“Oh, when I was a little boy, or so my mother told me,
Way haul away, we’ll haul away Joe,
That if I did not kiss the girls, my lips would grow all moldy,
Way haul away, we’ll haul away Joe.”
My best friend Stan taught me that song. He’s got an uncle who sings sea shanties down at the Dogfish Bar. I’m not big into group activities, but shanties can be kinda fun. There are a lot of long bearded men with potbellies and sandals, and a rubbery guy with a fiddle. If you don’t know the words, you can always bang your mug on the table.
Stan is what I’d call a schooner geek. He’s seen every documentary on old naval battles and read every sailing book on the planet. He’s even got his bedroom rigged up like a cabin, with ship models in glass cases and a hammock instead of a bed.
Stan says that sea shanties were working songs. You only sang ‘em when you were weighing anchor or setting sail or tacking.
I’m telling you this so you’ll know how Haul About Point got its name. Because it sticks out on the north of Cape Mary, old sailing ships had to tack to get around it. And when they got round far enough, the wind would fill out the sail on the other side. Stan drew lots of diagrams to show me how it worked.
Only before you get to Haul About, you have to pass Folly Cove. That’s the place where Pepper was planning to hold her birthday party. Though it was way too early for dinner, a couple of guys had already started wrestling with tables above the tideline. It struck me that I might be able to get a free lobster if I timed my return trip right.
Hopefully a hot lobster. Not that I was worried about the weather, but the grey clouds I’d seen over New Hampshire were spreading out. It was gonna get a bit chilly.
Still, I had a plan. You see, stripers round these parts actually like the sea kinda choppy. It’s got something to do with low bar-o-metric pressure and the pull of the water. Apparently, storms make ‘em peckish.
So what I was figuring to do was take the Rita Anne to a little inlet I knew round the east side of the Point. That’s where the baitfish like to hole up when things get rough. And where there are baitfish, there are bound to be stripers.
I gave the outboard a little prod and we headed north. Past Folly Cove, then the woods, then the empty house that Da likes to tell everyone is where Mickey the Gangster is hiding out from the cops. Then the grout pile, where the granite quarrymen dumped all the stone they didn’t want, and then the fire control tower.
I’ve got a soft spot for that fire control tower. It’s sixty feet tall and looks just like an honest-to-God lighthouse. Granddad says it was built in World War II, to protect the coast from invading Nazis.
Back when I was a kid, Mom used to take me there on summer mornings. While she was doing her tai chi, I’d climb to the top of the tower and talk to Captain Oates.
Captain Oates was this ancient soldier who refused to believe that World War II was over. He’d received no direct orders to stand down, he said, so he was gonna stay at his post until he did.
After fifty years of hanging out in the tower, Oates was pretty gross—I mean, his hair was as long as Rapunzel’s and his fingernails curled up under his palms—but I liked him just the same.
He taught me how to identify enemy war craft: U-530 submarines, Messerschmitt Me 210s, Mosquito night fighters, that kinda thing.
I’d bring him mints and he’d share some of his Spam in a can. He told me about his girl back in Oklahoma. Her name was Ida Sue and he was hoping to get married to her when he got out of the war. I didn’t want to tell him that Ida Sue was probably one hundred and five by now.
As you might expect, I also consulted Captain Oates on my family sit-u-ation. After all, I had a war hero at my side. You can’t get a better advisor than that.
“How often are they fighting now?” he asked me.
“Once or twice every day.”
“Skirmishes or all-out assaults?”
“Hard to tell.”
Captain Oates tapped one of his curlicue fingernails against his teeth.
“Have you attempted negotiations?”
“We were gonna have a family conference over pizza, but Da got called to an emergency job on a house and Mom decided to spend a day in meditation.”
“I got to eat the pizza.”
Captain Oates nodded.
“Sometimes, when battling parties will not come to terms, a little subterfuge is necessary.”
“I’ve got to trick them into loving each other?”
“Not precisely. Instead, I’d remind them of the advantages of a long-term alliance. Shared assets. Things they hold in common. Peace is much cheaper than war.”
At the time that I was talking to Oates, the only shared asset I could think of was our house, which wasn’t exactly the Taj Mahal. And Mom was always complaining that she wanted to live in a place where the toilets worked.
But seeing the fire control tower again got me back to thinking about my plans for Kramer’s Beach. And you know what? I was wrong. Mom and Da still had one really important thing in common. And it wasn’t the house or the ocean or their memories.
It was me.
That’s how I was gonna reel Mom in! It was so simple. I’d put her on that beach with Da and Granddad and myself and tell her she was part of a family. After all, a family isn’t something you can toss in the chum bucket or break apart like a sheet of ice. A family sticks together, no matter what.
This rev-e-lation was enough to make a grown man smile. Since I hadn’t seen Captain Oates for a long time, I was sure he was home and dry with Ida Sue by now. But on the off chance that he was still up there, I gave the tower a huge wave of thanks as the Rita Anne went past.
We were now at what Da calls the Jackpot, a smallish in-den-tation on the northeast face of the Point. Here you can sink your anchor in a space tucked between two thumbs of granite and scrub.
Which is just what I did.
Then I cut the engine.
Then I got out my rod and the best of my bait.
Then, finally, I set to fishing.