THE MIGHTY MYRTLE- IRENE. From Godfrey

He was an odd young man who disliked beets, Godfrey- my friend of 28 years..this is his story.  Summer times, when we journeyed to our lake side cabin with Godfrey along, we always stopped for ice-cream in a coastal, hamlet, little more than fuel pump, cafe and harbor.  

       To the east were the blue sillouttes of small, scattered gulf islands. “Tridentata” was the largest, rocky, narrow, desecrated by logging 80 years before, a haven for hermits, and “back to the landers”, “Dirty Hippies”, we were told when Godfrey asked, I knew he was drawn to such islands…and dubious boat rides, I feared never seeing him again when I dropped him off at the ferry boat- The Myrtle- Irene…

Oft in travels, I have sought wisdom, sought the good in folks I have met, and in places been. I did my best, but was sorely pressed, to find wisdom aboard the mighty Myrtle-Irene.

There is a tune I learned long ago, from a rider of boxcar and crosser of sea. Played the banjo did she. Nary a province this girl had not been, we met one summer morning on the Myrtle-Irene.

19 treacherous miles oer the Salish Sea, lies a mysterious island, avoided by polite society, her mud flats and high, stony hillsides intrigued me. The ferry Myrtle- Irene lay alongside the dock, in sketchy gray patches of paint stains and rust.  No low rumble or engine’s roar the good captain passed out on the wheelhouse floor, had left his ship in a young hippie’s trust,” no worries said he”, donning jacket and cap- this has happened many times before”….

Two milk cows were loaded on the sloping top deck, brave travelers the level below. Up in the bow , away from all chaos, a hobo girl sat alone plucking her banjo. I noticed that those in the know, seemed to know where to gather …along the rail on the leeward side, staked out space in a solid row.

A light in the sky above far Tridentata!, and promise of a fine summers day. The Myrtle-Irene set off with a belch and lurch, only knocking two fish boats out of her way.

The Mighty Myrtle- Irene had a list to port, and now I knew why no one leaned on the  rail, when the cattle above did what nervous cows do.. the Myrtle- Irene fair got her name from a pioneer woman ran sheep. With a “nere do well” husband, uncountable number of children and homestead to keep.

On moonlit nights folks heard Myrtle singing, bent digging clams down Spinster Bay, she carried deer home over strong shoulders, and oysters by damp heavy sack, she passed into legend way some 100 years back.

Captain Querus Slape ,  chap with odd sense of humor, named his ship with affection for her. All his years the filthy old character drank, the mighty Myrtle- Irene never grounded or sank. Above the door of Slape’s private cabin hangs a portrait of The Queen, another of the dog he owned at age four, and a faded photo of old Myrtle Irene.

In scant twenty minutes the break water cleared, the captain snoring, intoxicated, I noticed a chart, spattered with stains, older than me and quaintly outdated. yet oddly, I trusted the Myrtle- Irene, good ship in her day, up the greasy old bow I slid, to hear the hobo girl with the banjo play.

The sea this morning was a platinum platter, on a bountious seagull buffet, the gentle banjo roll, in time with ferry’s sway. The dented Myrtle- Irene rode sturdy and bold, though something clanked and rumbling- thunking came from deep below in a hold.

“I inquired as to the toilet”, wrote Godfrey. An alcove with bucket an hose for use of the “Gent”. Somewhere in the bilge, formed a line up of lady’s, I assumed that is where lady’s went.

Now the Myrtle Irene lies along side the dock, no longer chugs from island to main. Said Querus Slape- “Were no longer the 70’s, and someone was bound to complain”. For the captain, retirement years were unkind, his wife ran off, his trailer flooded with sewage, he shot himself by accident in the behind.

Replaced by a shiny, new ferry boat, it carries both cattle and car, with a toilet and captain at the helm, not once has she been found passed out, or dragged unfit to sail from the bar. And what of the girl with the banjo? Did she settle on Tridentata or roam as a hobo? ..”As I wandered the island, recalled Godfrey, “I listened in vain for to hear her play, for folk songs carry well on the wind, and a banjo will resonate quite some distance away”.

“He was an odd young man who disliked beets”, the island residents wrote of Godfrey- that’s all. “He sought wisdom, we were sad to see him go, when the first snows came that fall”. No beets grew on rugged Tridentata, none in the only shop to be seen, Godfrey stood on the stern waving, kilt to the storm- when he left on The Mighty Myrtle Irene.

His was a primitive, fearless joy that Godfrey never thought would be lost or undermined by age- I oft have to remind my self, how food tastes best cooked over a beach fire, and that since age 11- Godfrey asked himself upon waking- “What is good about today”He always found at least three things…From Worzel.

HE WROTE A SEA SHANTY- For Sandy

She was a Coleopterist..indeed, I pondered, how Godfrey would enjoy this mornings obituaries, which in his passing I adopted his hobby of reading. “Where ere I wander, said long ago Godfrey, I can find a paper with an obituary.”The life stories, the pathos, the love, and adventure, to the obits to learn I turn”

Yet oddly, he sat quiet, over the paper this summer morning, had not touched his “Sandwish, four types of toast, rye on top, layered with marmalade, was idly stirring his tea, which Godfrey never did, considering it bad luck. “I knew this chap in the obits, he nodded to me, briefly, long ago, he was a scholar and a hippie..

Since Godfrey could remember, he listened for the singing from dockside pubs, and songs of fishers calling cross the harbor. A boyhood dreaming of long journeys by sea, thus gleaning the wisdom he could weave one day, into a shanty.

So he waited, waited patiently, for the words to come to him with the tide. Godfrey did make that long, sea journey, and met the young Sandy while hitching a ride. “Was a Volkswagen Van stopped, space was made for me, all long haired chaps named Pete, Pat, Jack and Sandy, there was more than one Sandy and each one was a hippie”.

On a gulf island road, passing hay fields  hot and dusty, in the Volkswagen Van was crammed the vagabond Godfrey, there were apple trees laden, for it was late summer, cedar split rail fences silver with age. “We stopped for chips, so good and greasy, in the islands only small village”.

Every passing person who waved was a hippie, perhaps on this island I would find my sea shanty?

Godfrey notes…”On my right hind leg, just above the tattoo, is a ragged scar I once showed you. Nicked it deep on the door of the van, piling out end of the ride, only the tattoo artist asked the scars story, I told her the old tale of a great group of hippies, three of which were named Sandy”

Twas the week an old chap name of “Nixon” resigned,  allover the news were words “Liar” and “Crook”, free from such rubbish we camped on a wide bay, potatoes and porridge to cook. “I recall the damp morning, the chipped cup of instant coffee, bitter and smoky from a can, sitting on a log, talking with this kindly lad- Sandy, who drove the old Volkswagen Van.

“From a foothills town I learned came he, drifted out west, a scholar and a hippie. He encouraged me that I ,Godfrey ,could write that sea shanty.

Feel the warm, oily deck neath bare feet, convey in words the fear of swells higher than our mast”. Dodge squalls, wonder how long the run of fair seas will last”. Sing of picking weevils from the flour, eating old, cold cod tongues and rancid “Burgoo”. Smell the Tea-Tree as we fetch exotic lands, no home to long for or  return to…

Much as I glean from your obituary, twas was a good life, and peace be the rest of the journey, old friend from so long ago,Sandy.

Up a narrow island road, shadows still pass in that late summer sun, and through the split glass window of a Volkswagen Van

Dented, old, will barely hit sixty, none of that matters in Godfrey’s memory

driven by a young hippie, no, they are not all past and gone..

In the obit photo is no trace of youth used to be..clean shaven, professional, dressed rather tidy, posed neath an oak tree.

“I knew him briefly, we talked of scars, August shooting stars, and that Nixon, the summer I set out to pen a shanty …..

HERE’S A CANDLE- From Worzel

Godfrey was ill..He called it “FLUX O” BILE”. He was curled up in my turquoise chair, unhappy. Lest it be perceived that in telling his story, I have elevated Godfrey to sainthood- it was his own fault. Alone all day , he made a pan of vanilla fudge, promising to save me half, he then ate the whole pan, made another one, ate half of it so I
would not be cross…It happened that day, in the post came a letter from his sister, Alice, who wrote every three years on her birthday. He read the letter to me.

Drear Brother- I awoke to Ma and Arthur bickering   over the sink in the loo, four sets of teeth were soaking where the night before soaked only two. It is fun to play “Whose teeth belong to who.” Though retirement is sheer enjoyment I have had to seek employment in the distant village of Tuckware, Unlike Skibbereen, few persons know me there.

I remain a curmudgeon, a clerk in Klapp’s Shoe Warehouse and Repair.   “I bring a smelly lunch daily in the same greasy sack, plugged up the employee toilet in the back, made a mess out of the new stock, purloined someone named “Gloria’s”  name-tag and smock, I bring dust from home to waft over the shelves, gossip out loud while the customers help them selves, switched lids on the polish so the black you buy is white, and drive home still
a curmudgeon to Ma and Arthur every night.

Happy Birthday to me- From Alice..Unrepentant wee thing, Godfrey moaned, folding the letter, “I told him here is a story, may help you to feel better.
“Twas early days, I was new to the city, needed “sensible shoes” for my job in the library, a shop refused my business on grounds “I was a Hippie” Garnet Odd, we had recently just met was with me, our jeans were faded, I wore an old shirt of yours that I treasured, old boots were decent, ready to be judged for size and measured.

“I feel about shoes as you do the beet, never liked anyone kneeling at my feet.” “As we entered the shoe store, a wizened, scowling clerk was telling of the liver-burger, served on a bun the night before, the second rude clerk in cardigan-skirt ignored us as if we were not there, a third appeared out of nowhere, muttering loudly about Garnet’s long hair.

Behind a loafers display she lurked, shook skinny finger at me, and gasped exasperated, “Not another scruffy Hippie”…
“My goodness, Worzel, Godfrey cried, Alice is a prankster, always has been, but never oh so mean, do go on”. “In shock then I looked about, realized my Garnet Odd was gone..but not for long, from the shop next door he trotted, candle in hand, rainbow layers of wax, set in sand, the style of the day.

“He held the candle out to the nasty first clerk- “Here’s a candle, he spoke soft- may it help light your way, also good to heat baked beans, warm heart and hands on, a gift from a hippie, here’s a candle”.
The second rude clerk retreated to the phone, presumably to call the law, the third, clearly a curmudgeon almost smiled, I could tell by the telltale twitch in her jaw. “We left her holding the sand candle, laughed about it end of the day, I did not buy shoes, and it mattered very little anyway.”
“Perhaps, Godfrey thought, that in a stuffy shop, hemmed in by rubber and genuine cowhide, of liver burger dinner, and fading sales, joy had been shelved dusty, off to one side”. “I hope the message cast in sand was one at least the third rude clerk could understand. “Judge me not by my hair and old plaid shirt, I came seeking shoes, and your profound rudeness rather hurt”
Garnet later told me when alone, “It is not the memory of the candles Mum lit in our mountain cabin window, not of sunrise after heavy snowfalls, or its glow on sandstone canyon walls” “And over our long years together, when life has bumped or hurt me, I am reminded of the many candles he has held out, bold before others, or in quiet time privately, Here’s a candle..he would tell me. (For Ginger and Lonewolf)

BENTLEY SHLUNDER TELLS HIS STORY- In a letter to Worzel

The summer of poetic infamy, it came to be known over the years, as his legend was formed. Godfrey never set out to “Create A Nuisance”, it was the summer before I met him, he had landed in Canada after a long sea voyage, and wanted to sit in the shade and talk..so he did. Mr Bentley Shlunder surprised me with his account of the events.

We knew each other briefly, and so long ago, but I never forgot him. I will not glorify the memory, or say in some large way it changed my life, was an inspiring or profound experience. I am thankful for the wisdom though, I carried home end of that long ,hot summer to Paducah, from Godfrey I learned to see life lived from both sides of the fence.

I recall that he disliked beets, set up a table neath a tree in a park, with a sign inviting anyone to sit and talk for free. My Auntie Harriet Bridges-Shlunder was owner of the tree that so much talking took place under.

Down beyond the yard across the fence, she complained that “The poetry I hear all day is utter nonsense” They have a table in the shade, and oh the music they have made!! There’s a kettle boiling on the fire, there is laughter, there is Scrabble being played.

I was only twelve that year, to Worzel wrote Bentley the nephew, I had just discovered music and was forming my own world view. I’d be packed home to Paducah in a heartbeat if Auntie only knew, that there was poetry inside me and I disliked beets to.

It was never a large group, never rowdy or loud. All ages I recall, Aunt Harriet considered them an “Unsavory Crowd”..A grizzeled Wino sat beneath the tree, and a girl not much older than me sprawled on the grass creating art. A hippie couple dispensed free hugs, a public display of affection muttered Auntie, there was a shabby old woman, her belongings in a cart..there was the odd young man, Godfrey.

He sat playing Scrabble, chin in hand, sun bleached hair long, tied back with a plaid band. He plays intently with “The Free Advice Wino”, Larry, focused on the word he has just spelled- BEEFLY- “use it in a sentence I hear Larry laugh. “Beefly, the cow paused in thought on the zig of her cow path”. Proudly read Godfrey.

Nobody missed me when I climbed over the fence, and crossed the cool, wet grass on bare feet to talk with the vagabond Godfrey…Aunt Harriet left a strip of pure white down one side of her acutely dyed red hair, she could, if she wished to, appear quite tall, not truly mean, she did have a pinched tight, when annoyed, Persian Cat glare.

Godfrey called over the fence to her, the tree is rooted your side of a fence, but on the shady side we have music and dance. “Will you join us for talk and tea? I am cooking Haggis tonight, my old Ma”s recipe. I stayed late at the table, they shared dinner with me, was at dawn the cops came, they took Godfrey away, ending the summer of poetry and song.

Beyond the smoke that rose and swirled, the last song that I heard was one of hope and courage for a tattered world. Yes I was very young, and was packed home to Paducah, I remember the big old house though, two blocks from the sea, recall the sweetness of the homemade popcicles Aunty made for me. And I remember to an odd young man, he disliked beets, sitting at his table neath the shade tree.