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Personal Bounty

Abundance is not something we acquire. It is something we tune into.Wayne Dyer


(For my brother on his birthday.)

“When Ned Dana dies . . .”

I heard my father say this often when I was a kid.  “When Ned Dana dies, we’ll buy a brand-new car.  When Ned Dana dies, we’ll fly to Hawaii.  When Ned Dana dies, we’ll travel to England, the land of our ancestors.”  And, although I knew, on one hand, that we didn’t have much money, that my dad’s job at the Iron Works was clerical, that my friend Sally’s Union worker father made twice as much, and my friend, Curtis’s family was off-the-charts-for-our-blue-collar-town-rich, I also knew that there was Ned Dana and the ever-present promise of monetary abundance flowing in.

We laugh now, my mother and I.  Who was Ned Dana anyway?  Was he a patron of the arts, an admirer of my long-dead grandfather, the artist, a friend of his widowed wife, our Grammie Emma?  And what happened to all that money?  Daddy died so it floated away from our house along with my father, but, back then, it was fun to dream about all the things we would do with our inheritance . . . and, in the meantime, our bounty was great.  My dad was never attached to his clerical job at the Iron Works.  He wore khakis and button-down shirts, was tall and handsome.  He wrote stories, arranged art exhibits, walked with a lightness on this earth.  I think he felt entitled to be here, and, in many ways, was the artist of his life.  And he wanted his children to feel entitled too.  Each summer, he brought home canvas bags from the Iron Works, one for my little brother and one for me – they were for our treasures, he said.  We stuffed boatshells and periwinkles into our bags, pieces of paper-thin mica and crunchy dried rock weed that looked like a wild woman’s hair.  We found feldspar that glimmered in the sun and pieces of driftwood shaped like Dr. Seuss characters.  We brought our bags down to our little Fish House Cove beach and collected what the sea had washed in . . .

Our bounty was great.  Our bounty was stupendous.  We dug holes in the silty gray sand, reached our hands way down until we felt the wet of the sea reaching back at us.  And then we dug a little deeper, stuck our fingers into our endless supply of gooey sticky clay – clay for forts and sculptures and sand fights.  And each day, the ocean would roll back in, cover our forts and castles and rock piles – and there we had it – a swimming pool far grander than any Ned Dana could buy for us.  And our dad’s homemade rafts, nailed and roped together, Huck Finn-style were perfect for kids who felt a sense of entitlement.  We didn’t know the meaning of “no trespassing.”  The coastal world was ours to play in.  The rocks at high tide were our personal high board – and the sea!  We floated on our backs, somersaulted through salty waves.  We dove down, opened our eyes to the long grasses and sea kelp waving in the tide’s current.  We swam among schools of mackerel and herring, and, at night, we ate the mackerel caught by the fishermen or by our very own mother.  It was free.  And it was our bounty.

And most days, my little brother and I carried our bag lunches out to Deadman’s Cove or Sister Point.  We snacked on egg salad sandwiches, our bags of Fritos, ripe plums.  We drank our drinks.  My favorite was Tahitian Treat and Daddy called it Tahitian Piddle Juice and it was the only soda I loved and it was my bounty.  And, as I drank it, sitting on the quartz and granite-glimmering rocks of the Point, looking out at my ocean (because I felt like I was entitled to this whole huge ocean), maybe looking out through the branches of a sea-scraggled pine, I thought that this place was the most beautiful place on earth, more beautiful than Hawaii could ever be.

And, after our dad returned from work on summer evenings, he washed off the world of his shipyard day as he pulled in the haul-off line, and I pulled it in with him sometimes, and, as we pulled, we watched the turquoise skiff my sister had named Splinter move slowly toward the rocks and we kerplunked ourselves into it.  I sat in the stern and my father rowed us out to our big red lobster boat.  What bounty was ours on summer evenings!  Our family felt entitled.  We traveled the sea in our big red boat, to Spring Beach and Wood Island, to the Basin and Cundy’s Harbor and Totman’s Cove.  We found crabs under seaweed.  We watched baby seagulls and terns.  We helped our father haul up his traps.

And later still, after a bounty of saltwater and sea breezes, pine pitch and periwinkles, after a dinner of pan-fried flounder and shelled peas from our mother’s seaside garden, we had the general store.  Who needs Ned Dana’s millions (because it seemed as though it must be millions we were inheriting) when your father gives you ten cents each – for you and your little brother – and sends you on your way?  Who needs a bounty of shoes when the soles of your feet are as tough as the rocks they scamper across and it feels good to run along the pine needle path, barefooted and sweat-shirted, when Hagerthy’s General is your destination?

Hagerthy’s General had everything!  It was a treasure chest of abundance – red-shingled on the outside with its covered porch and its long-legged dock that reached far into the sea, with its gas pumps for boat engines and rocking chairs for Amos and Alton and Roy, and all the other old fishermen in their hipboots and oilskin trousers.  And inside there was more – oilskin rain hats and lobster bait bags and Coca Cola in glass bottles and boxes of cereal and canned corn, a freezer filled with ice cream.  But it was the glass cabinet of penny candy that my bother and I pressed our faces against: milk duds, sugar babies, tootsie pops . . .  Who needs Ned Dana’s millions when you already have ten cents and a glass cabinet filled with penny candy?!?



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