The old man

The old man

   He’d been around for a number of years, sailed his small boat mostly within a 25 mile radius or so. He’d venture up or down the coast from time to time, sleeping in his sailing dinghy. The dinghy was as old as he was, some say it belonged to his grandfather, it had that charm about it. 

   The kid knew, the kid knew just how old the boat was and he knew just how old the elder was as well;  and since their friendship began, the kid kept it all to himself. The kid just kind of weaseled his way into the old man’s life. Not weaseled in a sneaky way, more like how a friendly puppy finds himself in your lap all of a sudden. 

   The old man took the youngster under wing. The young-un watched, from afar, the old fellow getting his small craft ready when one day the captain of the skiff had forgotten to cast off his stern line; it happens. The kid running down the dock, lifts the eye of the stern line off the pile, the old man nods, gathering it in, the friend ship begins.

   The boy’s mother, a widow, had hoped and prayed for an older man to help the boy along. She hadn’t quit come to terms with the prayer being answered so. She hadn’t heard much of anything about him, other than “Stay away from him. You don’t want to get involved with the likes of him” 

   She listened, and understood generalities used in gossip didn’t have much substance, most of the time. She listened as well to her son, she listened and trusted the things he said about the old man. “Mom, he makes the best peanut butter and jelly sandwiches ever!” Her son was becoming a sailor. 

   The old guy didn’t drink, didn’t smoke, and didn’t cus’, at least not around ear shot.

   Word had it several years back a larger sailing ketch foundered out in the bay just about sunset, the wind was kicking up, winter had come leaving fall behind, someone said it had been foggy. 

   The ketch had hit the only shoal in the bay, the captain knocked unconscious, happen stance brought the old man along at the needful hour. He took aboard all he dared and with the captain revived now calling the abandon ship orders. The old sailor took the offload to the nearest island, setting them up with tarps for the night, as he was leaving to return to get the captain the youngest of the rescued, a small boy maybe 4 or 5 spoke up, “Mister, can you go get my grandpa? He’s still on the boat!”

   With that request the old guy set out into the night using what wits he had aboard, knowledge gained over the years, knowing as well the reef’s direction from the small island. All he had with him was the compass. It proved enough. 

   Getting close enough in the stiffer breeze, darkness now set in, the masthead light showed up all too soon like a lighthouse, although being mere feet above the water. He’d get as close as he dared, having the lone skipper come to him. 

   Skip came, though not to board the dinghy, clinging to the side, he told his story of cancer and insurance with such brevity it was very clear to the old man what the Captain wanted. Explained there in the dark wind blown night, nothing more needed said, yet the the old man didn’t want to leave the man so near in age.

   “A young boy back on the island asked me to get his grandpa.” The old man yelled above the wind. With that, one hand grasped another and two men started back to the island. 

   Wood had been gathered, a fire started, no one suffered frost bit. Before dawn the wind eased, the clouds broke, and the Coast Guard helicopter soon found the group of survivors. 

   The old man stayed behind. “I’ll be fine”. He said. The chopper left, everything much quieter now and once again alone. The fire still going, he grabbed his galley kit from the small age worn dinghy, had a pot of coffee going soon enough, some beans warmed, a handful of crackers his guests hadn’t consumed. He was planning on spending the day and another night. Knowing TV news would be covering the story that night, by tomorrow they’d be on to something else and he could go about his life without any undue fuss. He liked that idea. 

   Getting back to his mooring, a stout stake driven into the bank of a small creek emptying into the bay, he never had much of any bottom growth, high tide pushed the fresh water of the creek back up stream enough his small sailer was part time in fresh water as well part time in the salty brine. He stowed his gear, covered the sail now laced to the boom and yard, un-shipped the mast as well, laying the rig in its secured position, headed home along the foot path his feet knew only so well. 

   Back at his cottage nestled among the trees, along side that same creek which emptied into the bay where he kept his small boat. A note was pinned to the door post. It was what he thought it was, after reading he laid it on the small table of his two room home. The second room being the bathroom. Small, tidy, much like his choice of boat, nothing else needed, he was content. He’d been married, his wife had died years before, taking with her their to-be first born. The house then was larger, the plans grander, with sadness of heart he sold it all, bought the land upon which now sat his cottage, the land extended to the waters edge, giving him the safe harbour of such a simple mooring. He did’nt need else, didn’t want else. Surely didn’t want any fuss made over doing what he thought any mariner worth his salt would have done, caught in the same situation. 

   The grandfather did die, several days later, another note did say. Left much the same as the first note, pinned to the door post while he was out on the water. 

   Several years past, depending on the usage anyway. The young boy pleading for the rescue of his beloved grandfather was now twice his age, not the grandfathers mind you, the boy’s. 

   Little did the old man suspect, the lad running the dock that day was the same boy he’d met on that fateful night.

The same lad that loosed the dinghy’s stern line, the same lad who now told his mother of the best PB&J sandwiches ever. They, the old man, the boy and the mom, grew into a team, a small family. Friday dinners were offered so often the evening became a weekly event, almost. 


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