Memories (Bob Ingram)

“Bankin’ off of a southeast wind sailin on a summer breeze.
Skippin over the ocean like a stone.”

Key West seemed more like the first time I ever saw it. The morning was bright and clear with an October promise of cooler days to come. I looked at the strange old houses, wooden and planked of pine . They remind me of the Victorian bungalows on Rockaway Beach. These houses , plain and mostly white had an exotic tinge though . The simple addition of whimsical curls at the roof peaks or dancing from the tops of six by six inch square columns on porches framed in leaves of banana and palm tempted me with dreams of Havana and Kingston. I watched them go by from the window of a Greyhound bus. It was nineteen fifty six. I was eighteen and had just graduated from submarine school. My life was finally beginning.

Now forty five years later, it is another century and on this morning We are headed for a schooner moored on Stock Island. The recent atrocity in New York had begun to have an effect on this new Key West. The streets were quiet. A few locals glided by on rusty bikes. The scooter rentals were full of shiny new Yamahas and Hondas. Hundreds of jet skis sat idle unwanted, unrented. Their obnoxious drone and drunken drivers had vanished. The theme park was closed. The party was over and a quiet sober sanity enveloped the town. I never loved Key West but this morning I made my peace with this strange place. The end of the road. A homeconing of sorts.

I was driving while Gay traced her finger on the smudged xerox map. We ounced a bit on unpaved roads past trailers and lobster traps with never a thought of Calvin Klein. Far fom Duval street. I spotted the distinctive raked masts of s schooner. We parked and joined our friends gathered on the dock. I hugged Rick and then Ellen, his lady for uncounted years. Vince came over for an embrace. He walked upright again finally freed from the agony of bad hips over these last years. The operation had helped. He introduced us to Joe Mara, keeper of so much of our collective history. They had driven here from Greenwich Village. The strain of thirty hours in the car with Vinnie still on his face. O’Barry was there wearing that baseball cap covered in scrambled eggs. I congratulated him on his promotion from seaman to admiral. Helena stood quietly next to him, ever the shy lady. Judy and her two boys Justin and Tyson were in from Woodstock telling of the painfully long train trip to Florida and their new found fear of flying. Justin shook my hand and smiled a crooked smile revealing those teeth. Same smile same teeth. I thought of his Dad. His brother so different I thought. I scanned his face looking for a clue. Nothing obvious but yet there was something, something so familiar. Big mojo this day. I was ready for mojo .

Martha came for her hug. So many hugs, for so many years. We introduced her to Kathleen, tan, thin and sad. Kathleen, nurse, messenger. new friend. I wished Chris had come down.

“Time to go folks the dolphins are waiting. I’m Capt. Alan. Welcome aboard” The Reef Chief is sixty five feet overall, clipper bow and schooner rigged with white oak hoops on pine masts. Very traditional with a full keel. Long legged for these parts. Gay and I love schooners. They are not strangers to us. We will never own one. We know better. The sunscreen was passed around but I refused as usual. knowing I would pay for my arrogance tomorrow. Or maybe someday, with my life. I am such a jerk. We motored down the channel and I breathed in the fumes of the diesel engine. I love the smell and the sound of them. So many of my best memories are bathed in diesel fumes.
Once clear of the anchorage the mate put up sails. I wanted to help but wondered at the protocol so I kicked back and watched instead. She was young and seemed strong enough.

We told stories that morning. We laughed as we remembered the old days. I still love to tell the one about the stone deer in his living roomand when I asked why they were in His living room. “When I come home late I say, I’m home deer” He told me. Grinning that crooked smile. God, how I loved the sound of His voice. So warm, so bluesy, Southern. Only one in this world like it. “Remember San Francisco? Remember how after the gig He took us all to China Town and spent every dime on dinner?” “Yeah and at the end of the set He turned to the bass player and told him:”
” Get the bread Jay and don’t take a check.”
” Remember? The mic was open and the audience loved it” “What a night, The Summer of Love and He was opening for Dave Van Ronk.
Ralph Gleason wondered in his review why the star was the opening act.
” He opened so he could get the hell out early. Thats why. He hated
getting up on stage. But once He started playing you could set your
watch to the groove. Right? ”
” Right on!”
” Years ago in the Village, He was the first one to bring Dylan onstage and let him play. After the set he split the basket with Bobby. He was a generous man.”
” Yeah in those days we worked for what Vinnie? Ten bucks a night?
” Right rent was only seventy five then.”
” Hey Gayzie, do you see any dolphins? ”
” Not yet honey ”
” Ric? ”
“They’ll come. They know.”
” I been a searchin’ for the dolphins in the sea ee eee.
” Sometimes I wonder do you ever think of me”
Its hard to sing that song without cryin these days. She tells me I love songs that make me cry. She says Irish men are like that. I tease her.
Dutch women are too tough. ” Pragmatic ” She corrects me. ” You cry at movies don’t you? ”
” You do too you love chick movies” I do and I love her and the sound of her sweet voice.
” Vinnie, show me the chords to When the world was young. Sing it for me Vince.”
” There they are! Dolphins coming up astern”
” That’s Whiteface ” The captain tells us. ” That’s his family with him ”
I look at Ric, then Gay and we smile. It’s gonna be perfect.
” It’s time. What about the wind ” Judy asks. She’s calm. The captain puts the wheel over. ” Ready about. Watch your heads folks.”
I go below and put my guitar in the case. The schooner heels a bit. I grip the rail, grip the neck of the Larrivee. Once inside the cabin it hits me.

Damn! I still get sick the first day out. After all these years. I go topside. The wind is on the starboard beam Judy is kneeling on the port side. The Boys are holding the wreath and a mahagony plaque carved dolphins in relief and endearments from the family. I never did get to read it but Gay said that the last part says if you find this on the beach please toss it back. One of the Boys hands Judy the black box. She unties the plastic bag and reaches in for a handful of ashes. Slowly, reverently she trails the ashes through her fingers. Crying softly. She hands the box to Justin, he reaches in, then Tyson does the same sprinkling his Father’s ashes on the water. Ric is next, holding his old friend in his hand. Then he lets go of him. The box is presented to each of us and we repeat the ritual. I hope I’m strong. I reach in, the ashes are rough, gritty to my touch. I let him go.
Fare thee well, I’m thinking of my Grandmother. The plaque goes over the side. Finally the wreath of yellow flowers, bobbing in our wake.

The ashes are on everyones hands no one wipes, someone kisses their hand. I remember rubbing my hair. I’m losing it a little. It’s very quiet.

No one speaks as we sail away. The dolphins are gone. Fred’s with them now. It’s good to be with old friends this day. Safe, reassuring this ancient ritual.

I no longer want to be stuffed. Maybe I’m maturing.

On the way back, Vinnie and I are discussing a lyric that Fred wrote. ” I always thought it should have been: Bankin’ off of a southeast wind sailin on a summer breeze Skippin over the ocean like a stone.”
” You know we argued about that line for years Bobby. I kept telling him the prevailing winds are southeast not northeast. But he was stubborn.”
“Hey captain what’s our heading?”
“Three three zero almost north”
I look up at the telltale ………
“Wind’s out of the northeast”
Were all laughing now, headed for the barn.

Bob Ingram
Cocoanut Grove
Oct 6 2001