Somewhere Beyond the Sea
by Bill Prindle
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3, 4,
5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10
Back in Dark Haven, Mom put me to bed for a couple of days. Doctor Babcock came by to check me over. He was a cheery old country doctor, who made me feel better just by acknowledging I’d been through a rough time although exactly what the details were Mom didn’t say.
I ate soup and slept, and not even the new Archie Annual that Dad bought for me in Bucksport could engage my attention. I suppose I was still in shock and found no relief from the hollow ache just under my breastbone.
On the second night, when Mom came to say goodnight, she sat on my bed and rubbed my back.
“The hardest thing we have to do in this life is say goodbye to someone we love, Mikey,” she said. “I’m sorry it’s come to you so soon. It’s been hard for Dad too. We know how special Bess was to you. The only thing I can say is that all the good things about the person will stay with you forever. But it takes time for pain of losing them to go away.”
The next morning Mom lured me down to the kitchen with blueberry pancakes. After breakfast, I walked around town, heading for the northern tip of the peninsula and down a long set of stairs to the rocky shore below. I sat there, looking down the bay at the dark green shapes of Hog, Butter, Pond, and Western Islands, knowing that beyond them, out of sight, lay Hatch Island and Bess.
I allowed myself to think of her just for a moment or two until I couldn’t bear it and then tried to go numb. I spent the day walking along the trails that crisscross the woods that cover most of Dark Haven, and at low tide, I walked the entire shoreline, arriving at our house at four o’clock.
Dad asked me if I wanted to go for a drive around the Ten Mile Square, which was out and back on the two roads leading to Dark Haven. His invitation was also code for him wanting to smoke a cigar, which Mom did not allow in or near the house. I always enjoyed the ride, and I liked the smell of a cigar — and still do — so I accepted his offer.
After a few minutes, Dad said he didn’t understand what had happened to us on the island. “The Clements were as alive as you and me,” he said. “I don’t doubt it for a second. I don’t know why or how it happened. Maybe it’s not important for us to know. But what happened, really happened.”
He said he’d been puzzled by something Virgil had said.
“He told me he’d fought in the Philippines under a General Otis, but I didn’t recall a General Otis out there. When I went to the library, I learned General Otis had commanded American troops in the Philippine-American War in 1899, not World War II. That’s over fifty years ago. Virgil would have to be in his seventies if he’d fought there, but he told me he was forty-one.”
We drove over a bumpy stretch of road where Dad always sped up to lift me out of my seat. He did it now to cheer me up.
Dad said that when we had gotten back to Dark Haven, he told Alonzo we stayed on Hatch Island with the Clements. Alonzo said he never heard of any Clement family, and no one had lived on Hatch Island for as long as he could remember and that we must have beached on Vinalhaven or Deer Isle.
“Why did they all die in the same year?” I asked.
Dad said the morning after we returned, he drove all the way to the Knox County archives in Rockland and looked through the tax records and news clippings until he found the Clements. They had indeed lived on Hatch Island, which had been owned by Ida’s brother, Gustine Dennett of Blue Hill, just as they’d told us.
“That’s Helen’s father,” I said. “Bess knit the mittens for him.”
“Mike, what happened to them was an epidemic called the Spanish Flu. It swept the U.S. and the whole world starting in 1918, and it worked its way up the coast from Boston to Maine. This flu wasn’t like anything you or I ever had,” he said. “When people got sick, many of them died in two or three days. It was terrible, Mike. It didn’t matter if you were strong or weak. No one had any immunity to it.”
He’d found a local newspaper account that mentioned the Clements and others who had died from the disease. Virgil and Ida had come to the mainland to visit Ida’s brother for Christmas, which is when they must have been exposed to the flu. Bess was living with her uncle to attend the school in Blue Hill, and both she and her cousin Helen became ill. Helen recovered, but Bess died in the Blue Hill Hospital. Ida and Virgil died on the island. Gustine had the sad task of burying all of them.
“I couldn’t believe it when I read it, Mike,” he said. “They died over thirty years ago.”
“But they were there.” I could barely get the words out.
“Yes,” Dad said, “they were. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you when I found out what happened to them. Mom and I were hoping to spare you. You did the right thing, going out there. You got to say goodbye.”
We pulled over at Barbara’s Baked Goods, a roadside stand well-known to me. Dad bought the last five cupcakes — vanilla cake with dark chocolate frosting. Next to blueberry pie, Barbara’s cupcakes were my favorite dessert.
“Something like this happened to me on Okinawa,” he said as we ate our cupcakes by the side of the road. “It was night, and we were pretty certain there weren’t any Japanese in our area. I’m asleep and I get this nudge. It’s my best friend from boot camp, Tony Moretti. A tough kid from Chicago. He’s in another outfit, not far from ours. He says his scouts radioed in a Japanese battalion is headed for our right flank. I sound the alarm, we move some mortars and machine guns around, alert the artillery, get the flares ready.
“Sure enough, when they hit us at four in the morning, we’re ready for them. We hold them off and they retreat. I look for Tony and can’t find him. I call his company and find out that Tony died three days earlier. I ask if they’re certain and they say absolutely. But I know he woke me up and warned me.”
I asked if Dad had ever seen Tony again and he said he hadn’t.
“Was he a ghost?” I asked.
“He might have been a ghost, or maybe he was something we don’t have a name for.”
We started for home and Dad made me promise not to tell we’d had cupcakes so close to dinner.
“There’s more, Mike. Remember when Mom handed me that newspaper at dinner.” He shook his head as if in disbelief at the memory. “We thought we’d been gone three days — the Friday we left, the Saturday when Virgil repaired the boat, and the Sunday we sailed back. The paper Mom handed me was for Wednesday, July 24.” He waited for me to figure it out.
“We came back on Wednesday?”
“That’s right,” he said. “What happened to Monday and Tuesday, I have no idea. Alonzo told me the Saturday we went missing, he called his brother Rudy on Deer Isle and told him to search for us on the nearby islands. Rudy saw no sign of us, so he went all the way out to Hatch, looked the island over with his binoculars, and all he saw was an abandoned house. He figured if we had made it to one of the big islands, we were fine and, if the boat had sunk and we were drowned, well, then, there wasn’t much he could do about that.”
I asked where were we for those two days.
Dad said he’d be thinking about that for a long time. The important thing was that with the Clements’ help, we’d returned home in good shape.
I was so grief-stricken over Bess, I didn’t think much about the two missing days or how the Clements had come to be on the island. That came later.
A few days before we left for Massachusetts, I said I wanted to give the woolen mittens to Gustine or Helen Dennett. They weren’t listed in phone book, so Dad and I drove over to Blue Hill and asked around. An elderly pharmacist remembered the family and said they had moved away during the Depression. No one had heard from them since.
Dad had already inquired about Ida Clement’s friend Mina, who married Ormond Sawyer from Dark Haven. The town sexton showed Dad to their graves in the town cemetery. They’d died in a house fire in 1943.
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Copyright © 2017 by Bill Prindle