Honor Thy Mother & Father, part 4

Autobiography by Florence Goodman Enzmann 

Gone to Sea

My father would sometimes be gone on a very long trip, and at times it had been a year from leaving to returning. This is to me a queer thing, though we saw him so seldom it seemed that no matter what time of night we would hear his ring at the door, we would, every one of us, wake from sound sleep and rush down the front stairs calling “Pappa, Pappa!.” He was fond of everyone and spent a great deal of what time he had at home playing with us. How he loved to “tell stories,” of which we never got enough or got tired of. He would lie upon what was then called a “couch” with his shoes off, and we five all climbed over him, taking turns tickling his toes, and he would spin the greatest yarns we ever had, or ever have, heard. How we loved them. The story of “Stormy Night Jack” is perhaps the most fantastic he ever told us. I shall herewith duplicate it as well as I can.

“Stormy Night Jack”

“Once upon a time, he was on a trip. When he started out the weather promised fair, but being in the tropics this could not be counted upon. After about three days of easy-going, it began to blow up, and by nightfall was quite a storm and getting worse. It continued to get worse, and the wind continued to gather strength. Finally, my father knew that they would have to reef the upper top s’ls, so he went into the cabin where all the hands were gathered praying, and asked who would reef the upper tops’ls. At first, no offer came, as everyone was very frightened, and the storm was increasing in intensity. However, one of the men said he would go, and he left the cabin. In a short time, the sailor returned, absolutely frightened stiff; he could not speak for a while and was terrified. Finally, he managed to get out that there was a “ghost up there.” Well, then father called for another volunteer, which he got. He also returned quickly in like condition. So again, a request was made, but this time no response. So father said that he would go and told them he was not afraid of any ghost. So up he went, very slowly and very laboriously, for the wind was terrific. I have forgotten just where he stopped for breath and footing, but stop he did, and in a few seconds, he heard someone say, “Stormy Night, Jack.” Well, to say he was astounded is, to put it mildly. However, he answered, “yes, it is a pretty stormy night.” Again, “stormy night, Jack,” and not another remark. As it was bitterly cold and there was wind of terrific force, father was anxious to fix the sail and discover where this ghost was hiding, so he tried to locate him by the sound of the voice. Finally, he got where he could get hold of a shroud and grabbed it. This time he heard very much nearer at hand, “stormy night Jack,” and he had the ghost within reach of his hand! It was a parrot, which had evidently set sail from port when the ship did and had been comfortable until the storm arose. Then when the sailors went near, he talked. Well, father took the bird and went down into the cabin and put it down, saying, “there is your ghost,” and of course, in order to prove it, the bird again said, “stormy night Jack.”

We used to love that tale and could never hear it too often. I have often wondered why he did not make the sailors go up the gantl’ to reef the s’ls. My father, tough and at times, an extremely hard master, was also equally soft at the needed time. He also told us he saw “Mr. Santa K Clause” up on the north pole and would go on and elaborate etc., etc. Many of his real stories were not all joyfully ended, for the sea, then, as always, was a hard taskmaster.

Father seemed to love his ship and spoke of it as “she” and “her.” It seems that most structures of enormous size are spoken of in feminine terms. He also had some very sad tales to relate. He told of a friend of his who had taken his wife on a trip with him, and they were caught in a terrible storm, and both washed overboard. Strange to say were both recovered, dead, so closely locked in each other’s arms that they could not be separated until their muscles had relaxed. Also, one time when my uncle Walter, father’s brother, was sailing as mate with him, again they were engulfed in a terrific storm and had to man the pumps. It was so bad that each entrusted to the other his important papers, what cash they had, and each promised the other that in case one did not reach shore, the one who did would take custody of the other family. My uncle had four children, and one died. They were Will, Sam, Amelia (Amy), and last of all, and worst of all, Jen, now called Jeanne. Little Jessie died. However, they both made shore, as well as the ship. Father hated to have to be towed into port, and I do not think it ever happened. He told about one time he was in bad water and a passing ship offered to tow him in for three thousand dollars, to which he replied he “would see him in hell first.” He again made it, and of course, made money, for he was not only Captain, but commanding owner – 51 shares – so it behooved him to save as much as possible on expenses, for in addition to his salary as Captain he also made extra on time, and in time unloading and loading. He used to have some dreams, which became sort of routine. When he would dream of a very unmanageable black horse, it always seemed to portend trouble, but when he dreamed of a white horse, it was fair weather. Of course, this was no doubt caused by his knowledge of conditions, what to expect under certain circumstances, etc., and when he connected the horses with the events, it became a habit. He also told about a dog. I think Nellie was her name, which fell down the hatch and had to be killed.

We loved, feared, and respected our father. I remember one day when we were quite young, Beth, Rob, and I were all talking with Joe, a friend of ours, outside the big barn door, and I think we were having a small thunderstorm. Somehow or other, we got onto the subject of fathers, and we asked Joe where his father was, as we had never seen one around his house or heard him ever mention one. Joe told us that he did not have a father, at which news we were very much startled and told him with great pride that “we have two fathers, one at sea and one in Heaven,” which also was a surprise. Poor Joe didn’t have a father who would admit that Joe was his son. 

Read Part 5