Two for the price of one..

Tonight you get two posts.  Here is the new story that I have been hinting about. Thanks for reading..

 

The Story of Pelican Pete

The blinding white light from the spotlight illuminated the center of the stage. It was just me and the microphone. I cupped my hand over my eyes and looked to my left where the story master was sitting, just off stage. He mouthed, “You’re on, kid” in a wordless voice that only I could see. So it begins…

     “Do you believe in reincarnation?”  I asked of no one and of everyone at the same time. As I looked around at the assembled group, I hoped that I had not just blown my chance to tell my story and maybe get a seat at the big table for the rest of the year. I was the youngest of the group and this was my first time telling a story. I had been watching and listening to the men (and some women) tell their stories for the last five years. I had never before had the courage to get up and throw my hat in the ring.

     Not until tonight, that is. Why tonight? I guess I would have to blame my late grandmother’s ghost. To think that I am standing in front of this group, ready to pitch a story about reincarnation, and I am thinking about my grandmother.  She told me the story, so I am going to give credit where credit is due.

     “Ladies and gentleman,” I began, “this story is about my grandfather, Pete (Pelican Pete) McDougal. He was a fisherman by trade in his early years and a bartender in his later years.  He and his wife had three children, all boys. The children are all alive to this day, each of them in their 90’s.”  A murmur rose through the crowd at the mentioning of my uncle’s ages. Most people in these times were lucky to make it past 55 years of age. 

     As I looked around at the assembled faces once again, my heart was racing, I was really doing it!  I remembered the words that my grandmother had told me about public speaking or performing in public. She said to smile, pick someone in the crowd and tell them the story as if the rest of the room was empty.  I looked in the back of the room for the toughest looking person I could find. If I could sell them the story, the whole room would be mine.

    “Get on with the story, boy! Or sit down if you can’t figure your words out”, shouted the toughest looking guy in the room.  I nodded my head and replied in a low voice, “the story I am about to tell you is true, my grandmother lived this story.”

    Back in the 1980’s my grandfather Pete took to fishing for a living. He enjoyed the outdoors and working with his hands. He had a smile on his face and a good morning for everyone he met each day. He started out working on a long line boat catching tuna and swordfish.  He used to tell stories of the largest swordfish caught in 1982. The fish was twelve feet long and weight nearly 1000 lbs. That fish held the commercial fishing record until 2010 when another boat caught a bigger one.

     My grandfather got the nickname “Pelican Pete” because of his jowls. His neck was pronounced, not unlike the neck of a pelican. Pelican Pete also had one more distinct mark on his body. On his face was a purple birthmark that looked like bird wings or butterfly wings. You would have thought looking at him that he would hide in the crowd, never looking to attract attention to himself.

      After a few years working on the long line boat, Pelican Pete bought an old gill net boat from a retiring fisherman. The boat was as old and tired as its former owner.  Pelican Pete lovingly restored the boat during his last year fishing on the long line boat. Pete named the boat Jessica I, for the daughter that he never had.

     Pete was always the first fisherman on the dock in the morning and the last fisherman on the dock at night. He worked tirelessly catching fish and providing for his family.  As the boys grew up, they started helping their father on the boat when they were not in school.  One of the boys, my uncle Simon, was especially adept at running the boat and catching fish. He wanted to drop out of high school and fish full time with his father, but both Pete and his wife would not allow it.

     After owning and fishing on the Jessica I for over twenty-five years, Pelican Pete decided to quit the sea and make a career on land. What can a fisherman do on land? Especially one with a limited education and a weather-beaten face? Pete approached the local tavern owner where he had been a customer and friend for all the years he had been a fisherman about a job behind the bar.

     “Pete”, the owner laughed, “you don’t know the first thing about bartending”!  Pete agreed but pointed out to his friend that he had enough experience in a bar and would be an honest and loyal employee if given the chance. So, he got his chance to work in the bar.  In the first week, he caught two of the bartenders stealing and stopped three fights with his massive size.  Pete kept that job until the day he died.

     Pete’s one dream was to live in Florida. Situations and complications led to that dream never coming to fruition. Pelican Pete died in his sleep at the age of 66 years old. His final wish was to be cremated and for his ashes to be spread on the outgoing tide.  His wife, three boys and a procession of almost fifty boats made the trip out of the inlet the day that his ashes were to be scattered on the outgoing tide.  Each boat got a small bag of ashes so that all of his friends were able to say good bye in their own way.

     I stopped telling the story and picked up my glass of water, drinking slowly and gauging my audience. I still had most of them. “Where’s the part about reincarnation?” Again, that same tough guy in the back of the room asked the question.  “The reincarnation part is next, actually”, I replied. I took a long hard look at him and he backed down, just a little, well, he backed down enough for me to continue.

     My grandmother continued to live in her house by the ocean as the boys had all moved away. Each of them married and had children. But none of the children wanted to be a fisherman like Grandpa Pete. This was a disappointment to their grandmother.

     About three years after Pelican Pete’s death, the oldest child stopped by the family house one day to invite his mother to make a trip to St. Augustine, Florida. The oldest son, my uncle Craig, had saved a little bit of his father’s ashes and wanted to spread them in Florida. He convinced his mother to make the trip with him. They traveled by jet from Philadelphia to Jacksonville and then rented a car and drove to St. Augustine.

     The mentioning of air travel and rental cars was met by a few polite laughs from some of the younger attendees.  I noticed their chuckles and reminded them that there was a time when people traveled by air and cars were available for rent. Those were very different times, I reminded them.

     After my uncle and grandmother got settled, they traveled to the seaport to look around and find a boat to charter. The plan was to spread the last of the ashes on the incoming tide. This way my grandfather would be spread into the inlet and down the St. Johns River.

     As they walked the fishing dock, they came across an older man who was weathered like a lifelong fisherman.  Craig approached the man and started to discuss the need for a boat. The man looked at Craig and my grandmother and said “Business is best discussed over a beer and some food.” Craig got the hint and invited the man to join them for dinner at the local seafood restaurant.

     During dinner the old man seemed more interested in talking about himself and his life than listening to the story of Pelican Pete. Finally, Craig stopped the man and said, “Sir, we’re buying this meal, let’s get down to talking business”.  The old man looked at my grandmother and said, “What can I do for you?” 

     My grandmother told him the story of her husband, Pelican Pete and how they wanted to spread the last of his ashes on the incoming tide. As my grandmother described Pete, the jowls and the birthmark, the old man got a funny look on his face. “What was your husband’s name?” he asked. When my grandmother told him Pete, but everyone called him “Pelican Pete”, they both said my grandfather’s nickname at the same time.

     Craig was startled by the old man knowing his father’s nickname. “How did you know?” Craig asked. The old man answered, “Let me tell you a story, a story about Pelican Pete. The story started about three years ago when a particularly friendly pelican started hanging out at the marina. This bird had a birthmark on its chest that looked like it could have been bird wings or butterfly wing. Like I said, this bird was friendly.

     One day the bird landed on my boat while I was having a bad of day fishing. I was pulling in the empty nets and there was that pelican, sitting on the roof of the pilot house, just watching. He seemed to be smiling. I smiled back and shook my head and kept pulling the nets. All of a sudden, the nets got heavy as a school of fish swam into the netting. I caught more fish that day than I had in the previous two months. I tossed a few fish to the bird in return for his good luck.

     After I pulled the net in and the fish were all in the coolers, I headed back to the fish house to unload the boat. As I traveled in the inlet there on the bowsprit of the boat was that same pelican. He rode all the way into the inlet, just like my old dog, Pete. Funny, that was the day I named the bird, Pelican Pete.

     Each day I when I went fishing, Pelican Pete would stop by the boat in the afternoon, and watch me haul the fish. He would gladly accept his pay.   Then he would ride into the inlet, resting on the bowsprit. It was the craziest thing.  This went on for the last three years. About two weeks ago, Pete stopped visiting me on the boat. I have not seen him since.

     It got quiet in the bar, almost like everyone had been listening to our story. My uncle said, “Two weeks ago we decided to bring my grandfather’s ashes to Florida to fulfill his lifelong dream. I think that he was here ahead of us for the last three years enjoying being a fisherman once again.”

     The next day we spread those ashes right where the old man had first met Pelican Pete.

     Clap, clap, clap. The only sound in the entire room was one person, slowly clapping. I looked up from the floor of the stage out into the room to see who it was that had enjoyed the story. There in the back of the room was the toughest guy in the place, my heckler for the evening. He smiled, wiped a tear from his eye and proclaimed my story the best of the week. Then everybody stood up and clapped.

The End

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