“A story? Epinetus; you have already told me the story about Captain Tanner” said George Parks who was in apparent disbelief that anything more could be said.
“Oh yes, George. There is more to be said about Captain Tanner, his crew and my father Horace’
George Parks knew that there was no stopping Epinetus once he got talking. George Parks said “Well then; do tell.”
“Upon Captain Tanner’s command some deck hands partially raised the sails as others untied the brig from its moorings. The ship slipped away from the dock the river currents carried it downstream. My father Horace, over the years, has often re-enacted Captain Tanner’s command, although quite inaccurately I am sure. Father could never remember the correct sailing terms. As I have said, his reenactment was repeated several times a year, year after year. It was a joy for all the children in the Birdsall compound beside the Chenango River.”
“Oh? Then this does not involve your sailing up the Hudson River?” asked George.
“In a way it does Mr. Parks – – – in a way it does.” responded Epinetus.
“Then please get on with the story Epinetus.” pleaded George.
“Father’s one act play would start out just as if he were Captain Tanner.”
“Mr. Jones, raise the sail. Sllllowww now, Mr. Jones. – – – – – Mr. Clay, bring the boom to port and forward – – -NO – – – NO- – Not aft – – you snaggle-toothed idiot – – FORWARD. Now up with the sail a little more Mr. Jones – – – SLOOOOWWWLY – – a little more now. – – GOOOOD – – Good, Mr. Jones.”
“Father Horace would leap around in spurts and jerks as he recited his lines. Sometimes a spurt to the left or right and then a jerk forward or back. Quite often he would leap up onto a stump pointing a stick into the air as if telling Mr. Jones where the sail should be.”
“One more mistake Mr. Clay and I will put you off at Beacon or throw you over the side myself. Now Misssttterrr Claaay – – hold the boom steady – – – steady as she goes. – – – Now, you, Mr. Butts, one degree starboard on the rudder – – – that’s it – – steady – – – steady, man – careful for the current. – – – good – – good Mr. Butts.”
“Father would twist his face into grotesque patterns; left eyebrow down and eye almost closed, right eyebrow high on his forehead, that eye wide open and almost bugging out of his skull, his mouth twisted up, down, and sideways; all at the same time. His shoulders would take on an almost inhuman twist with one high and backward with the other one bent forward. The children of the various families in the Birdsall clan would gather in small groups as the act continued.”
“Take a depth reading Mr. Smythe. Throw the weight forward – – watch the rope Mr. Smythe – – THE ROPE – – THE ROOOPPE. Why you jimmy-jawed, walley-eyed, son of a land turtle.”
“And with that phrase, always repeated in the same manner, father would hobble over to some imaginary being and unwind the imaginary rope from around the being’s imaginary leg.”
“Now try again Mr. Smythe,” father always pronounced it ‘Smithe,’ never Smith, and he would continue, “And if you hit me with that weight I will take the rope and tie you up into a ball, then place you with all the other swine in the lower hold.”
“Father would bob and duck as he tried to get out of the way of the weight that his imaginary Mr. Smythe would be swinging around and around in circles. As the invisible Mr. Smythe released the weight, at exactly the correct moment, father’s eyes would follow the imaginary weight toward the front of the invisible ship and into the water.”
“Up with the sail – – more on the boom – – take a reading – – “ father would call out to all his imaginary seamen. A few more impromptu commands, some familiar to us children, others new, father would extend the play.”
“As a ‘Grand Finally’ to his play, father would repeat the circular pattern with his head and eyes as Mr. Smythe swung the weight tied to the end of the rope. And with one large arc of his frightened eyes and head father would watch the imaginary weight fly straight upward towards the clouds. It would then plunge straight downward in his direction. Father would dance in half-steps trying to avoid the invisible weight that hurtled towards him. And then with a scream he would grab his head and then hold his hands in front of his eyes as if looking for blood.”
“Picking out the largest group of mesmerized children he would hobble directly toward them. Then, looking menacingly toward them and scowling in his most frightening manner he would screech ‘No Mr. Smythe – – – I will not tie you up with the swine – – – I will cut you into tiny pieces.’”
“With that, father would slowly draw an imaginary sword from his imaginary side scabbard and swing it through the group of children. They would scream and scatter but would then stop and look back at father. By then he would have a big benign smile on his face, and his arms wide open to welcome the children back.”
” ’AGAIN, AGAIN, Uncle Horace’ the smiling children would beg. But father knew that his act would loose the impact if repeated to soon.”
Epinetus sat there for a few moments, silently. George could see just hint of tear in the corner of Epinetus’ eyes and sadness cover his face.
After a while Epinetus perked up and seemed to continue with his story. The emotion however, was not on the story but appeared to be centered on his father Horace. “Father would finish his story with love and tenderness.”
“Another time children, you seamen tired me out. Let us sail along and enjoy the scenery.’ Father would then find a stump and sit down.
Epinetus continued “These mini-plays and other activities appeared to tire father out. Each year that passed father would be more easily fatigued.”