the cathedral of its graceful arms and hear the chittering and chirping of the many, busy little lives sheltered deep within.

As I walk, I walk through the gateway joining earth and heaven. As I recall these times, I walk there still.

–Excerpted and developed from CXIV: “A Treat for the Senses,” October 24, 2013

 

Nights at the Round Table — Revisited, and why not…?

Wednesday, April 8, 2020–I just finished offering my Dementia Caregiving Journal ebooks for free for a week on Amazon–“Begins the Night Music, Volume I” (April 8-12) and “To What Green Altar, Volume II” (April 13-17). I’m also in the process … Read more »