–Variety of eBook formats
–6 x 9 in. paperback; 400 pages
The first book of this series, Weigh Anchor, picks up where the trilogy, The Donkey and the Wall, left off and propels the reader into the greater arena of possibility—the Universe. The Curious Voyages of the Anna Virginia Saga is an allegory of man’s inner worlds. This series spans the development of awakening—from a simple chance encounter to the intentional exploration of the cosmos, from our little bit of real estate in the solar system to the center of the galaxy. A parable of a small nucleus of individuals who band together and set out on the journey of a lifetime.
Read an excerpt below or read it at the Voyager Press page:
Excerpt from Chapter One of Weigh Anchor © J.L.Lawson 2011
John ambled back to the house from the driveway. He stood on his porch with an odd expression on his face. He turned and went back inside to rejoin Virginia—his publishing agent and guest.
He regained some of his composure from earlier in the day and asked, “Thank you for your patience. Now what would you like to ask first?”
Ginger looked back to the front door and with an overwhelming sense of curiosity asked, “Who exactly were those people? You said distant family? I certainly felt right at home around them; it was a very comfortable feeling.”
He looked to the front door and porch, and the last several months flooded his memory, “They would say that they were just ordinary people. However, I can personally attest that they are in fact: most extraordinary individuals.” He let go of his recollections and focused on her as if seeing her clearly for the first time, “Take that necklace you’re wearing,” her fingers went instinctively to it from long habit, “I happen to know a story about its little agate pebble that just might surprise you…”
Ginger was very interested. “Is this a part of your manuscript? We can kill two birds with one stone if you wish to elaborate—I’m all ears!”
He added another couple split logs to the fire, and they settled into comfortable seats. He began, “It seldom appears to the casual observer that any thing is truly out of the ordinary, save on those rare occasions when the extra-ordinary sneaks into everyday life…”
He reached for the cup of coffee that had grown cold, yet he took a sip and smiled as he continued, “To understand the whole context of the story,” he opened his journals to the opening pages, “I should begin by telling you: Wang Fu Kong was the youngest son of a Chinese entrepreneur. He inherited a portion of his father’s fortune. In order to avoid losing it or his life at the hands of his greedy brothers, he sailed into the sunrise looking to make his fortune in the New World. Once in San Francisco, he promptly adopted the name of George Livingson…”
Through the evening, through the night, even through the next morning and into the afternoon, during coffee, tea, sandwiches and snacks, he regaled her with the tale of all the generations of Livingsons just as it had been told to him. When he got to parts which mentioned her own family’s part in the story—the Spelmans, Bessamers and Mastersons—he noticed she closed her eyes as if to etch those histories into her memory forever. The story of ‘Papa’s Pebble’ naturally held her spellbound.
“I wasn’t even told that I was adopted until receiving this little trinket…” she dangled the pebble at her throat absently.
John then listened to her tell him of how she returned home from the reading of her mother’s will with the information of her birth mother’s real name, who her mother had really been and of her own actual family…somewhere. How, when she returned to Indiana and confronted Harvey and Peggie, her adoptive parents admitted what they had done when driving home from an auction the foggy cold night she was born—How they had encountered an overturned bus, a pregnant woman giving birth on the grassy shoulder of the road, and of taking the woman and child into their car with the intention of traveling to a hospital. Then how, since they couldn’t have children of their own, their desire for a child of their own overwhelmed them at the cost of the woman’s life.
Ginger felt again the anger and vitriol that always arose in her with that recollection, “I am thankful they are now long dead… That may sound heartless and ungrateful, but it was confusing and difficult while they were still alive…” She looked at his face and recognized there was actually what appeared to be compassion behind his eyes. She demurred, “I don’t know why I’m telling you this. I’ve certainly been analyzed and therapized enough to have gotten through these emotions…but…” He still held her in his gaze without judgement. “Harvey was a nice man, really; he was just spineless when it came to Peggie’s whims and demands. Peggie was doting to the point of obsessive and could never understand why I was so rebellious. I was smarter than both of them put together; I despised being trotted out to ‘perform’ for their family and the few friends they had. She wanted a girl-doll and I was a tomboy with a mind of my own. She screamed at me, slapped me around when screaming didn’t work, then sobbed to her husband to ‘do something’ about me. She wanted a Barbie, and she got me instead—I was an real disappointment. She told me so often enough…” Ginger was digging her fingernails into the cushions of the sofa and suddenly realized it. She took a deep breath, tried to smile and sat back with her legs crossed and arms folded.
John was nearly in tears. Her emotions weren’t too far from those he’d carried for years, but from different causes. He said softly, “I can’t imagine what that must’ve been like. You see, no one paid any attention to me; there were no parents, no expectations, no one to disappoint, no screaming or abuse at all. I was simply alone: surrounded by kids who actually did have parents—but parents who couldn’t afford to feed themselves let alone their children. So those kids ended up where I was: in the orphanage. I had most of the same disgust and anger that it sounds like you had. I was disgusted and angry at the world at large, or the parents I didn’t have, or fate…hell, I didn’t even know who to be mad at, and that was hardest part I guess: just not knowing…” He was suddenly as quiet as she now was.
Ginger’s thought, ‘Jeez, I had it bad, but at least I had someone to blame and be mad at…’ Aloud she said, “The Amoursons were conscienceless bastards, but at least they weren’t faceless—I knew who to detest and attack: Peggie!” She realized she was saying that out loud because John’s head came up and he was looking at her. She softened and sat forward, “When I was finally told the story of my real mother, that I was essentially stolen at birth…I felt liberated and justified—but at the same time I felt very alone. After the confrontation with Harvey and Peggie I went on to college and tried to forget. But the realities of my childhood constantly haunted me. There was: what to do at holidays, the stacks of unopened letters from them, and the infrequent messages on my answering machine…” She softened even further, “They did provide me with everything they could afford—however misguided and twisted Peggie was. It’s just that once I was told the truth, I only wanted so desperately to have been able to have my own mother instead of them!”
They both stared out the windows into the lengthening shadows of evening. John said quietly, “…John Doe is the only name I have known. You weren’t told the truth of your birth and real family until you were eighteen—I am forty this year and was just told yesterday that my name is actually: John RobertBackhouse of a remarkable family and startling lineage. That I was—just as you were—lost at birth.”
Ginger’s eyes widened, it hadn’t occurred to her for a even a moment that that long story wasn’t just for her benefit alone…her thoughts flashed, ‘Oh my God! What was I thinking?! That this whole tale of the Livingsons was just a salve for my own wounds…That all this was about me! Ginger-girl! How self-centered are you?! Cripes! Whose daughter are you really? Peggie’s girl after all?! Grow a Conscience! This guy is hurting too! There are other people in the world besides the great and wonderful Ginger…’ Aloud she said, “You mean the Backhouses…like from the story?! Just as I am Virginia Kaitlyn Belle Spelman from those Spelmans…” The implications were boggling. It’s one thing to hear family stories and want so badly for them to be real; it’s another thing entirely to knowthey are very real and that one is finally and definitely: not alone.
John interposed, “If this story is true, then there is a large piece of evidence remaining—besides your necklace, the inheritances, this watch and medal of valor…and this birth certificate. I am supposed to be receiving registration papers in the mail for a yacht! If my guess is correct…I mean if I am the great-grandson of Aaron and Hipolyta Livingson Backhouse…through their son William Henry and daughter-in-law Eleanor…”
She was way ahead of him and said excitedly, “…Then the yacht in question should be the Bodhi! A sixty foot metal-hulled trimaran built in Gotland, Sweden in the late thirties or early forties…” They sat quietly for a long while occupied in their own thoughts and speculations—very weary from the marathon story-telling and personal confessions.
She mused aloud, “I wonder what my grandparents did with their yacht the Tygress?” She looked at him finally as a fellow traveler through the maze of their mutual revelations, “Do you suppose we could find out?” Her last words were almost incoherent since she was yawning while trying to speak.
John must have been equally exhausted; he asked, “You said you would only be in town these two days?”
She smiled and stretched her full frame across the sofa, “I do have some leeway on that score; I’ll call the home office and have someone else cover the other few appointments…” she yawned again.
Then he offered something she didn’t expect, “You’re welcome to stay here if you wish. There is a rarely used guest room on the other side of the house…” he yawned, “…has its own bathroom and everything.” He yawned again, “I have got to go get some sleep or I’m going to fall down right here.”
Ginger was too tired to think of a reason not to accept the offer. She was a grown woman after all and could sleep anywhere she wished. She stumbled toward the guest room and nearly fell onto the bed asleep. Ginger had been in the publishing business most of her life. Now at thirty-one she still had the habits of sleeping little and working long hours. Rising from the bed before dawn, she found the light switch in the bathroom and closed the door. She took off the clothes she’d been wearing for two and a half days and stared at herself in the mirror. The image that stared back was of a tall auburn-haired woman with lingering freckles across her nose, wide shoulders and long legs. Her body was well-toned from weekly trips to any nearest gym, in whatever town or city she happened to be in at the time. She leaned forward and looked more closely into her own eyes. “Those green eyes are a little redder this morning Ginger-baby, and this puffiness is not very attractive either.” She turned sideways to the mirror and inspected her profile. Putting her hands to her rear end she muttered, “And too much sitting!”
She ran the hot water for a bath and found a fresh bar of soap, shampoo and towels. “At least John keeps his house well supplied for guests…Aah…” She sat fully into the tub and relaxed. Just as the sun began to turn the morning sky into a rosy promise, she padded into the kitchen in a borrowed robe and was greeted by the cat. “Good morning little one,” she smiled and picked up the purring furball. She looked at the counter and range. “Your pet, John, certainly has proper taste in morning beverages…” and she went about preparing the coffee press for service. While the kettle of water was left to heat up, she went back to the room and retrieved her cellphone. A glance at the time and a moment of figuring time zones, she dialed her boss and left a message to call her back when he got into the office.
With a cup of hot coffee in hand she went back to the den, curled her legs under her and began reading through John’s notes for the book. “Kitten, it appears the story he told me over the last couple days wasn’t too far from exactly what’s written here…good memory!” She picked up another notebook and began perusing its pages as well. “This material didn’t make it into his story however…” She looked at the charts, symbols, marginal notations and descriptions. She looked up when John ambled from his room. “You look like crap, Mr. Doe-Backhouse!” she snickered. He looked at her and tried to smile, then he headed to the kitchen. She called, “Coffee’s made. I didn’t know if you had a favorite mug or anything; I just grabbed one and poured.”
He took a sip from his cup and answered, “Whichever one I’m holding at the time…and still has coffee in it…is my favorite.” He looked at what she was holding in her hands.
Ginger was a little self-conscious at what appeared to be snooping through his things. “I thought this was part of your story notes…my mistake. Sorry.” She wasn’t, but she was polite at least…she thought.
John did smile now. “Those are the results of a part of the story I didn’t tell you,” he said cryptically. “You wouldn’t have believed me if I had; so what’d be the point of that?”
Ginger was pragmatic. “I am used to judging that sort of thing for myself,” she answered calmly. “…But neither am I trying to pry.” She changed subjects, “I left a message with my office; they should be calling back…” she looked at the gold watch on the end table, reached and opened it, “…in about half an hour or so. Now why don’t you tell me how you were thinking of presenting this story of yours. What person, what tone, what voice?” She knew if she stuck to business her mind wouldn’t wander, but it did. ‘John’s actually pretty good-looking,’ she thought, ‘Tall, broad shoulders, slightly receding hairline but distinguished looking. Nice hands, strong looking with powerful forearms, and his face was shaven, a couple days ago at least. I wonder if he’s ever been married? Is he in a relationship? Forty and single…Is he gay?’ She snapped out of the wayward thoughts which she’d tried to avoid; he was speaking…
“…so I figured I’d write it out as it was told to me. Just like a campfire story or something.” He sat down and appeared to be waiting for her to respond.
Ginger picked up the watch again. “Well, unless I have been dreaming the last few days…it is an epic sort of tale. That would seem to be a good approach to take…” she read the inscription aloud. “Time is the uniquely subjective phenomenon…What exactly does that mean?”
John stared at a spot over and past her head. She waited for some response to her last distraction. He answered, “Generally you can take it to mean that time is experienced by each person differently. But the meaning that was intended by the fellow who inscribed it, I think, was a bit more esoteric than that.”
She felt a sudden pang of comprehension and lifted the notebook with the diagrams and charts. “Does it has to do with these other notes of yours?”
He nodded and said, “Yeah I’m pretty sure it does. But I’m not personally to the place I can make much more of it than that: Time isn’t what we’ve always supposed it to be…” he shrugged in surrender. Her phone rang and she hopped up and ran back to the guest room where she’d left it.
John ambled back to the kitchen and glanced at the calendar on the refrigerator. “It’s Thanksgiving today!” he announced to Mocha who was just taking over the warm place on the sofa so recently made available. He went to the cupboard and looked it up and down, then he opened the fridge and did the same.
Ginger sauntered back into the room and announced, “I’m cleared for the foreseeable future from work…” She had also taken the time to redress. “Look, I don’t want to wear out my welcome, but I am dying to see if those registration papers arrive…and…I would very much like to travel to Port Isabel and see it for myself!” There, she had said it. She had argued the point with herself: that she was a stranger to this guy, that she was just his publishing agent, that all these stories may not be true. But if they were! ‘I could never forgive myself for not finding out…’ she told herself. ‘Besides, I would like to know a little more about John…’
John simply smiled and said he’d love the company. “I just realized that today is Thanksgiving! And since youmay very well be the closest thing to family I have anywhere, except the improbable existence of some extremely long lived relations…” He stopped and asked suddenly, “Last night, and just now, almost the last thing you said…Did you really say: …could we find out about the yacht?” He put special emphasis on the ‘we.’
Ginger was caught unaware. ‘Did I say that? Must’ve been caught up in the moment…’ She said quickly, “Uh huh.” Then followed with a rapid patter of, “I’ll just pop into town and fetch my luggage from the motel I didn’t use. Yay expense accounts!” she grinned self-consciously. ‘Good, he hasn’t kicked me out yet. And it appears he doesn’t have a significant other; her…or his…name would have come up in connection with a holiday plan…’ Her mind raced and before she knew it her thoughts escaped into words… “John are you gay?” ‘Oh god, I can’t believe I just blurted that out!’
John’s blank expression said a lot; he answered, “No Virginia, I am not gay. Neither do I have a girlfriend, nor have I ever been married—came close once. So, now that we’re acknowledging the elephant in the room… Miss Amourson-Spelman? Is there some lucky fellow…or lady…out there waiting for your return?”
Ginger blushed, “Call me Ginger. And No! So far no one has been able to stand being around me long enough to appreciate my finer qualities!” ‘Essentially true…’ she thought, ‘unless I count the boyfriend I had in college—he stuck around for all of two months.’
John was already speaking again. “…anyway, I have all the fixins for a turkey dinner. It would be my pleasure if you joined me for this holiday meal. We can wait for the alleged registration papers to arrive. If these folks are as punctual in this matter as they have been with the other items, I’m sure we won’t have to wait long.”
Ginger smiled and excused herself. She came back out with her coat and hat on, she wrapped the scarf around her neck and said she’d be back before long. John watched her step jauntily to her car and roar out of the driveway. Ginger was surprised at herself. ‘The reason no one has stuck around very long Ginger-baby is because you’re too unpredictable…that’s what they’ve said before. And now look at you: You’re practically inviting yourself into this guy’s house and life… Girl, why are you doing this!?’ Her feelings were confused but she knew one thing, and answered herself: ‘If there is a chance of finding any of my family—John is the key.’ That’s what she told herself, and ignored the rising ‘other’ emotions just below the surface…
After checking out of the motel, and while she was in town—since the gas station was the only place open on account of the holiday—she filled up the car and bought the only day’s papers that were available. When she got back to John’s house and pulled into the driveway, instead of blocking the turnaround, she backed in next to the red Land Cruiser. ‘This must be his truck…’ she thought, ‘I wonder if he’s the outdoor, rugged camping type? He should have a gun locker and rod racks somewhere in the house…’ She hauled her traveling bag onto the porch as John opened the door and lifted it from her hands easily. “I’ll take it to your room…If that’s alright?” he announced.
Ginger nodded. That was the best she could do. The smells from the kitchen were absolutely heavenly and she was already heading to the pots and dishes for nibbles. He came up behind her while she was ‘testing’ the turkey, “I don’t have ‘old family recipes’—for obvious reasons—but I have my own dishes that I have made since I was twenty…”
She blurted out candidly, “I can’t cook!” Odd, she realized she was actually slightly embarrassed all of a sudden; though it had never bothered her before. “I never learned how to do any more than make coffee and spoon out ice cream…Oh and I can make popcorn in the microwave, or follow directions for frozen pizza. That’s it!” She made her best ‘Aren’t I cute anyway’ face.
John grinned and moved close to her; she tensed, thinking he might brush against her or whisper something… He just needed to stir the gravy. She exhaled and chided herself for acting like an adolescent. ‘Pull yourself together Ginger-girl…Just because a man asks you to a home-cooked holiday dinner doesn’t count as foreplay!’
He was speaking again, “…You seem kinda distracted Ginger. Is there something on your mind? Not that you need to ‘bare your soul’ to me or anything…I just hope you’re comfortable is all…”
“Oh I’m fine, really,” she hedged, “The kitchen smells bring back memories of holidays long past is all. I’m comfortable…I am comfortable…” She added, almost surprised herself at the truth of it. ‘I really am. Hmmm,’ she thought. Aloud she added, “Do you have any music in the house?”
“If you open that cabinet over there under the bookcase…” John said pointing with his elbow, “…you’ll find all that I still have of cassettes and records. My CDs are in the opposite cabinet…”
She was going to find out more about him now. ‘You can tell a lot from a person’s taste in music…’ She looked in the first cabinet: some classical, some musicals, a few bands from the seventies, a lot of solo artists…same for the cassettes. She went to the newer stuff in the other cabinet. ‘Here we go…’ she thought, ‘a bit of new age, vocalists from the forties and early fifties, holiday music compilations, soundtracks, Dylan, the Dead, Brightman, Taylor, Brown, Nelson, Clapton, Enya, Beatles, Stones… Alright John is a good guy…’ Aloud she said, “How about some Christmas tunes?” and she selected the compilation of original recording artists singing the old standards. She set it to playing and adjusted the volume just loud enough to hear—quiet enough for conversation.
“Just in time,” John said, “Your dinner awaits,” and he held out a chair for her. “Would you like some wine? I have a few choices in whites—turkey: white meat-white wine—That’s the extent of my oenophilic knowledge. Except the word: oenophile…”
She heard herself giggle. ‘Giggling! Ginger?!’ “Anything white will be grand. I like the sweeter ones…”
He toasted their good fortune at finding their families’ identities, and she toasted their ‘new partnership,’ “…in the book I mean…” she added hastily. ‘Geez Ginger-girl! Why don’t you just seduce him and get it over with!’
“Mmm. This is great!” she mumbled as she carved bites from the wonderful assortment on her plate. She got to what looked like cornbread dressing and put a large forkful in her mouth. Alarm bells rang, steam shot from her nose and ears. She grabbed for the water glass. Waving a hand over her seared and lolling tongue, she said, “Holy…!”
He chuckled, “In Texas, cayenne isn’t a condiment it’s an ingredient…”
She contented herself with everything else on her plate and smiled happily as she dished out a dollop more of potatoes and gravy. “This is all so good!”
“Thank you, ma’am. To top this I will be juggling apples later…” she giggled again.
‘Ginger! What is up with you?!’ Then she noticed how he was eating. Every bite was chewed appreciatively and he made a visible point of taking regular breaths. ‘This guy just gets more intriguing…’ she mused. After she helped to clean dishes, they were again settled in the den at a nice fire. The wine was loosening her curiosity and she asked, “Tell me John Robert Backhouse, what will you do when we find that the yacht in Port Isabel is the Bodhi? Are you just going to sail off and write more stories?”
John looked back at her with his piercing pale green eyes, “That depends…”
She sat up a little, “Depends? Depends on what?”
“I have sailed before…a little twelve foot Sunfish, but I don’t think I have the know-how to just cast off and handle a sixty-foot yacht. Then there are the questions of: Where to go? What else will I write? …Just to name a few things that would ‘depend’ on,” and he held her gaze.
“Don’t look at me: I’ve been told I don’t even drive a car well, and I’ve never even set foot on a boat before. Unless you count the ferries in Puget Sound, or the Staten Island ferry…”
He chuckled, “I don’t suppose you’d be interested in learning?”
‘Alone? In a sailboat with you? For who knows how long?!’ She sat up, “John! Are you making a proposition?”
He demurred, “I can’t help thinking that if I am to ever find more answers about my family…”
She interrupted, “And my family…”
He continued, “…Andyour family…then I just can’t get around the thought that it will probably be at sea…and onthatboat.”
Ginger had known this man for all of three days now. She had no idea if he was a wolf in lamb’s clothing, if he was nuttier than a fruitcake, or if this was all an elaborate and amazing ruse… ‘But he couldn’t have known anything of my history before I stepped up on his porch…hell, I have never told a soul. And this story does explain all these little tokens: the pebble necklace, the watch, medal, Birth Certificate…not to mention how we both had the childhoods we had…’ Taking a deep breath as if ready to accept her fate, Ginger answered, “If that’s the Bodhi, and if there are lessons we can take: I’ll learn.” ‘What am I saying…’ “And what’s more, Mr. Backhouse, as long as we’re diving down the rabbit hole together, I have a question for you!”
He seemed to be uncertain whether he should smile or run. ‘Uh oh, I’ve seen that expression before…usually followed by the phrase: I’ll call you sometime, or words to that effect. Oh well…here goes:’
“John, do you really think you will still want me around after I’ve asked too many questions, after I’ve ignored your kindness and generosity for the umpteenth time, after I’ve yelled at you, kept you awake with my snoring, not cleaned the dishes, come home late without calling—again, taken you for granted and generally treated you like dirt?” She gasped for breath. All that had come tumbling out before she lost her nerve.
‘There’s that expression again. Damn! why couldn’t I just let a good thing alone? Why must I get everything in writing? What is my problem?! No wonder no one ever sticks around…’ Then he was speaking.
“Ginger, you don’t know me anymore than I know you…” ‘Oh God here it comes…’ “But what I do know is this: if this story is as real as it appears to be, and Iam who it seems I am…just as you know who you are—then we are from a lineage of remarkable people and I would be forever ashamed of myself and thoroughly regret letting the opportunity to get to know you slip on by, if once you were this close…” ‘Wait; did I just hear what I thought I heard?!’
“Would you repeat that?” she ventured. He took a deep breath and looked at the ceiling. ‘Oh Crap! I’ve done it again…and I was so close this time!’
“Miss Spelman-Amourson, I don’t know what ‘too many questions’ even means—I have a bunch myself. I am used to being ignored—one of the charms of growing up an orphan. If you yell at me, it may be because I exasperated you—something I’d like to not do. I probably snore loud enough to drown your own snores out. I already have a habit of cleaning dishes myself—I don’t give it much thought. If you come home late and haven’t called—I’ll wonder, I’m sure, and worry no doubt—but that is the kind of suffering I’ll take over loneliness any day. As for taking me for granted and treating me like dirt—I don’t believe it for a second—I do have a few pleasant qualities which may keep your interest and engender kindness from you…”
It was Ginger’s turn to stare. “Uh…No one’s ever said that to me before… In fact, I…” She was instantly lost. This was an unknown frontier. “…What was the question?”
That brought a loud laugh from him, “Actually I merely asked if you would be willing to learn to sail! I’m not sure where the questions about snoring, or coming home late came from…” She blushed to her toes. He added seriously, “But your instincts are right.” He took another deep breath, “I am very attracted to you…In fact I’ve been trying everything I can think of to get you to stick around longer…to…to stay around here…with me.” He looked for all the world like he would break into a million pieces if she made the slightest move. She was very careful not to let that happen.
“Uh, honestly…John…I’m very attracted to you too.” ‘There that wasn’t so hard was it? Go on Ginger-girl: Truth.’ “I don’t know if it’s ‘proper’ or not to skip the months of ‘getting to know you,’ but I’m willing to risk it.” ‘Whew! I’m pretty good at this…’ “I’ve warned you as best I can—I am not easy to get along with…”
He crossed to sit next to her on the sofa and said softly in imitation of her own words, “I am used to judging that sort of thing for myself. I hope you don’t mind if don’t just take your word for it…”
She whispered back, “You are so doomed!” She put her hand to his neck and pulled his face to hers then kissed him.
When he regained his breath, he said “GingerKat, I think we are going to have to learn to sail!”
Friday they went into town, and he added her to his own bank account—over her protests. “You don’t have to do this…I am financially very sound on my own. I have a little flat in New York…in Chelsea—which I rarely occupy—I have been on expense accounts for the last…forever, so my paychecks just go into the bank and pile up. Really John, this is sweet of you but so unnecessary.”
John was just smiling all the while. “GingerKat, you noticed the amounts on those few accounts you just signed onto?” She nodded. “When I left the corporate world, I wasn’t a Rockerfeller or anything, but I had plenty to get the land and build that house…”
She interrupted, “You built that house!?”
“Almost entirely with my own hands, yes. Anyway, I don’t have many expenses so those balances don’t vary much. But that wasn’t the point of adding you onto them! I introduced you as my wife to the Account Manager when we were at the bank…”
She smiled in spite of herself, “Yeah, I didn’t really think I’d ever hear someone saying I was their wife. It was a really nice thing to hear, even though…” It was his turn to interrupt.
“…Honey, this is Texas. That wasn’t just a nice thing to hear…that was a legal act of marriage in this state. I wasn’t being poetic or romantic; I am now your common law husband!”
Her mind raced. ‘Wow, and I thought I was impulsive! Ginger-girl you’ve got a tiger by the tail….Hold On Tight!’ Aloud she said, “Oh.”
The weekend was a honeymoon of sorts. She asked question after question, as she had warned him she would, about his whole life and then more and more about the notebook of diagrams and dialogs. “Just give me an idea of what it’s about, okay?” she finally pleaded.
He picked up the notebook, flipped randomly to a page and read aloud, “Ah, but therein lies the difficulty…we are subject to a wide world of influences which have nothing whatsoever to do with reason. We are influenced by the form of the things around us, whether shocking or beautiful; we label them and forget them. We are unsettled when they are absent, and conversely oblivious when they are present. We are suggestible, hence our closely held notions derived from old wives’ tales and urban legends…hearsay for the most part. We are moved by relationship: our friends think thus and such, we think thus and such. Those ‘others’ must think a different way, so we avoid thinking like that…however actually similar to our own and logical their views may be. We succumb to the superiority of others—No wonder advertising employs so-called authorities and celebrities, it works. And all of this, while inside of us the turbid roiling kaleidoscope of ‘I’s persist in their conflicted desires unabated. Our background attitudes and moods lead us to become either inured to, or strangely susceptible to, whatever is coming in through our senses, irrespective of our actual needs. And our own inept and uncontrolled gestures and postures, in their turn, elicit a response from the world we encounter—diametric to our own wishes and desires.
These problems and dilemmas arise when a man has not awakened Conscience. So there is no impartation of reason from its objective seat of influence to the Intellectual center, and he becomes influenced instead by half-truths, misinformation, hearsay, and the rest. This erroneous data so conditions him that he maintains a truly false intellectual model of the world and reality. And just as before, the Emotional center inevitably creates belief structures to support these inaccurate, false and even deleterious constructs. That is the relationship between those centers, whether for good or ill. That is how wrong-thinking, inappropriate attitudes—a false personality—is formed. Unfortunately it doesn’t stop there. These false structures of intellectual models and emotional underpinnings will even condition a man’s sensations and movements. This is readily seen when someone has been told repeatedly that, for example: ‘snakes are slimy.’ Functioning from an emotional belief structure and intellectual construct devoid of any reality, even if that man were to touch an actual snake, he will believe it is slimy although it is certainly not…”
He stopped and looked up her. She was looking out the window and turned to face him when she realized he had stopped. He ventured, “There are over a hundred pages like that…” Ginger had followed the the words and even created a mental picture of what was being described. She recalled a snippet from a text she had edited not so long ago, and tried to recite it…
“Thought runs you. Thought, however, gives false info that you are running it, that you are the one who controls thought. Whereas actually thought is the one which controls each one of us. Thought is creating divisions out of itself and then saying that they are there naturally. This is another major feature of thought: Thought doesn’t know it is doing something and then it struggles against what it is doing. It doesn’t want to know that it is doing it. And thought struggles against the results, trying to avoid those unpleasant results while keeping on with that way of thinking. That is what I call ‘sustained incoherence’.”
John lightened, “That’s a good external observation of the internal process I took notes upon…Did you just come up with that?”
She was very flattered, and really would like to have been the one to have said it first. She chuckled and admitted, “That was part of a transcription I edited for publication a couple years ago for David Bohm…the mathematician? It seemed you two were speaking of the same phenomenon is all.” They sat quietly until she raised another question.
“I don’t know how to ask this, so I’ll probably ramble a little trying to frame it…Both of these descriptions point to an actual dysfunction of the human mind, a pervasive dysfunction. I’ve noticed my own internal dialog will distract me to no end at times; it colors my perceptions of what is actually happening around me…or so I find out later anyway. Is there a ‘cure’ for this problem?”
John handed the notebook to her and said simply, “I think so. It has proven itself as far as I am concerned…but it’s work. I mean frustrating, unrewarding, tedious, humbling work. I am only a few steps along this journey and while I’ve received a boost of sorts, I can see that plainly this is a journey for a lifetime. The good part is that it’s practicable—not theoretical or philosophical—but real nuts and bolts, turn of the screw: work. I don’t know how to answer you any better…like I said, I’m just a little way along. Does that help at all?”
She took in what he’d said and followed the explanation as far as it went. “You certainly need to work on your sales pitch…No one in their right mind would want to do what you’ve just described…unless…” And she suddenly had a flash of insight: “But that’s the point isn’t it! You’re talking about losing, or changing what is familiar—comfortable—habitual…Of course the process of change would be painful and seemingly futile. How could it be otherwise!” She was rather proud of herself for sorting that bit out for herself. Then the implications were naked in her mind for that one instant: ‘This isn’t theoretical or philosophical…What am I going to do with this knowledge?’ Aloud she said, “John, may I read through this journal and ask questions when I’m stuck?”
His smile was comforting, “Darlin’ is there any other way that you do things that I don’t know about?”
The package they anticipated came in the Tuesday post. It was paperwork for a sixty foot trimaran yacht. They had a little celebration and talked about how to approach dealing with the facts they were faced with…Then later the same day, just as Alfred had also told him, he signed for the receipt of another package: a registered envelope from a British bank.
He woodenly handed the packet to Ginger. “Here GingerKat, you open it. I’m too nervous.”
She slit the seal with a penknife and withdrew the contents. Her eyes went as big around as saucers. ‘Oh holy crap! Now whose the one who may appear different than what they seem? Say goodbye to dreams of marital bliss Ginger-girl…He can have anyone he chooses now…’
“John, will this make me seem like a gold-digger…just because I haven’t got your ring on my finger yet—I mean…just an introduction to a bank manager to show that I am committed already?”
Before taking the envelope from her, he took off the silver band he’d always worn on his little finger. “I got this from a guy in Santa Fe. He said it was made from silver and meteorite—so it was very good for clearing away bad thoughts…” she looked at him incredulously. “That’s just what he said…” He put it on her left ring finger. “Now! Did it work? Does that clear away any thoughts of appearing to be something you’re not?”
She grinned and held up her hand to catch the glint of light on her ‘wedding band.’ “I like it very much…All better!” Then she held the check for him to see. “…It’s even made out to John Doe!” she said.
He stared at the handwritten amount on the draft; then read the memo at the bottom: ‘One time payout of endowment due John Robert Backhouse, aka John Doe’
She said, “There’s a note attached,” and she read it aloud: “Mr. Doe, The transfer of these funds has taken place as a result of the sworn affidavit from one George Henry Livingson, a one-time Trustee of this establishment, that you are in fact the son of the last known Backhouse male: Robert Henry Backhouse, deceased: Korea 1953. According to the terms of the Trust, you are required only to acknowledge this connection by legally appending the surname Backhouse to your existing given name. As the only surviving adult child of that lineage—and a single male—this remittance empties the Fund and ends our firm’s responsibilities to that family’s accounts. Fare thee well, Mr. Backhouse. —Sincerely, Horace V. Johnson, Director…”
He whistled. “Well Mrs. Speman-Backhouse, how does it feel to be a multi-millionaire?”
Incredibly relieved that he still thought of her as his mate, she looked from him to the check, to the yacht’s paperwork. “I think Mr. Doe-Backhouse, we had better get down to Port Isabel and learn to sail!”
When they resumed the conversation they were having before the delivery, she explained that her apartment in New York City wasn’t a real concern. “I’ve been gone on assignment and haven’t been there for over fourteen months before. That’s why I never got a pet, or a plant, or taken up cooking, or…”
John interrupted, “I get the picture! I’m not in the same position by a long stretch, and I could use some objectivity around what to take and what to leave.”
She gazed at the appointments of the house and thought, ‘Hmm, if I were going to decide what is vital and what isn’t, I would…’ Aloud she replied, “If my experience over the last several years offers any guidance: No one needs everything they think they need. You saw my little travel bag, and my shoulder bag?” He nodded. “I haven’t been back to Chelsea for two and a half months now…” Then she saw Mocha lapping water from her bowl. “Mocha-baby goes with us! The rest…well, take your laptop, notes, any favorite books, a change of socks and underwear…” then she shrugged, “You asked!”
He seemed to have a stroke of clarity; his eyes glinted with insight. “Let’s just do a little research shall we? It’s not like we don’t have anything else to go on here…” and he held up the journals of the Livingson’s tale.
She saw where he was going with this: “Okay…Who of our family had to face similar circumstances, and what did they do, take, leave?”
He thought a moment. “They were sailors already, so while we need lessons…”
She interrupted, “Or on the job training! We can hire a Captain to take us…say through the Caribbean…We learn the ropes…” He groaned. “Sorry no pun intended, and voila! In a few months we drop the mentor and choose a destination. What do ya think about that?!”
His jaw dropped, and chuckled at the same time…an odd combination for sure. She could only say, “What? What did I say?!”
“Here,” he said and handed her one of the journals already opened to a particular page. “Read this…” She obliged, hesitant, but she read aloud:
“…Alright…alright. Mule In Rouge it is.” Jamie added, “And you shall break the champagne bottle on her prow at the christening. What do ya think about that?”
That one phrase, uttered by Samuel Allcock upon first meeting George all those years ago had become a part of the family’s colloquial heritage, and it still elicited chuckles…when used appropriately, which it always was…
She closed the journal and remarked, “Oh, I see what you mean! But I never knew my family any more than you did…It’s just a coincidence…a common enough phrase…”
Neither of them wished to pursue that wild goose. John just had to add: “Samuel Allcock is your great-great-great-grandfather…maternally through the Bessamers, I mean.”
Her eloquent response to that was: “Oh!”
“Now as to packing, we can get some advice from a couple more of your ancestors.” He reached for another of the journals and flipped through it until he found what he was looking for, then handed it to her.
She accepted it and asked first, “Which ancestors?”
“Lawrence and Miranda Spelman were your great-great-grandparents…Chloe is the maternal Bessamer connection I mentioned before…” he answered. She read aloud:
…Chloe mentioned the solution they had arrived at in preparing for the exodus, and Miranda looked at her husband. He smiled, “Already handled my love. I packed your fans and a few scarves. I think you look better in the fans, but on the outside chance you might get chilled, I packed the scarves.” She burst out laughing, but Harold and Chloe noticed the flush of embarrassment creeping up her neck at the same time.
She responded in kind, “How thoughtful you are, a chest cold at my age could be devastating. I hope you packed the tie that matches your tattoo.”
Harold and Chloe certainly chuckled with their hosts, but neither of them could for a moment be sure if they were joking to hide their being so unprepared, or making light of their already thorough preparedness. Chloe asked about it.
Miranda smiled, “Lawrence assures me that whatever we pack for this trip, other than a toothbrush and and a change of clothes, will be as useful as…” she giggled, “How did you put it, Lorenzo? It was so apt.”
“Pork tenderloin at a Bar Mitzvah” he inserted between sips of wine. She chuckled again. “We face our every day here equally prepared: the few personal effects we rely upon routinely, which go without saying. Nothing more than that will significantly enhance our ability to meet each day. We shall have to assimilate ourselves into a new culture once more. We still have our trunks stored upstairs, in nearly their same packed state as when we arrived here all those years ago.”
Lawrence grinned, “We could take them! As sort of good luck charms?”
Miranda batted her eyes at him, “You can carry them, dearest…”
He frowned, “It was just a thought, no reason to get all bossy.”
She concluded, “I have a very useful pocket knife, warm clothes for until we reach the Tropic of Cancer, our medicines chest, recipes—the ones we don’t know by heart—our purse, and Lorenzo. I promise you, no woman has ever been more well equipped!” Lawrence smiled, “…Two fans and several silk scarves…” She added, “Oh, yes, those defensive items, and further protection against the cold. Thank you dearest.”
Harold’s eyes showed his obvious merriment and chagrin. “It sounds so simple when you put it like that.”
Lawrence decanted the last of the bottle into each of their glasses. “Even before I met George, White Feathers and Belle, I had traveled to the oddest out of the way nooks and crannies of this world—perhaps a few more than yourself—and I seldom packed more than a messenger bag. Why? Because the fewer ‘things’ I have about me the more flexible and versatile I can be—both physically and emotionally.” He smiled warmly at his wife and added, “That goes for uprooting ourselves and being transplanted again as well.” He turned back to their guests, “Miranda wasn’t kidding, the items of luggage we carried here on that first occasion are still packed with the same ‘things’ with which we arrived here.” He mused for a moment, “Of course traveling with Kaitlyn to Tahoe was a different story, as was traveling with George and Belle, we had so many presents for our friends and family on that trip…
“Whew!” Ginger announced. “Buddy, we’ve got some colorful family!”
“So…your first bit of advice seems to be the best. Which car would you like to leave in Port Isabel?” She thought about the question. ‘I love my little Camaro…maybe it will be safer here under the car port, rather than who knows where we’ll be able to store it in Port Isabel. Ooh, but maybe he feels the same way about his truck…Nah!’
What she said was, “What ever you think is best,” and she crossed her fingers behind her back.
He answered promptly, “Even though we’re not taking much, Mocha is used to the truck—if she’s used to anything that moves faster than a walk—Besides your pretty teal sportscar will probably be safer here than there. The Cruiser certainly doesn’t mind.”
She tried not to betray her elation, “Whatever.” Then she had only to say, “Shall I get out a map and find Port Isabel? What was the address of the dry dock?”
“Uh…” he fumbled through the paperwork and found what appeared to be the only thing that resembled an address. “It says ‘East Harrison St.-West South Shore Dr.’ Do you suppose that’s an address?”
“Hopefully there are only four corners to choose from…” she answered pragmatically. “Do you think it’s warmer down there by a lot or a little?”
He scratched his head, “Up here there’s nothing blocking the north wind but barbed wire…On the Gulf, especially far South Texas, it probably doesn’t get any colder than maybe fifty or so… I’ve only been to Padre in the Spring—a few college trips. I don’t know, but I bet it doesn’t even freeze during January.”
She looked around the house once more. ‘Now’s the time to find out about his outdoorsey skills…first aid, light, tools…weapons?’ “John Robert? Besides playing in the sand in College, do you have any survival skills for the great outdoors? Great hunting stories? Maybe you’re secretly a fur-trapper? Any SAS training? That sort of thing?”
“I once whittled a spoon from a tree branch. Uh… Oh, and I spent three months in the Pecos Wilderness…alone, with nothing but a tent, one pan, a knife and a 9mm—can’t be too careful. That sort of thing, you mean?” he answered.
“Yes Jungle Jim. That sort of thing!” she quipped.
He threw it back to her, “How about you? Anything more dangerous than crossing Broadway against traffic?”
It was his sudden grin that most irked her. “As a matter of fact, crossing against traffic isn’t safe. But to respond to the gist of you’re query…” she realized her tone was a little snooty, but he had this coming… “My adoptive father, Harvey, was an avid hunter. I learned to hit anything I aimed at, and clean it afterwards. I was more at home fishing hip-deep in a stream than with my mother in the kitchen…which explains my aversion to cooking I suppose. I once had to spend the night in a tree because wolves can’t climb easily. And last but in no way least: the entire summer, before I got the news I was adopted, I spent as a journalist following an Outward Bound group through Colorado. It was a good story and won me a grant for my efforts. That sort of thing!”
John knew he must have pushed some buttons because he asked, “Did I do something to tick you off? I didn’t mean to…”
She softened, “It was your smug grin that set me off. And that crack about crossing traffic didn’t help your case any.”
He winced, “Mea Culpa! I’m sorry. I am trying to go against my less pleasant impulses. Like I said, it’s a long road ahead. Thank you for being as gentle as you were about it.”
She was taken aback. ‘So: honesty, patience, calmness, did I say honesty? I may have hit the jackpot at last! Yay Ginger-girl!’ Aloud she said, “I’m sorry too. And you did deserve it…Now…” she looked at Mocha napping on the sofa, and whispered, “Does she need to be in a C-A-G-E, or something for the trip?”
He looked like he was struggling with something in his brains—his face got all wookedy. He composed himself and said, “Ginger, she’s smart but she can’t understand English. I’m certain you don’t have to spell things to get under her radar… Yes, I have a pet carrier just to get her into the truck. On long trips, if she goes too, I let her wander around inside the Cruiser.”
Ginger eyed the now wide awake cat and announced, “She looks smarter than you give her credit for being…”
“Maybe there’s some projection going on in that assessment; but okay, she’s probably smarter than the average feline…I still am not likely to start spelling secrets she shouldn’t hear…”
It was a ten hour trip to South Padre and Port Isabel. Ginger made good use of the time by reading aloud from the journals. “Jeez, John can you write without commafying every little thing!”
He was satisfactorily chastened, “I can’t edit my own stuff easily it seems—I hope it’s just a phase. You know ‘Early-Writer’s-Syndrome’ or something…”
It was dark before they arrived. Ginger had called ahead from the road and found them lodging for the night. “Oh boy! Just like a real honeymoon! Jonibob, I’m so tickled about this adventure!” And it showed. Ginger was the picture of a happy bride as she let him hoist her over the threshold of the hotel room. He set her on the end of the bed and fell down next to her.
He moaned, “My butt is so tired of sitting! What do you think of a walk and maybe a late evening snack…Does that sound good?”
Ginger was up like a shot, “Sounds great to me buana; just let me change for the warmer air.” She unzipped her bag, and pulled out a lighter top, and cargo shorts. “Now you get what you need, and I’ll be out of the bathroom in no time…”
About fifteen minutes later, she emerged and looked around the room. “John?” ‘Crap! Ginger, don’t panic…he’s here somewhere…check to see if the car’s still there…’ She went to the door just as it opened and he came back in carrying a cloaked box.
“Just had to sneak our C-A-T up here…” She burst out laughing at his using the whole ‘spelling thing,’ obviously a little confused about its application.
“Good girl,” she said to the unsettled animal within, and she opened the cage door. “Mama’s going to bring you back some tasty tidbits. You just make yourself at home and don’t soil the carpet, the bed, the chairs…Uh, John maybe we should keep her in the C-A-G-E for the time being?”
He smiled, “Good plan.”
There was a knock on their door at seven-forty-five the next morning. A voice from outside called, “Mr. and Mrs. Backhouse? I was asked to deliver this…” and an envelope slipped under the door. Ginger was up and crossed to the door. “Looks like we’ve been spotted in town! Ah the paparazzi can find us wherever we are!”
John rolled over, opened an eye and muttered groggily, “What’s it say?”
She slit it open and read, “Greetings and welcome to Port Isabel. I saw a red Land Cruiser pass the docks last night, and Randy, the front desk guy at this hotel is a friend of mine. I’m Jimmy, the guy with the key to the locked door on your dry-docked yacht’s building. Can we meet for brunch downstairs at say ten?”
“That’s it.” She put the note on the pillow next to his head, and went back to the journals she’d been reading since getting up an hour before. “In spite of your horrid punctuation, your writing voice is pleasant…”
He tried to smile, “Need coffee…” he muttered, and went to the bathroom.
“Let me finish this one notebook and get the next one, then we can go get my man some java…Okey-dokey?” There was a moan that sounded like agreement from behind the door. She heard the shower come on and decided she would like to rinse off as well; she went to the bathroom door. “Ready or not…”
John got his coffee just as ‘Jimmy’s’ smiling face greeted them when he entered the cafe. He was youngish, maybe in his mid-twenties, sandy blond wavy hair, steel blue eyes and the frame of a champion swimmer or surfer. He crossed to their table, said something to the waitress who grinned at him as he passed, and pulled up a chair at their booth. “Good morning again. Sorry to have wakened you, if I did…”
Ginger had a liking for his straightforward manner and charming smile. “No trouble. I was just reading and honeybunch here was nearly awake already.”
John winked at her and added, “So Jimmy…Jimmy what?”
The young fellow stood, “Pardone moi, I am James Erikson—keeper of the keys. And you are,” he extended his open palm to John, “Mr. John Robert Backhouse, formerly known as John Doe. And this charming lady is Mrs. Ginger Backhouse, formerly known as Virginia Amourson… Does that conclude our introductions?” he added with a smile. Hackles of suspicion leapt up the napes of their necks.
Calmly as possible, John interjected, “News certainly travels fast,” he looked at Ginger, “We’ve been married for less than a week and the tabloids have already run the story!”
Jimmy’s expression changed and he asked, “How’s that again?”
Ginger replied in a professional, almost elitist tone, “It’s a running joke…But seriously, how do you know about our marriage? We had the considerable attendance of one cat at the elaborate ‘ceremony’…”
That friendly grin spread across the young man’s face once more. “Would you believe…I just found out from Randy this morning…he checked y’all in. By the way I guessed that Ginger was short for Virginia. Randy overheard you first refer to yourself as ‘Amourson.’ So no mystery. Oh, that and Alfred called the other day to say that John Doe would probably be here before too long…”
A bit of relief allowed knowing smiles to cross their faces. John asked, “So are you related to Alfred Livingson?”
Jimmy held up his hands as if fending off an attack of patty cake, “Me? If so it’s remotely,” and he quickly changed the subject, “Now, when would you two like to inspect the yacht? Which begs the question: What are you going to do with it?”
That question hung in the air as the waitress arrived with their brunch. Once the dishes were arranged and eating commenced, Ginger at last replied, “We thought we’d hire a captain for the boat and learn ‘how to sail while sailing’ from him or her.”
Jimmy swallowed his bite of eggs benedict, “That is an excellent way to learn to sail! And there are a number of skippers available for hire down here. Not all of them are actually teachers as well, but you’ll know best I’m sure.”
Ginger was beside herself. She’d been dying to know about the yacht itself and had tried to be patient…she burst out, “It’s really the Bodhi? The yacht in storage…it’s a sixty-foot metal-hulled trimaran…” Jimmy looked at her with new respect and merely nodded.
He turned to John, “Mister, I suppose the registration paperwork listed the name…maybe…somewhere. It usually does not—just a registration number—but it is the trimaran first christened as the Bodhi. I don’t suppose you would like to let me in on the secret?”
“Uh…” John began and Ginger covered, “Well, I was hoping for the Tygress, but it is John’s inheritance not mine…” That got an even stranger look from Jimmy.
He stared hard at Ginger and asked, “And how could you possibly know about the Tygress, and would you elaborate on how that might be your inheritance?!”
John and Ginger weren’t sure how to respond. ‘When all else fails, tell the truth…’ Ginger thought fast, “You were close with guessing my name: it is Virginia Kaitlyn Belle Backhouse, nee Spelman-Amourson. The Tygress belonged to my grandparents Samuel and Ronia Spelman. The Bodhi belonged to John’s grandparents’ William and Eleanor Backhouse. John’s mother’s sister, Vera, and my mother, Anna Spelman, were best friends and we’re sure they’d have been ecstatic that their children found each other and married. Does that answer your question?”
Jimmy was still sorting out that last bit of family connections on his fingers when she finished, “Fine, sure…” He resolved.
They finished brunch and followed Jimmy to the dry-dock boathouse. As they rolled up to it and got out of their cars. Ginger said, “This isn’t the address on the paperwork!”
Jimmy asked what was that address; she told him. He chuckled, “That’s where I stay when I’m here. I don’t actually have room for a yacht in my house…” And he unlocked the three or four padlocks on the large hanger-like doors. As he pushed them open he said, “Here you are, I have a contract with a crane service whenever you are ready to have her back in the water again.” He went to a wall and flipped a few breakers. Lights sprang on overhead and it was as light as day inside. John and Ginger were awestruck. The dichotomy between what you imagine a thing to be like and what it actually is—they were struck by that disparity upon seeing the colossal yacht. Jimmy was walking to the stern and kept up a running description of the modifications he’d made per Alfred’s instructions, almost as a tour guide might point out landmarks.
“…Your nav and radar stations are state of the art. The helm is now outfitted with a LORAN, civilian satellite GPS gear, and depth finder, in addition to a new compass binnacle with digital as well as the traditional liquid and gimbal. The galley has been refitted with what Alfred assured me were appliances suited to your cooking style…whatever that means. Anyway, there are new sails and back-ups, new mattresses in all the cabins, new freshwater tanks, new heads, new entertainment center in the lower salon, air conditioning, a new freezer with ice maker, new wind generators—yes, I kept the old ones as requested—new sails for the launches and catamaran, new outboards for them as well…the launches, not the cat…and last but not least…” He pulled away a tarp uncovering the steps of the boarding platform and the yacht’s name, “She’s been rechristened—Mr. and Mrs. Backhouse welcome aboard the Anna Virginia.”
Ginger was so suddenly overwhelmed she nearly swooned. Through her tears, she tried to tell John something but it was incoherent. He helped her to a seat on the boarding platform until she could compose herself a little more. Sniffling all the while she got out: “I have never…been so…honored in my…life…to have this yacht…your…our yacht…named for me…my mother…and me…” and she broke down into tears once more.
For his part John seemed equally surprised, “Jimmy? Was this Alfred’s idea as well?” Jimmy could only nod. Ginger’s extreme emotions surprised him as well. He was just relieved that she was dripping tears of joy and not revulsion. John mused aloud, “Ginger, I’m getting the impression we’re the subjects of a modern-day arranged marriage…” he was quick to add, “…And I couldn’t be more pleased with our arrangers’ choices for us!” It was her turn to just nod.
“Okay, I’m better now,” she announced unconvincingly, “Lets go aboard and look her over.”
Jimmy again repeated the improvements as they came to them. They asked about this or that piece of equipment or appliance and he answered with the calm assurance and knowledge of a shipwright. He went to a panel over the navigation station and flipped a few switches, interior lights came on. “Down either side of the bridge are companionways to the amas and the lower salon.” They were led up and down, around and back up again. They were instructed about the rigging, the decks, the mast, the bridge salon…everything.
When they were once again on the ground, Ginger asked, “John, or I guess I should ask Jimmy, where do we go to solicit for a skipper, and how will we know if he or she will be a good teacher?”
Jimmy’s eyebrows shot up, “Well that’s the sixty-four thousand dollar question isn’t it? Hmm. Uh, I didn’t want to mention this, because it’s really y’all’s decision, and I don’t want to seem pushy,” he added, “or protective,” and again added, “or anything…”
Ginger interrupted, “Spit it out James!”
“Yes ma’am. I’m a Captain,” he admitted.
“There now that wasn’t so hard was it?” Ginger comforted. “We can see why you might not have wanted to spring that on us earlier…” Her tone turned more sarcastic, “…better to let us worry over it for ourselves until we begin pulling our hair out…” She gave him a questioning look. He kicked his sandal toe on the floor.
“You just never know, ma’am…you just never know. I didn’t want to seem too eager, or pushy, or anything…” He perked up, “Oh, I almost forgot!” and he herded them back up to the nav station and opened the drawer. “Alfred left this for y’all.”
Ginger seemed to be the official letter opener of the two of them and so she slit open the sealed envelope, took out the note and handed it to John. He read: “I hope all is to your tastes and satisfaction. If Ginger wishes anything different please don’t hesitate to let James know about it. On the subject of James, he is a startlingly good captain should you require the services of one. I have entered a preliminary course into your navigation computer. I believe, unless you have some other pressing destination awaiting you, you will find this one most rewarding. Your servant, Alfred. P.S. The launches are now the Agate and the Black Pearl…The catamaran is still the Ariel!
“We appear to be entrusted into your capable hands Captain Erikson. When would you suggest we weigh anchor?” John announced to Jimmy.
He smiled broadly, “Great! You won’t regret it I promise!” He shook Ginger’s hand and then John’s. “I can have her in the water by this evening; the mast up in the morning and we’ll keep at her rigging until she’s seaworthy once more. You’ll learn quite a bit about her as we dress her up.” He pulled a phone out of his pocket and ordered the crane. “They’ll be along in an hour or so. If you want to fetch your things from the hotel; you can take up residence as soon as her hull’s wet!”
They did just that. John tipped Randy at the front desk who just stared blankly at him when he was thanked for his role in directing Jimmy to them. Once back at the dry dock, Ginger asked if there would be someplace they would be able to leave the Land Cruiser when they embarked.
Jimmy replied, “Sure, I leave my little jeep at the house when I’m not in the area; I can’t see why she wouldn’t like some respectable company…”
The crane arrived and in no time the Anna Virginia was afloat once more. John handed Ginger aboard then passed Mocha’s carrier to her. Once he was aboard with the rest of their things, they made their way below to decide which stateroom to call home. Mocha was nosing around and darting from one cabin to the next as they carried things below. She dashed into the aft stateroom, curled up on the bed and settled down for a nap.
Ginger offered, “We can start in the aft one and move later if we wish…”
Jimmy bid them good evening, recommended a restaurant with a very good menu and said he’d be back in morning before the crane returned to mount the mast. John stood on the foredeck and just gazed around him. Ginger crept up behind him, “Penny for your thoughts?”
“Oh, I was just recalling all the dinners, discussions, showers in the rain, and all the children that have played on this deck or one just like it on her sister ships…” He even sounded nostalgic, as if recalling his own memories.
She put her arms around his waist. “Jonibob, it may be that we’ll create our own memories on these decks.” She put her head on his shoulder and he lifted his hand to stroke her hair. She continued, “What I do know is that I’m almost through your journals, and whatever memories we create for ourselves, I think it would splendid to dedicate little niches through the ship to our own ancestors… Our parents we didn’t know, our grandparents who grieved us and them, our great-grandparents who carved a place for us in this world…but most of all: I want to learn about our families’ legacy of traditions and work. Teach me Johnny. You said you have begun. Help me to begin.”
They went into the bridge and climbed below to the lower salon. John got out his charts and diagrams and taped them to the walls, describing their significance as he went. They were still talking and recreating diagrams when Mocha came out of the aft cabin and yowled in hunger. “To be continued…” John announced and they got ready for a late dinner.
Jimmy did arrive well before the crane the next morning. He laid the ship’s design plans out on the chart table and described what they were going to do today, then what they would need to prepare for once that chore was done. He turned out to be a patient and most thorough instructor. All his directions were clear and he always provided the reasoning and causes for having to proceed the way they were. The crane arrived. They mounted and tuned the mast, made the electrical connections, ran the rigging and hauled out the sails. With Jimmy’s careful instructions they raised each one themselves and furled them. “That’s Day One!” Jimmy announced. “I left a list of food supplies in the galley…it doesn’t spell out what you have to take so much as what kinds of foods you should look for. Everybody’s tastes are different, but few people are aware of what the sea air does to some foods…” With that he bid them good evening and said he’d be back in the morning when they could take the Anna out into the great lagoon and begin sailing instructions.
Ginger went to the galley and retrieved the list. She and John looked it over. “I think we can restock tonight if you’re not too tired.” Ginger suggested.
“What? Do I look like I’m beat? I know I’m not in the shape I was ten years ago but I can go shopping!” he replied.
She winked, “You’re the perfect shape for me…” and ran to fetch her purse.
He stood looking after her and his eyes settled on the catamaran. When she re-emerged he said off-handedly, “You know that cat,” and he indicated the upturned boat on the roof of the bridge, “…is the Ariel: your grandfather’s first girl!”
She walked solemnly over to it and placed a hand on the hull. With tears in her eyes she said, “Oh John. Beside this necklace this is as close as I’ve ever been to my family!” They walked slowly off the Anna and went shopping for supplies. When they returned, John fixed up Mocha’s litter box and set out her food and water bowls. Ginger put away groceries and went below. She examined the ‘entertainment center.’
“John, there’s a tape in the video player!”
He crossed to her and looked at the unlabeled tape in her hands. “Well plug it in. Let’s see what else Alfred has left for us…”
They settled into chairs and turned it on. The screen lit up, after the static cleared, there was a face neither of them recognized. “Turn up the volume, I think she’s speaking.”
“…and so you’re settled on the Anna at last! It should come as no surprise to either of you by now that we have been looking forward to this for a long time!” Another woman appeared on the screen, both women looked to be nearly identical. “After you’ve gotten your sea legs beneath you, we truly hope you’ll follow the course Alfred put into your navigation computer. While you no doubt have many places you’ll probably want to visit…We are certainthis should be your first stop of choice. No demands, just wishful thinking on our part.” The scene cut away to show a white sand beach rimmed with palms. The water was turquoise and the camera panned the lagoon, or bay…it was hard to tell which. “Hopefully your choice for interim Captain has already been made and whoever it is will have been near these coordinates before, if not actually on this island… We wish you good wind and our best hopes for your fulfilling your dreams.” The camera bobbled and one of the women was back on the screen. “Oh yeah, Ginger, you should look in the forward cabin locker…We made sure you were properly outfitted for this adventure.” The picture dimmed but a voice called out, “They were your mother’s…”
Ginger leapt to the forward stateroom door and rushed into the cabin. John stepped to the door in time to see her pull out dresses, pants, saris, swimwear, shirts, shawls and coats and toss them onto the bed. She looked up at her husband with her eyes so full of tears she couldn’t see him. “Mama’s things…” she cooed softly and laid on the pile of clothes on the bed, then pulled a shirt over her face, sobbing.
The only question the next morning for Ginger was which of her mother’s clothes she would choose for their maiden voyage. “Mama was exactly my size!” she announced as she came up for coffee. She wore pedal pushers and a large oxford-cloth shirt opened to the waist to reveal she also wore a Catalina two-piece swimsuit beneath.
John whistled and said, “You look like a million bucks!”
“You couldn’t buy these from me for a hundred times that, Daddy Warbucks!” she answered, obviously pleased with her new acquisitions. “Okay I’m ready for lessons; where’s our Skipper?”
As if calling him by his title invoked his presence, Jimmy called out from the dock, “Permission to take the helm Sir!”
John called back, “Permission granted Captain.”
Jimmy swung his little duffle over the rail onto the deck and cast off the last mooring line. The last act before actually leaving the dock was something of a minor ceremony: “Ginger if you will please go to the nav station and bring back the leather pouch from the drawer…” She did and handed it to Jimmy. “John, Ginger, these are your colors—the Anna sails under the Swedish civil ensign, always has, always will. If you two would do the honors?” They smiled at each other and went to the mast, clipped the ensign to the pennant halyard and hoisted their colors. The breeze caught it and it unfurled—the first signal to the world that Anna was coming out of semi-retirement.
“Mr. Backhouse, if you will be so kind as to start up that outboard the way we talked about yesterday; we can get this fine old girl into more open waters.”
“Aye, aye sir!” John answered.
Jimmy turned to Ginger, “Madam Backhouse if you would pour me a mug of that good-smelling coffee, I’ll have enough energy to offer you some sailing tips today!”
Again he heard, “Aye, aye sir!” then the outboard erupted.
“Well done John. Now let’s blow this burg!” He turned the wheel just enough to clear the piers and taxi the Anna through the canals out to the lagoon. “Mrs. Ginger, would you coil the mooring lines and begin unlashing the Ariel?”
She was ecstatic. “You betcha!”
The rest of the morning and all afternoon, Jimmy gave pointers for catching the wind, trimming sails, using the tiller for more than just simple steering, and naturally all the points of sail. By that evening, even Ginger was feeling a little more confident she wouldn’t sink whatever boat she was on. “If you can master the sails of a small vessel like this cat,” Jimmy said, “Larger ships like the Anna are easy! You see, a smaller craft responds so quickly and is so light, you have to know what you’re doing to keep her from the deeps. The Anna on the other hand practically sails herself by comparison…Does that make sense?” They nodded; after the day’s practice they certainly understood what he meant about smaller vessels being more temperamental—They had provided a lot of laughs during the day for all the folks watching from their decks and houses around the lagoon.
John had supper ready by the time Ginger tied off the Ariel and climbed back aboard. “Enjoy!” he offered, “Our first meal aboard!” They ate well.
Ginger asked which cabin Jimmy would like to occupy. In lieu of a response, Jimmy pulled a hammock from his duffle and with the fluid movements that must have come from years of the repetitive motion, he strung it to the rings in the roof of the bridge. One end was secured to the forward ring, then he pulled the remainder completely through the large stern ring, doubled it back on itself and clipped it tight on the first one, as if the hammock was designed for just those rings. Ginger commented, impressed, “I bet you could do that in your sleep…”
“Yes ma’am I certainly have.” he grinned. “I’ll be fine right here until y’all get your sea legs under you and can pilot as well as me.”
John asked casually, “Can we spend a few more days practicing on the Ariel?”
Jimmy replied, “Take as long as you wish. This is: The John and Ginger Backhouse Show! Whatever schedule you’d like to keep is alright with me.”
Ginger remembered the video greeting and asked, “Jimmy do you know the island that Alfred plugged into the nav computer as a destination?”
He answered clearly, “Yes ma’am. Most everybody who sails the Caribbean has been by there once or twice…”
“So you think it will be a good maiden voyage for the Anna?” she probed.
Again without too much emotion he answered, “Mrs. Backhouse, hurricane season is mostly passed, the winds are still fresh and it’s warm down there. I like the trip, myself. But again: that is wholly up to y’all.”
The days of practice were very valuable; when the Anna left the intracoastal waterway and entered the Gulf almost a week later, her crew was far more prepared. Jimmy announced as they reached open waters, “We’ll let the Anna get used to blue water beneath her and wind in her sails at three-quarters. In a day or two we’ll give her her head and hold on tight—This girl can fly!” This allowed John and Ginger time to become more familiar with all the halyards, sheets, lines, blocks and winches required to hoist and trim sails—which was very likely the reasoning behind Jimmy’s announcement. In the meantime: daylight hours were spent learning the yacht, seeing winds and currents and poring over and reading charts. They learned the sea lanes, nautical courtesy and regulations as well as the signal flags. The latter Jimmy insisted upon, not out of malice but as standard procedure.
Four hundred miles from the Texas-Mexican coast they set course for north of Cuba to pass just south of the Florida Keys and into the Bahamas. Each evening Jimmy reviewed what was learned that day, quizzed them on terminology, technique and navigation, until the fifth day at sea as they neared the Keys. Ginger was first up as usual and Jimmy wasn’t at the helm. ‘What the…’ she thought and looked to the foredeck. There, out on the bowsprit, he was sitting with his coffee leaning back against the stay and dangling his legs. “Captain?” she called.
He waved absently, and called back, “You probably need to adjust course a few points east nor’east…there are submerged reefs coming up on this course before the day is out…”
Ginger’s mind raced and her feet followed. ‘A few points east nor’east…’ She made the minor correction, just as John came up to the bridge. “John would you trim the main; we just made a minor course correction and it appears she’s about to luff a bit.”
He responded instantly, seemingly without a thought of hesitation. Finished, he stood looking up at the full sail, now nice and taut, then he looked back to the helm. Ginger smiled, “Nicely done sir, thank you.”
John came back to the stern, “Ginger dearest? Where’s our captain?” She pointed forward where Jimmy was still straddling the bowsprit apparently napping. “I think we’re supposed to navigate the passage passed the Keys on our own…” she observed.
John was all grins, “Aye, aye skipper! First Mate Backhouse prepared for duty!”
She thought, ‘I love this guy! Let’s see…the charts said erratic shallow depths coming up fairly quickly once we pass Havana-Key West…so…we’ll make course to split the difference and keep at least sixty miles or so off the Cuban coast…’ She looked up at the GPS screen, cross-checked with the LORAN and made a correction of a few more points east nor’east. A subdued thrill of accomplishment flashed through her causing her to shiver momentarily. “Mr. Mate! Please trim the staysail and forejib, I’ll tend to the main…We’re at fifteen knots and I think we can get her up to near twenty-five before the afternoon. The forecast suggests fourteen to twenty knot winds with gusts up to twenty-five off the northeast coast of Cuba…”
John happily trimmed the foresails and sat down next to Jimmy…who was definitely not napping. “It looks like Ginger is catching on rather quickly…” he intimated.
John smiled, “You are a good teacher, sir. Thank you so much for your care during our instruction.”
Jimmy nodded, “Y’all are doing fine! I figured either of you should be ready for the helm by now…We’ll see if you can pilot the Anna as well as me yet. Ginger has responded calmly and correctly…the hardest thing to learn is to not ‘nag’ your ship with too many tiny adjustments when you don’t have to…We’ll see.”
John left the foredeck and went to the galley to start breakfast. “Bangers and biscuits sound good to you?” he called to the helm.
Ginger called back, “You betcha!” and settled into the folding stool on the helm rail. The morning passed without incident. The winds held steadily until as forecast in the afternoon they encountered some serious gusts. The Anna tacked close to the wind and used every one of them; she ate up the distance along the coast until she was able to be pointed east-southeast and maintain a constant port tack—Ginger brought her sails so tight to her course, she nearly heeled. Jimmy did come back to the bridge after mid-day, poked his head up, glanced at the binnacle to read their speed and raised an eyebrow. “Near twenty-seven knots…And she’s still got both amas in the water. Well done Madam Skipper!”
Ginger was so proud she could sing… “John would you crank up the stereo?!” He did and she sang along with the blaring guitars and bright vocals. She was bobbing and writhing to the lyrics and beat, all the while keeping a clear view of their position and course. As the sun began to slip lower behind them, Jimmy was finally feeling less like an alien youth at an old folks convention and rocked out with them. He flipped on the the ship’s lights and came out of the galley with a pitcher of margaritas. John and Ginger were delighted.
“Now this is what I call a Bahamas Bash!” Jimmy announced and raised himself up on the trapeze just thirty feet above the deck.
Ginger thought that was just too cool and had to try it. “John, would you take the helm?”
“Gladly Skipper, I relieve you!” and he swapped places with her.
She called over her shoulder as she bounded for the port trapeze, “I stand relieved…” In a few minutes she was in the harness and pulling on the halyard to raise herself up, far above the deck. She came to level with Jimmy and looked out at the late dusky sky and spreading sea. Her heart pounded, her hair flew and she felt the gentle roll of the great ship as Anna sliced through the glimmering waters of the northern Caribbean.
“Thank you, thank you, thank you Captain James! I couldn’t have dreamed that it was even possible to experience such freedom!” and she yelled to the winds ahead of them, “Here comes the Anna Virginia…”
Jimmy chuckled and replied, “Anything for family, Cousin. Anything at all!”
Ginger was taking a sip from her margarita sippy cup and almost spewed it into the air. “Did you say Cousin? Family? We’re related?!”
“You were going to find out tomorrow or the next day when we get to Crooked Island…I am James Olaf Henry Erikson, son of Carl Olaf Erikson and Ilsa Rebecca, nee Larrson—the daughter of Kaitlyn Belle Connor and your grandmother’s brother Euell Larrson. So, Cousins! Folks just have always called my ‘Jimmy’…”
“Maybe it’s the sippy cup, maybe it’s the Caribbean air, but I feel like I’ve never felt before: I have a husband who loves me. A whole new family who loves me… And why was I going to find out tomorrow or the day after anyway?”
John had heard a good bit of their chat, “Yeah, why were we going to find out soon anyway?!”
Jimmy was cautious, “They’ll kill me if I spoil their surprise! Please forget I ever said anything…And you absolutely have to be surprised!!”
Ginger reached over to him, missed him and began to swing back and forth…giggling the whole time. Jimmy caught her and steadied her trapeze. She promised, “Cuz, we won’t rat you out, but you don’t have to answer any more questions.” She called below, “We didn’t hear a thing!”
John called back up, “Hear what?!”
She turned back to Jimmy, “See! We’ll be good!”
“It’s my turn to thank you…Thank you Ginger.” He called down to the helm, “Thank you John!”
John waved back absently, he was studying the GPS and depth finder. “Uh…Guys! We are just passing over a reef area and it drops like crazy after that…”
Jimmy let himself down, hand over hand… “Pan out a bit on the GPS screen; if it’s getting that much deeper, we should be passing just north of Nurse Cay!” As he reached the helm, John could confirm his observation. Jimmy announced, “You guys really put some miles behind us today! We’re only six hours or so from Acklins Bight! I’ll make coffee; y’all will need your eyes and wits about you shortly…I’ll turn the stereo back up too. Do you mind if I make a few selections?”
“Feel free!” John replied, “You might not turn it up too loud though…” and watched Ginger hand over hand herself back to the deck.
“Wow! That was great!” she announced. Then she whispered to John, “What sort of surprise, do you suppose?”
John looked into her upturned face, “I suppose…maybe…perhaps, another boatload of family?” he tendered cautiously.
Ginger was bobbing up and down, “That’s what I thought too…Oh boy, oh boy! But we have to be surprised! Remember!” She looked up at the main and back to John, “My head’s a little light, I mean I feel light-headed. Don’t let Jimmy make the margaritas anymore. I think these were too strong!” and she swung around the binnacle, landed on her butt on the bridge steps and crawled to the sofa. “I’m just going to curl up here and take a quick nap…”
John put a blanket over her and returned to the helm. The ‘quick nap’ lasted until the next sunrise. In several hours as Jimmy had anticipated, John navigated the reefs and islets at the entrance to the Bight. As the Anna came around the last one, the bay ahead of her was glowing in the distance.
Jimmy grinned, “Well John get ready for a surprise!” They sailed into a circle of four boats: three other trimarans and one bermuda rigged sloop. Jimmy doused their sails, leaving the forejib to ease them into position among the tethered row of ships. All was quiet. It was three in the morning after all. Jimmy winked at John as he passed the helm. He pointed to each in turn, “That’s the Pebble, that’s the Ananke, there’s the Hannah Belle and of course the Tygress…” He led John over to the Pebble’s bridge and the only other person up at that hour—his other cousin, Becka Larrson.
She brightened instantly when he came in with John, and she whispered, “I saw you approach, but everyone finally just got quiet a couple hours ago…quite a party for ‘old guys’!” She was holding a swaddled baby and bottle-feeding.
Jimmy looked between them, “Who’s the runt?”
She giggled, “I was told that Viola and Portia found her while they were in Iraq as U.N. consultants with Operation Provide Comfort. She was among the wreckage in a village where the second Iraqi plane was shot down in what became two weeks later: the no-fly zone. All the people of that village are dead—thanks to both Sadam and to Desert Storm. They absolutely checked everywhere.” She looked to John, “As you might suppose, missing children is a serious subject in this family. We take nothing for granted. They even lodged a permanent notice with the consulate on the off-chance some relatives might surface. Vera and Alfred have been taking care of her.”
Jimmy stroked the little girl’s thick hair, “What’s her name?”
“Vera has named her ‘Hana Nasrin,’ that means beautiful wild rose in Kurdish,” Becka whispered as she smiled lovingly at the infant. “Here, John…” She held up Hana for John to hold. He took her into his thick arms and cooed at her—he was now in love with two females! She reached up a little hand and held his nose.
Jimmy and Becka observed, “It looks like she’s found a new play toy! Congratulations Johnny, you are now one of Hana’s bobble heads!”
The sun was just lightening the eastern sky as coffee pots and presses began rattling in galleys throughout the flotilla. Jimmy and Becka went from ship to ship letting everyone know about the slight change in plans. On the Anna, Ginger was still asleep on the sofa with her head under the blanket. A few people, sipping coffee, came quietly and carefully into the Anna’s bridge salon and stared at the lumpy blanket on the sofa. John, with Hana in his arms, was sitting at the ‘head’ of the blanket on the end of the sofa. Hana made a little squalling yelp, John raised a bottle for her and she quieted instantly. There was movement under the blanket. The back of an auburn head appeared and Ginger looked up at John—her back to the rest of the room. She blinked and looked again.
“Jonibob? That looks like a baby!” she muttered, and rose up on an elbow.
“Ginger this is Hana Nasrin, it means beautiful wild rose. Hana, this is GingerKat.” She sat up and took little Hana into her own arms—her back still to the rest of the room.
She cooed, “Hello, little rose…” Once again the infant reached up and grabbed a nose—this time Ginger’s—and wouldn’t let go.
A woman’s voice behind her across the salon said, “Now she has two bobble-head toys—quite a collector!” Ginger’s eyes widened and looked at John. He smiled and nodded slightly, then indicated the rest of the room with his eyes. Ginger turned slowly around and her mouth gaped open.
John took Hana back into his own arms as Jimmy announced, “Ginger let me introduce you to your family… This is your mother’s best friend in the world: Vera Livingson, nee Masterson.”
Vera came to Ginger’s side and whispered with tears in her eyes and a slight smile, “We’ve met before…the Tribune Building in Chicago when you were seven.” Ginger threw her arms around Vera’s neck and the family applauded and cheered. “I’m so glad to have you at last in my arms!” Vera cried and Ginger sobbed in the throes of the greatest joy she had ever known in her life!
The two women whispered together for a while and John rose to walk with Hana around the bridge. Through the windows he spied each of his family making their way to the Anna—His family! He was home at last among the dearest people in the world. He had been told all their stories, knew of their accomplishments and even recognized most of them…But they were here and now—real flesh and blood, not characters in a tale of remarkable people! When he saw Sam and Ronia he nearly collapsed. He waved them over, and met them at the companionway. Ginger’s grandparents held him tight.
Sam said, “We missed all your football games, but we’ve been as proud as we could be at all your accomplishments over the years…”
Ronia added, “You have quite a beautiful wife now, too! Please introduce us…” John walked them over to the sofa where Vera and she were sitting like school girls, holding hands and whispering to each other and giggling.
“Sam and Ronia Spelman, may I introduce my wife, your granddaughter: Virginia Kaitlyn Belle Spelman-Backhouse!” Ginger leapt up and held both of them at the same time… This reunion was just getting better and better! Ronia sat next to her on the sofa, now Ginger was surrounded by the women of her family for the first time in her life. More of their family began to come in.
Two most honored and ancient of the family came forward and stood before John and Ginger, who instantly knelt. “Get up you two! We’re not wearing our halos today…this is an informal gathering of all our family together at last!” Harry turned to the assembled, “Those who were lost, have found themselves among us at last! We are whole once more.”
Ginger gaped and said, “But you two have to be…” and her voice trailed off at the inexplicable number.
MamaKat announced, “It’s alright, dear…we know how old we are. I think everyone here knows, actually.”
Mia and Lena announced, “Mama and Papa turn one hundred…” “and twenty-five in a few months…”
Ginger recovered, but that wasn’t what was so whelming. She had just met these two people weeks before at John’s house! They didn’t look that old then and they certainly didn’t look that old now. “But, you don’t look even half that age! I don’t understand…”
Olivia, Lila, the twins and their daughters came over to her, “Care to hazard a guess at our ages?” Lila asked coyly.
Katy and Euell who did look closer to their age of around eighty cautioned, “Just take whatever you imagine and double it!” Katy smiled pleasantly at the women and clucked as she subtly shook her head, “Such show-offs…”
Harry sat down in a vacant chair next to the sofa, Vera gave Kaitlyn her seat and sat at Ginger’s feet, now she was utterly surrounded. Ginger held each woman’s hand.
MamaKat said, “I understand you and our Johnny had a whirlwind romance…Didn’t you two just meet under our very noses only a few weeks ago?”
Ginger smiled, “Yes ma’am, but from what I understand of this family’s stories, George and Belle still hold the all-time record for strangers-to-lovers in three hours flat…and they seemed to turn out alright!” There were ripples of laughter through the room at both her observation and that she knew the family’s stories so well.
John sat down next to Vera at Ginger’s feet. Alfred approached, took Vera’s hand and squatted in front of John and Ginger. He said confidentially, “Vera and I have made up our mind about this precious little girl here…” and he looked into Ginger’s eyes and then John’s. “She has your eyes!”
Vera said, “We hope that she will be happiest with you two as her parents, if you’ll have her. Alfred and I aren’t as young as we once were—how ever darling our little Hana is…”
Jimmy and Becka announced from the galley on the Pebble tethered next to the Anna, “Smorgasbord on the Pebble! We’ll load plates for the honored guests.” Jimmy added, “This once!”
The day in the open bay was idyllic. It was yet another surprise when John went below to fetch something for Vera that he noticed the date: the twenty-third of December. “Ginger!” he called, running up the steps, “It’s almost Christmas! This is our one month anniversary!” He came up to find Viola and Portia sitting with Ginger and describing the charts and diagrams beside her. In her lap was little Hana.
Portia looked over to him and smiled, “Johnny we’ll have an anniversary dinner for you two later…” and she went back to the discussion. He handed the scarf he’d fetched to Vera; she took his arm and walked with him out onto the deck.
“Johnny, you were seventeen in that orphanage when we found you at last. We had to do some serious soul-searching. We knew who you were and we could likely have convinced you. However, Papa Harry and MamaKat counseled us to wait. Can you imagine why?”
John had wondered about that, “The best that I can guess is: Knowing me at seventeen, I would have been very bitter about the whole situation, whether I was convinced or not.”
“That’s what MamaKat thought as well. Harry watched everything you did from that day forward. He knows every place you’ve been, every person you’ve known, and every single decision you’ve made along the way. You are my only nephew—my only family—it was extremely hard for me to keep ‘hands off’ and just watch and wait.” She looked up at some billowy clouds passing overhead. “Five months ago, when you decided to leave your old life and begin something completely new—as a writer—Harry finally sent word to the family to begin preparations for bringing both you and Ginger home. Ginger already knew who her real family was, but couldn’t possibly trace us—-We keep a pretty low profile. But you, you had to be approached differently. I honestly don’t know how Harry and MamaKat accomplished what they did—Their methods and abilities are so far beyond most of us it’s unfathomable.”
John interrupted, “But Olly and the twins, Viola and Portia, George, Lila, Alfie and Olivia…even Alfred…they have been trained and developed uh…certain remarkable abilities…”
Vera smiled, “True, but Harry and MamaKat have a hundred years of refinement and advancement beyond us… John you have been the recipient of a series of miracles—not the least of which, that you have actually taken up the work yourself and been a fine example for our Ginger.” She sat down in a deck chair and invited him to sit as well. “You remember the Christmas Carol by Dickens?” He nodded.
“You were visited by the last ancestors of our family. The only thing standing between them and being ultimately free of this earth was that their family was not yet whole. They were so completely identified with their family it was an impediment to their passing on. When Harry and Kat somehow enabled them to perform this one last function—training you, and telling you of your family’s roots and work—they were at last freed.”
She let that sink into John’s consciousness. “There are no more ancestors left to guide this family. The greatest achievement of all our lifetimes has been to fulfill, directly, the true role of man in the Universe! It is our proudest heritage, and our crowning glory. John, without you and Ginger that may never have happened. That’s not my opinion, that’s from Harry and Kat themselves. They said White Feathers and Belle’s parting words before they were silent forever were the very same which Harry used to announce your arrival: ‘Those who were lost, have found themselves! We are whole once more.’ You were the necessary ‘therapy’ those two venerable persons needed. When Harry and Kat decide to leave, they will not linger as all those who came before them had to do—still working out their lasting flaws—they will be gone, beyond hearing, beyond contact, and take their rightful and proper place in the ever-growing universe. There are twelve individuals right now who are this world’s brightest, shining examples of what being a human being truly means. The rest strive ever forward to raise themselves to that level. I am telling you this because, well for one: as my nephew I’ve wanted to sit and talk with you for ages. The other purpose is this: You have Harry’s watch for a reason. Ginger has ‘Papa’s pebble’ for a reason…”
John took out the little golden disk and opened it to read the inscription once more. He looked up to his Aunt Vera. “I’m sorry, I must be the densest guy within a hundred miles… Why do I have this watch and not Alfred? Why does Ginger have Papa’s pebble and not Becka?”
She looked back at him lovingly, “I’ll answer your question with another: Which is more valuable? Knowledge or Being?”
He replied by rote, “First is to know, in order to be able to be and to do…”
“Good. Now: Why is it more powerful to start from nothing and gain everything, than to have it all from birth?”
Again he promptly answered, “Because if one is merely the product of a natural occurrence, then whatever is achieved isn’t one’s own, it’s a product of nature—Only what we gain through our own countless efforts and understanding can ever be our inalienable possession. It is repeatably and objectively ours.”
All she did was smile at him. “There’s your answer, then. You and GingerKat are this family’s new tradition—of the Objective Way. Neither of you were born to it, neither of you had the external training—nor do you need it. A new day is dawning for this family. You two are our new George and Belle, you might say.” He stared back at her, the light of a dawning understanding of his and Ginger’s purpose began to smolder in his eyes. His heart was swelling and he could feel what it was to begin growing a soul—the responsibility, the obligation of humble service shouldered with grace and love.
“I think Ginger and I would like to raise Hana Nasrin properly…”
“Yes Johnny. Viola and Portia are tending to the preparations of that as we speak. She’s as sharp as her mother ever was. This won’t take as long as with many equally unprepared. You have given her a good head start.”
“Ginger and I should make a little sister for Hana.”
“Your family will welcome that, Johnny. You and Ginger will make wonderful parents.” Vera stood and walked with her nephew across to the Pebble. “Let’s make sure you know all your family really well, shall we? There are a few who are new to you I think… Did you know your mother and I were the only two daughters of Swedish immigrants? And that the Mastersons and Larrsons were both from Gotland? You and I have a lot more in common with the crew and passengers of the Pebble than just our work!”
Ginger came over to the Pebble’s salon with Viola and Portia in tow. “Johnny, guess what!” she opened. Vera grinned, and John looked up and admitted he didn’t know. “Hana is nine months old today—on our first anniversary!” Viola and Portia were nodding confirmation behind her. “She can roll over and even sit for a moment or two without falling sideways!”
“Uh…That’s wonderful? Isn’t that normal for a baby at nine months?” John had to reply…he didn’t see where this was going evidently.
Ginger rolled her eyes, “But she’s not just any baby! She’s our little girl…” She held Hana up in front of her and began talking to her. “…and she’s the smartest, and most beautiful, and healthiest, and…”
John interrupted, “Sweetheart?”
Ginger moved Hana to her hip, “Yes, my love!”
“Do you know anything about raising a child?” His face looked as if he expected to be hit with a cream pie any moment.
Ginger thought, ‘A hell of a lot more than you think, and I’ve got the best mothers in the world right here to turn to for anything…’ Aloud she said, “Not yet…but I’m a fast learner!” ‘I am so nice to my adorable Jonibob…’ She looked across to Vera, Mia and Lena. “What do you say ladies? Ready to answer my every question?” They bowed. “There: Settled. Next question please…”
John took a deep breath, “GingerKat, I think we should make sure Hana has backup…As it stands now: it’s two against one—-that doesn’t seem hardly fair to her does it?”
Ginger began repeating what she’d just heard, and the realization of what he was suggesting broke on her like a wave. “Johnny, my wonderful man…” and she turned to the remarkable women around her. “Do one of you want to tell him or shall I?”
MamaKat replied, “It really should come from you, dearest.”
Ginger went up closer to John. “You have already seen to Hana’s backup dearest. That’s why Viola and Portia are giving me the crash course in ‘How to be a Livingson.’ Hana and her little sister deserve all we can give them…Don’t you think?”
John looked stunned, “Little sister? I’m the father of two girls? And we’ve only been married a month? And six months ago I’d never heard of the Livingsons? And…”
Ginger passed Hana to her father whispering, “You’ll get used to Papa, he’s a great man…Really…He just has these spells…That’s how GingerKat caught him!”
She turned to the buffet, “What is everyone else going to eat?” and she began to load her plate. She muttered, “Ooh, I don’t like that—I’ll take three. I can’t stand that—I’ll take four…”
Viola whispered to John, “She’s taking ‘Like what it does not like’ to a new level. That’s one fine woman there!”
The men walked with John to the Ananke’s bridge. Harry stayed with the women. The Larrsons and Eriksons wanted to know if John would bring his family to Gotland for an extended visit. The Livingsons assured him they were also planning a trip there.
Oliver added, “Jimmy has a start-up computer company for which he has to show up at the office…sometimes. I can’t say that I know all of the details. Becka has interests of a pressing nature she is anxious to return and pursue. Viola and Portia just love Sweden—more than any other place on earth I think. That goes for their mothers as well.”
John answered tactfully, “We hadn’t given any thought to travels beyond this. Ginger and I are still really inexperienced sailors, and are just learning the ropes of our relationship…”
Oliver supplied, “I think Viola and Portia are your new crew…You really didn’t stand a chance in that matter…” As an afterthought he added, “You’re aware that I know precisely how you feel?” John smiled and nodded.
Euell and Sam offered, “What you and Ginger should be doing then, while we have this wonderfully protected bay all around us, is to get out on the cats and see what a sailboat can really do!” “I’m sure Jimmy and Becka will love having you two to beat up on…They have been the ones beaten by their elders up until now at least!” Carl and Nils confided, “We all grew up on the sea too, you see.” “There’s no better way to develop communication and trust between each other than to crew a boat together under extreme circumstances…”
A while later everyone gathered in deck chairs on the foredecks of the ships. Harry and Kaitlyn were in the middle. They rose, turned and addressed the family. “A new day has begun to dawn on our little family. Once there was the insistence upon a training from birth leading to the external expression of that knowledge in a physical way. Our last ancestors have left; their parting gift to us was the culmination of all they intended for us—a wholly objective path to fulfilling our birthright as human beings.” “We have been the faithful and humble stewards of this tradition. There can no longer be any doubt of the efficacy and practicable nature of our endeavors. These here are testament to that reality. We have seen the light of true knowledge kindled and burn bright in the hearts and minds of those with whom we have shared this work. It is time at last to pass the torch on to new bearers that they may carry it into this new age of our work.” They held each others hands, and smiled on their family one last time.
“Farewell. Make great efforts,” and they turned their backs to the assembly and took a step towards the prow of the ship. The evening light was dimming, but they grew brighter with each step. When they reached the bowsprit they simply turned into pure light and sailed out over the water, climbing higher and higher into the sky. Like meteors, they shot off above the last rays of the orange tinged clouds cloaking the western horizon. They were gone.
John held Ginger’s hand, she held Hana in her lap, and their tears ran down their cheeks unbridled. The rest of the company was looking at them expectantly. Ginger noticed first and asked, “We’re surely not the only ones who just saw the passing of the two greatest teachers in the world.” While nodding heads looked back to her, she thought, ‘Why are they looking at us? I see the gleam of tears in others’ eyes. John and I aren’t the only ones touched and awed at the spectacle…’ She whispered to John, “Why are they staring at us?”
Vera smiled kindly and answered, “Sweetheart, we’re trying to etch this sight into our hearts, minds and souls. As Harry and Kat just pointed out so dramatically, the torch has been passed, and we here are the only witnesses.”
Oliver made it a little clearer, “White Feathers alone was witness to the union of George and Belle—who began the tradition of which we have all been the beneficiaries.”
Lena said, “This time around, counting that little bundle you are carrying, now there are twenty-three witnesses.”
Mia concluded, “Johnny, GingerKat, you are this family’s new tradition—of the Objective Way. Neither of you were born to it, neither of you had the external training—nor do you actually need it. A new day has just dawned for this family—you are this age’s George and Belle…We are savoring the moment.”
They all rose then and bowed to the Backhouses, then by ones and twos they went back to their cabins for the night. When only John and GingerKat were left sitting together on the prow of their own ship, John said, “That’s just what Auntie Vera told me while you were talking with Viola and Portia earlier…”
Ginger still hadn’t sorted out the significance of what just happened and said so. “…Are they suggesting that we are the…” she searched for the words. “That we are filling the shoes of Harry and MamaKat? Of George and Belle before them? Johnny, we’re just getting used to being married! And now being parents to our little Hana! I don’t think we’re ready to lead this entire extraordinary family! Aren’t Oliver and the twins the eldest—they’re certainly the best qualified!”
John sat listening and nodding to Ginger’s very well made arguments. When she finished he laughed and asked, “Do you know why the great blue whale—the largest animal that lives on the earth, perhaps that has ever lived—has a throat that cannot swallow an object wider than a beach ball?”
She looked sideways at him, “No I haven’t the foggiest idea why!”
“Because it just is!” he replied. “Your arguments are sound, your trepidation is well-founded. I’ve no doubt that if George and Belle knew what lay in store for them the moment they met, or rather had their first-born: Harry; they would probably would have felt just as you and I do right now. GingerKat, it’s just like you told me earlier: we’ve got the best teachers in the world right here ready to answer any question at all, anything, anytime…”
She sighed, “This family doesn’t beat around the bush, nor waste time…”
It was John’s turn to give his wife a sideways look of incredulity. She caught his expression then realized how very much they really were Livingsons after all! She laughed with him, “Okay, okay! We were confirmed single strangers before thirty-four days ago. It’s our one month anniversary, we are pregnant, on our own elegant trimaran in the Caribbean, we are multi-millionaires, have an adorable adopted daughter, and to top it off we have just been dubbed torch-bearers for the most remarkable family anyone’s never heard of…Does that about cover it?”
John added, “Just one more thing…” She couldn’t guess what else she’d missed, he whispered, “I love you!” She melted.
“Let’s put Hana to bed,” she cooed.
“Right behind you…” he replied.