Dreamers

by Sherlockette

 

 

 

Commander Harriman Nelson climbed from the borrowed ‘54 Chevy then almost immediately let out a loud oath as he tripped on a piece of tread lying on the pavement. He kicked it aside then turned to peer through the darkness at the shredded mess that was once a left front tire. A brief inspection of the rest of the sedan revealed the right front tire was in the same if not worse condition as the left and he sighed heavily at his limited options. He had only one spare and there would be little if any traffic on the road at two in the morning, so after clearing the road of the remaining debris he climbed back into the car. He then started it up and with a few sparks from the rims as they contacted pavement he eased it onto the shoulder of the road. Finally, after brushing the dirt from his uniform and gathering his personal belongings he headed out on foot towards the town of Barnstable , Massachusetts from where he had just come.

“Some shore leave,” Nelson mumbled to himself as he trudged along the road. He couldn’t help but think that the guardian angel watching over him must also be on leave, but he had to chuckle at the image the passing thought conjured up. It did seem to him that he had encountered more than his share of problems of late. After making port at his duty station in New London , Connecticut , he had gone into town with a few friends, something he rarely had time to do. Upon returning to his car he found lightning had struck a tree next to where he had parked and one of the larger limbs had fallen onto the sedan, causing major damage to the roof. Early the next morning he received a message indicating a close friend who lived on Cape Cod was seriously ill, and since his car would be in the shop for a while he had to seek out other transportation in order to make the trip. His current predicament was the result of a truck suddenly dropping several large pieces of metal onto the narrow roadway, leaving him no room to avoid hitting the fragments. Nelson stopped momentarily to look up at the sky, as if his gaze would get the attention of those who should have been standing watch. It apparently didn’t work, since nothing about his situation appeared to have changed. He shook his head and grinned before continuing on.  

The naval officer who was also a PhD and scientific genius was not one to waste time so as he put one foot in front of the other his mind began to process data on another topic. His current posting had him working on a team studying ways to improve the function of the world’s first nuclear submarine, the Nautilus, so that what was learned could be used in antisubmarine warfare. The issue at hand was structural modifications that would allow the sub to run much more quietly. While he had been trained on and even commanded diesel-electric subs, Nelson was in his element as a researcher and designer of the nuclear powered boats. Some day he hoped to find a way to combine his design skills with his first love, the field of marine biology, but for now he spent his days and nights generating ideas and data for the Navy. He was so distracted by his current calculations he almost failed to see the sign for the turn that would lead him into town.

As one of the larger communities on the cape, Barnstable had a bustling town center during the day. However, when Nelson arrived at around four thirty he was not surprised to find the commercial establishments were locked up tight. He briefly considered making his way towards the docks at West Yarmouth , knowing they would be a hive of activity with lobster fishermen bringing in their catches but they were at least ten miles and two more hours of walking away from where he now stood. When he heard the rumble of a vehicle approaching him, he was sure his luck had changed. He turned and watched the large newspaper delivery truck as it pulled up to a covered newsstand in front of the butcher shop. A short, rather rotund balding man in a plaid shirt and dungarees climbed from the cab, walked around and flipped open the tarp covering the back of the truck, then pulled out three large bundles of the latest edition. Nelson walked up to him and offered a pleasant greeting. “Say, could you help me out. I seem to be stranded here.”

“Whaddya need?” replied the teamster as he continued to carry the bundles over to the stand.

“I hit some metal on the road just west of here. I need to get my car towed to a shop. You know anybody I can call?”

Without looking up the man dropped his load and replied in a Boston brogue. “Don’t suppose I do. Not many people up and around right now.”

Nelson took no offense at the matter-of-fact manner of the man. He was raised in the area himself and knew it was just the way people acted and spoke, especially to strangers. He had to gain the man’s cooperation so he decided his best bet was to play the sympathy card. “Actually I need to get back to my base. I’m due to ship out in a few hours. When do you suppose there might be someone around to help?”

“Don’t know for sure,” responded the man, this time looking up. He then pointed to the logo of the major Boston newspaper that was painted on the side of the cab. “I’m not from here, just on the job.” Nodding towards a one story detached building nearby he continued. “There’s the garage over there.” The man then stepped back to the truck and Nelson followed.

Sensing he needed to modify his strategy, Nelson put on his best forlorn schoolboy look and cocked his head. “I can’t miss my boat and I need to take care of my friend’s car…it’s on the side of the road in a bad spot. Think you could help me out here?” 

After a couple of minutes of restacking his remaining bundles the man turned to face the officer. “Sorry about your problem. Where you bound for?”  

New London .”

“Submarines, huh?  I read about them a lot lately. What do you do there?”

“Research. Listen I need to…”    

The older man interrupted. “Yeah, yeah, I know. Secret government stuff. Tell you what. I’m finished with my deliveries after the next stop. I’ll give you a lift back to Mattapan. You can catch the train south from there. Best I can do.”

“What about the car?”

“Some boys I know run a shop up in Plymouth . I’ll get them to run down here and tow it back there. You say it’s borrowed?”

“Yes.”

“Give me the name and number of your friend and I’ll see they call him.”

“That will work,” he said while pulling out a notepad and pencil and wrote out the needed information. He then reached into his jacket and pulled out his wallet and extricated several bills and held them out. “This should cover it.” After the man took the money and placed it in his pocket Nelson introduced himself. “I’m Comman…Harry…Harry Nelson.”

The man nodded. “Simeon. Just call me Pop. Climb on in, I need ta keep movin’.”

After tossing his bag into the back of the truck Nelson climbed into the cab. In a few more moments the man known as Pop was seated behind the wheel and the pair headed out. They made a brief stop to drop off several more bundles at a spot along the road north of town then Pop turned the truck around and headed back along the highway towards Boston . For the first fifteen minutes of their trip, the two men traveled in silence. Nelson used the time to once again focus on the mental calculations he was performing earlier. He pulled a notepad and pencil from his jacket pocket and started to jot down some figures but there was insufficient light for him to work easily and he sighed and stared out the window. At one point Pop glanced over and commented about the weather but Nelson was concentrating so deeply he didn’t hear a word. The older man repeated his earlier comment, but this time louder. “Some storm we had coupla nights ago.”

Nelson’s head snapped up. “What…what’s that? Oh, yes, sorry, I was lost in thought.”

“No kidding. You must be thinking about something wicked important.”

“It’s work, just a bit of work.” Realizing that he was being rude, Nelson put away the notepad and gave his full attention to this stranger who was doing him a huge favor. “So Pop, how long have you worked for the paper?”

“Forty years off and on. Used to sell it on the street corner back in the day. Been on this route for almost twenty.”

“I’m sure you’ve seen you share of interesting things.”

‘Sure I have. Met some interesting people, too. I bet you’ve got tales to tell.”

“Seen some quite interesting things but there is always much more to see and explore.”

There were several minutes of silence before Pop spoke again. “I was a seagoing man once.”

 “Oh, Navy or merchant marine?”

“Neither un,” he said then laughed out loud. I used to sing with my barbershop quartet on the cruise liners. That was back when they were the place to be.” Pop then launched into his rendition of A Bicycle Built for Two.

Nelson couldn’t help but laugh himself. He was quite impressed with the man’s clear voice and with the effort he put into belting it out. “Impressive, quite impressive.”   

“You into fights?”

“Of course. That is, when I get the chance.”  

“You ever get to see Marciano?”  

“Never had the opportunity. He was a good one I hear.”

“Was and still is. He and my son used to pal around some as boys. He’s a good man. Retired b’fore he got too banged up and lives up the road here. I guess it’s good when a man knows his priorities. He wanted to spend time with his family.”

“Hmmmm. You have a family, Pop?”

“Two daughters and a son. Son now has two daughters of his own,” he said with a proud grin.

“I have a sister, and she means the world to me. Family is a good thing.”

Pop nodded in agreement. “Sometimes we get too busy, and forget.”

“Yes.  Yes we do.”

 

&&&&

 

The pair drove into the heart of Plymouth and Pop pulled the truck up to the front of a small building near the docks. Before getting out of the truck he scribed some instructions for his friends indicating how they should handle the job of towing the car and making the repairs. He slipped it and the money through a slot on the door then returned to the truck.

Once they were again on their way, the older man began to quiz the officer once more.  “You didn’t say what you did on your submarine. I read all about that Nautilus. You have anything to do with all that?”

Nelson smiled. He knew the exploits of the boat were well publicized, but he could reveal limited information about his own work, since most of it was classified. Instead, he proceeded to give what amounted to a publicity speech like those from the movie house newsreels. Pop caught on pretty quickly that the officer was being evasive.

“Sounds like you really believe in what you do, enough to give me the company line and still sound like you mean it.”

“You know, you’re right, it probably does sound that way.”

There was a long pause as Nelson thought about what he could say that would satisfy Pop’s curiosity but wouldn’t simply retell the “Tales of Nautilus” that regularly appeared in the press. He let out a long breath and relaxed his shoulders then turned and put his knee up on the seat. “You know Pop, it’s crucial work but doing it is truly fascinating and all involving. Sometimes it doesn’t seem like work.”  

“Isn’t it risky…being on one of those submarines?”

“Of course there’s risk. Every man who has ever gone to sea has faced risk. I like the challenges, though. There are rewards in solving a problem, then moving on to the next one.

We’ve only just begun to explore the depths and to see what man and his machines are capable of achieving.  Nuclear power is the wave of the future and I’m fortunate to be a pioneer. I’m not doing it alone by any means but someday I would like to take what I learn and use it for the benefit of mankind.”

“Such as…”

“There are bound to be untapped resources, some that might solve our energy problems or others that might cure a disease. We should be able to feed many millions on the sea’s resources. I don’t know exactly, but I am a biologist by education and a sub designer by training and someday, I want to combine those interests and see what’s out there.”

Pop began to chuckle at the intensity of the officer’s comments. “I have no doubt you will. You know, you remind me a lot of Millie.”

“Millie? Is that your wife?”

“Nah. Millie…Amelia…Earhart. She used to go on and on about her plans and dreams, like you just did.”

“The Lady Lindy? You knew her?”

He nodded and smiled warmly. “She was a gem, and so funny, and boy what a kind heart. You know she used to be a teacher, nurse, and a social worker? She taught English to the new settlers.”   

Nelson shook his head. “Never heard about that side of her. I suppose it wouldn’t sell papers like her exploits did.”

“She didn’t make a lot of money doin’ her job, so I used to drive her to the airport when I could. She saved her money to follow her dreams…and she had more ‘n a few!  She and that fellow…can’t recall his name… had the idea to develop a smaller airport out Dennison way. That was the old Squantum naval air field, ya know. Said she wanted a place where women would be welcome as pilots and respected. She was tough but she was a lady too. She had built a setup for a powder room out at that field. She said most places had no place for women to go and freshen up, and it was a damn shame.”

“Did you get to see her fly?”

“No never had the pleasure. Usually I just dropped her off and went on my way. I kept up with her though. She ended up teaching ‘bout careers for women at Princeton for a time. That was until… ”

“Her disappearance was a sad thing.”

“Couldn’t believe it m’self. “ Pop said sadly. There was a period of silence as he apparently lost himself in the memories of his friend. “The press hasn’t been too kind to her. Said she lacked experience with radios and navigation. Lookin’ back I wished that I had pushed her to get more experience with ‘em. She told me a few times that was something she meant to get around to. ”

“Sometimes you just have to jump in with both feet, Pop. Most great advances throughout history were made when someone took a risk.”

“Yeah, maybe. I should’ve been a better friend. Anyhow, when you’re working on that sub, make sure it has the best radio and navigation system in the world, and the best people to operate ‘em. She would tell you that if she was around.”

Nelson smiled to himself. He would take the man’s and Millie’s suggestions to heart.

 

&&&&

 

Despite their extreme differences in background, Pop being a first generation immigrant from eastern Europe and Nelson, a descendant of some of the first Irish-American settlers, the two men found they had a number of things in common as they shared information about their lives. Very few times in recent memory had Nelson been able to just talk to someone about everyday things and he enjoyed it immensely. Pop was a talker and a great storyteller, but he was not a braggart or a simple name dropper. The thing that impressed the officer the most was that the older man relayed a lesson in every story he told. He had not only met the famous and the infamous, he had listened and learned from them. It was certainly a quality to aspire to, and one that would be invaluable as he progressed through both career and life.    

The conversation made two hour trip back to Boston seem like minutes. As Pop pulled the truck up near the trolley that would take Nelson to the train station, the officer again pulled out his notepad but this time he wrote down his name, address and phone number. He tore out the piece of paper and handed the information to Pop. “If you ever need something that you think I can help you with, don’t hesitate to contact me. I might be out to sea and out of touch for a while but I will get back to you.”

Pop nodded. “It was nothin’. Good luck, Harry.”  

Nelson stepped out of the truck, went around the back and pulled out his bag then tapped on the side so Pop would know he was clear. The truck then pulled off leaving him standing alone at the curb. He set his bag down and looked up at the heavens and grinned. His angel had been on duty after all and sent him Pop. As if in response to his thoughts, the morning sun broke over the horizon.     

 

&&&& Years later

 

Retired Admiral Harriman Nelson had been busy, so busy that he had been chain smoking and his personal coffee consumption had practically keeping the world’s producers in business for months. He was on the eve of launching his creation, the world’s most advanced and only privately owned nuclear submarine. The craft was to be called Seaview and its purpose was to explore the ocean frontiers. In the process of designing and constructing her, Nelson had gained more than his share of detractors; however, he considered them narrow minded and envious men and seldom paid any attention to their rants.

Today was a little different. Nelson had been seriously considering stopping the launch in order to address some of the issues that had been brought forward. None of them would materially affect the operation of the boat but they would significantly influence how the submarine’s missions were to be financed and ultimately how it was used. Nelson wanted autonomy and “they” wanted control. There had to be a happy medium to be found somewhere but it was certainly not in sight. Today, he was weary of the fight.

While he had spent a significant amount of time in Groton with the engineers and fitters who were building the sub, Nelson had returned to Santa Barbara , California , where Seaview would be based. He had left Lt. Commander Chip Morton, the man who would soon be Seaview’s executive officer, in charge of the construction while he saw to it that Seaview’s home port would be as well constructed as the boat itself.

As he sat behind his desk at the newly created Nelson Institute of Marine Research, the admiral stared at the stack of letters in his inbox. He had left orders with his secretary that every envelope that came in the mail was to be pre-screened. He wanted all of them saved but today he was only interested in reading those that were supportive of his plans. He reached into the box and grabbed a stack and began flipping through them.  It was obvious that many of them were written by children and he smiled, knowing that kids were often more supportive of new ideas such as his. He scanned the return addresses to determine where the letters had originated and he found some were from halfway around the world.

After spending about ten minutes at the task he stood up to stretch. He turned and caught sight of a small envelope that had fallen to the floor and he picked it up. Flipping it over he looked at the name on the envelope and something about it was familiar but he couldn’t quite place it. He pulled out the single page letter that was inside and a broad smile came to his face as he read.

 

Hello Harry,

I don’t know if you remember me, but we met in Barnstable Mass a number of years ago where you managed to tear up a friend’s tires and I gave you a lift. Anyway, I’ve been reading about your career and your current project and just wanted to give you a little encouragement, since it is all I have to give.

I know that about now you are pulling out your hair and fed up with dealing with bureaucrats. While you might hope they will go away, you know they won’t so you might as well get used to it. Trust me that they’ll still be around when you’re gone. Like cockroaches, they are.  

You will leave a legacy for someone, whether it’s for your family or your friends, or even the world. Don’t worry about those that have no faith in you. Just have faith in yourself. If you surround yourself with good people you will have already succeeded.

If you ever get down, think about Millie Earhart. She never got down, just down to business. Remember her lesson: Prepare for the things that you can and moderate your risks. After all, the world can’t afford to lose all its dreamers, can it?    

I will definitely look forward to reading about your adventures in the near future.        

 

Take care,

Pop (from Boston )

 

Nelson sat back down and refolded the letter before placing it in his top right desk drawer. That was the place for documents he knew he would refer to often and it was a matter of respect to place Pop’s letter there. He leaned back in his chair and tented his fingers as he recalled the incident that brought the two men together. It could be no mere happenstance that he would receive this letter out of the blue on this particular day. He once again stood then gazed out the window, wondering what message the higher power might be sending him now. After a number of minutes of deep thought he picked up the phone and dialed.      

“Morton here,” announced the voice on the other end of the line.

“Chip, this is Nelson. There is something that’s been nagging at me about the inertial guidance system. I want you to check into it before we sign off on it. And I want you to have Sherman double check the function of the transmitter on the radio…”

 

 

Finis

 

Comments welcome. My e-mail is sherlockette@earthlink.net

 

 

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