Writers often speak of the influence in one’s life in living near one of nature’s phenomena, a forest, a mountain or a plain. Ours is our creek and river shore, ever-changing, never changing. Over the years many happenings have occurred there.
I remember back before WWII when I was using my two young Belgian horses to cultivate a corn field along the shore.
I had them hitched to a new sulky cultivator and we were doing a good job. The fenders were set just right and the worked earth was slipping nicely under them and covering the small grass and weeds.
I was proud of my team, I had broken them myself. They reminded me of two big teddy bears, gentle but powerful. At the end of the field I glanced out to the river. I could not believe my eyes for there was the biggest battleship I had ever seen. She was swinging at anchor in the channel a short distance above the mouth.
I thought she must be the new ship that had been a building at Norfolk. She proved to be, and was named the “South Dakota.” I noticed at once that she was not like the WWI battleship since her bow flared upwards like a cruiser’s. Just seeing her there made me feel proud. Soon things would rapidly change.
It would not be long before that huge dread-naught would no longer be peacefully at anchor with her great 16 inch guns unfired but be in the midst of the greatest war in history. I, too, no longer be guiding my colts around in a cornfield but would be in the midst of the strife, wearing naval insignia.
Some years later I would be back again on my farm. I would have several children and they too would be influenced by the shore.
I remember one day when it was said “someone pulled the plug in the Chesapeake Bay.” The wind had been blowing for several days, pushing water out of the Virginia Capes. The tide fell lower and lower. It was wintertime and very cold. My youngest girl, in her early teens, said “Dad, let’s go down to the river and dig some mannose.”
Mother, my daughter, my littlest boy and I were all for it. Soon the tractor and cart were ready, shovels, buckets and baskets were piled on. Dressed warmly we made for the beach. We rode right out on the sand and stopped where we knew the mannoses were. There was no water, where it usually flowed; the wind had blown it all out. We searched for the little air holes that told us the clams were beneath. We dug quickly and the clams fell into the holes.
The strong wind lashed at us and we took turns resting behind a sand ridge on the bank. In no time, we had over a bushel of those luscious clams. What a feast! Mother fixed them in every conceivable way. We had succulent steamed ones, dipped in hot butter and spices. Some were fried. Best of all was the Mannoses soup, a real Maryland Clam Chowder, rich and nourishing. Our good friend John Garner used to say mannose soup just made you feel warm and happy inside.
One winter I got a small used gill net from Mr. Forrest at Ridge. Early that spring, I set it off shore, close to where I could drive my car. Each morning, I would rise early and take a large bath towel with me, undressing in the car; I’d wade out and fish the net. Usually I would get four or five rock fish, each about three pounds. One day when I arrived, my old net was torn to pieces, holes all through it. A school of large fish must have been the culprit. I was not really too disappointed. I was a little tired of my morning coldwater bath.
Some years back there was a great amount of sea grass in the shallow waters at the upper end of our shore. At the right tide, one could dip a basket of crabs in no time. The children could easily fill a big plastic trashcan full and have to quickly bring it up to the house so the bottom ones wouldn’t suffocate. Out usual method of crabbing was using a trotline in our creek. We had a private oyster bar there, which we planted and where we harvested our oysters. All in all we made good use of the bounty of the sea.
Our shore is uninhabited and wild and we do have unusual happenings there. One day we heard that some poor man had been lost in a small boat at Pt. Lookout. His skiff was found washed up on the Bay shore, but he was missing. Some days later on, some of our children were walking our beach, some three and a half miles above the Point.
My youngest son, four years old, ran ahead of his brothers and sisters then came rushing back, yelling, “There’s a dead man on the beach.” The others took a quick look and raced for home. We could hear them calling as they approached the house and feared something terrible had happened to them. The sheriff was notified and after his investigation, called the undertaker.
Two of my high-school boys went down with them and helped roll the body into a plastic sheet and put it on a stretcher. Not being used to such a job, they got the back end of the load to carry. The undertaker gave them five dollars for their help, but they vowed, never again to be inveigled into such a task. Some of us worried that this affair might affect the four year old tender of the body, but we were reassured to hear him the next morning imploring his sister, “Let’s go down to the beach and hunt for another dead man.”
On a fall morning a few years ago, there was a knock at our back door. There stood a scarecrow of a man, bearded, disheveled and wearing a well-worn slicker. He said, “I have my boat on your shore. I’m looking for a store.” We were glad to point our Buzzy’s Country Store at the end of our lane. Returning later, he asked for permission to sleep on the beach. It was cold and rainy out. We didn’t think much of this and suggested he go up the river to Wynne where he could get some conveniences. He told us he as in a canoe with a sail and started at the South Branch of the Potomac and had got to Point Lookout but the waves were so high his canoe was swamped. My wife felt sorry for him but didn’t relish feeding him in the house. She packed a bag with meat, bread, eggs and fruit and a jar of hot coffee and off he went.
I believe he was somewhat similar to the poor wretch had been washed up on our shore, lacking something in as the kids say “The upper-story.”
A few days later, I ran into Captain Bruce Scheible and asked if had seen any such character over at Wynne. He asked, “Fred, you mean that ‘bag of dirt?” Yes I saw him. He used my phone and the next day an elderly couple in a Cadillac appeared. They rented a room in my motel and soon he was in there with them. Next morning, at first light, I heard some banging near our trash dumpster. The elderly gentleman and a now somewhat cleaned up man were busy, breaking up the canoe with an axe and depositing the debris in the dumpster. When the elderly man checked out, I asked him, “Is this something like the Prodigal son, and he sadly nodded his grey head.”
One Christmas we had taken the children up to their aunts to have Christmas dinner and to see what Santa Claus brought them at GlemCoy in Prince George’s County. It was a bitter cold evening and we were driving a Jeep station wagon with no heater. One of the aunts filled a large milk can with hot water and covered it with an old comforter. The children lay on pillows and cowered around this and kept warm on their way home.
We arrived well after dark and, of course, they were all asleep when we got to the farm and we carried them in one at a time. I kept hearing gun shots from the beach and thought someone was into geese there, but then I heard calls of distress, maybe a mile off. The ground was frozen hard, so I drove the Jeep down over the fields to the water.
I heard voices coming from a duck blind off-the shore in the river. They called that their boat was washed from them. I didn’t see any boat. They then shouted for me to call Roache Clarke’s Bar and get somebody to pick them up. Roache was glad to hear from me for there at his place were two ladies anxiously searching for their husbands, but he didn’t name them. Evidently he got in touch with Scheible’s and the stranded hunters were rescued by a party boat. Several weeks later, someone informed me that they were talking to Mr. So and So and he said he would never forget what I had done for them, since neither of them could swim, and the waves were getting higher and higher and they had used up all their shotgun shells and all of their Christmas spirits.
One winter, the river froze up all the way to the channel and the wind piled ice cakes one on top of the other and blew them ashore. Some piles of ice were over ten feet high. The children were delighted with the crystal blocks, glistening in the sun and decided to explore the shoreline. They walked way out on the ice and of course one had to fall in. She was able to scramble out and roll on the ice and reach her sister’s outstretched hand. The northwest wind was blowing and it was well below freezing. The oldest girl had her take off all her clothes immediately and gave her some of her own outer garments. They jogged over a mile to the house. I scolded the one who ventured out too far and fell in, and praised the common sense of her sister, who kept her warm and probably saved her from pneumonia.
I could write of many more instances when someone of ours had helped folks stranded on the shore and of the boys hunting and trapping experiences, but this is sufficient.
Now our children are grown and all have homes of their won. When they come to visit, they put their luggage in the front hall, leave their spouses and children to get settled and are off to the haunts of their childhood along the water edges of our tidewater creek and river.