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  • The summer I turned twelve Ted flew the world flag from the old grey flagpole he fashioned out of a 20 foot peeled spruce sapling. Old Rut called him a god damned communist bastard to anyone who would listen.

    Ted wore a patched and salt stained cap that might have once been green and he kept his pants up with a length of old rope tied in a square knot. He rumbled his groceries up the hill in a rugged grey wheelbarrow with a metal rimmed wheel that squeaked and rattled in the gravel and jammed against every root and rut along the way. He called the wheelbarrow Common Carrier and the white poodle that followed wherever he went was Jolie.

    Ted put a notice on the Mail House down at the shore. He’d pay $1.35 an hour for help painting the Rill.
    The Rill was a 36-foot ex-Chesapeake Bay oyster dragger. She was flat bottomed and rigged for sail with a centreboard. With the centreboard up she couldn’t have drawn more than 18 inches.

    She ain’t much to look at and she don’t ever even bother to make a wake but by the dying eye Jeezus she’ll go anywhere you got a mind, Rut told me. Then he told me Ted was a god damned communist bastid just in case I got the wrong idea.

    The Rill was hauled out in the Upper Pool and Ted was sanding without much enthusiasm and my brother and I stood alongside until he looked down.

    You boys want to paint, he asked.

    We nodded.

    The next few days while the weather was good, we sanded our knuckles most of the way off and then painted black on the hull and white in the cockpit, beige on the trim and Newport Green on the sliding hatch above the cabin.

    My father came by and asked if we had feathered the edges where we sanded. Ted just nodded and drank rum and water out of a chipped tin mug.

    After the job was done and he’d paid us out, Ted asked if we wanted to go on a cruise up to Roque Island with him.
    We did.

    Two days sailing and motoring up to the long crescent of sand beach so fine it squeaked when you walked it. Two days up and two days back. Eating tinned food heated on the old Primus stove in the tiny galley and sleeping on the narrow bunks dank with fog and salt sea air.

    The last day it was thick a fog. There were still 6 miles of open water across Frenchman’s Bay to navigate.
    We knew it was 6 miles because he gave us the dividers and the chart and the parallel rule to plot the course.
    We poured over the chart for a time and then called out the heading.

    Ted yawned and poured himself another rum and water.

    You boys take the helm, he said. I’m going below for a nap.

    Andy was 10 and I was 12 and we peered through the fog and followed the wobbling wandering compass needle for what seemed hours.

    The fog lifted. We were a mile off target and less than 10 minutes off the ledges between the islands.

    Ted came out on deck. He stretched, adjusted his belt, scratched his belly and took the tiller.

    The essay on my college application was about that trip. I mailed a handwritten copy to Ted. I got into the college but only lasted 3 semesters. He never wrote back. Never mentioned the trip or the essay.

    Years later Connie, his daughter, told me that after he died and they went through his papers, they found my essay.

    He moved a lot of times Benjy, she said. I guess he must have always packed it along.
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