Where the Heart Is
The rate across the desk from him sported a black
eye, cut cheek and lips tightly pressed together, indicating something was
wrong, but unwilling to divulge what it was.
Captain Lee Crane sighed. “What
happened, Mark?” he asked gently. He
figured he knew what was behind these recent bursts of anger and
frustration, but would prefer Seaman Holmes to open up about it. Mark Holmes was a first-rate sonar man, radioman, and
computer man. He was one of
those people who could pick up anything electronic and make it better.
Admiral Nelson had recruited him from the Navy even before
Holmes’ six years was up; that was how badly he wanted him. Lee had found him personable with everyone on board and saw
him as great officer material.
So what had happened?
Lee suspected that Holmes’ wife had been after him again.
She had never been happy about Mark’s career inside a ‘tin
can,’ as she had termed it. He
knew even before they were married a little over a year ago, she had
broached the subject of Mark quitting the Seaview and doing
something “safe” on land. Crane
mentally cringed. He had some
small idea what the seaman was going through and there were no easy
answers. Holmes’ wife
refused to mingle with the other crewmen’s wives and relatives at the
various parties and get-togethers; she only wanted Mark to quit.
Again, Lee wanted to cringe. Unless
he was sadly mistaken, he could count on one hand the number of people on
board Seaview who loved the sea and service on the Gray Lady more
than Holmes did. Crane
counted himself as one of those, so it tore at him to see how Mark’s
love for his wife and his love for his job were forced to do battle.
“I hit Patterson, sir.”
Pure, simple and unwilling to say more.
Crane sighed. He tried a different track.
“How are Lorie and the baby?”
Mark looked at him sharply, but didn’t say
anything for a moment. “They’re
This is going well, Lee thought
sourly. “What did you
name her again?” Crane
knew perfectly well what the baby’s name was.
Maybeth, after the two grandmothers.
Holmes told him and then asked, “Sir, when are we going to be back in port?”
Seemed both of them were fishing in known waters.
It was common knowledge when the Seaview would arrive back
at the base. Two days after
Christmas. At the onset of
the mission, it had been planned to be back just before Christmas, but as
in missions past, circumstances had led to their delay getting back to the
Institute at the preset time.
Lee told him, knowing at the same time that Mark
was dying to ask if the Flying Sub was making a run today, maybe to Santa
Barbara. Undoubtedly Lorie
had been giving Mark hell about missing the baby’s first Christmas.
Lee knew he couldn’t even imagine how it might be to miss a
child’s first Christmas, but still, the other married men had learned to
adjust. He briefly thought
back to his own childhood, but resisted in wallowing in his own Christmas
pasts. “Holmes, I can do
nothing else but put this on your report.
Can you give me any reason why I shouldn’t?”
Holmes looked at the desktop. “No, sir. But
I figure it won’t matter that much.
I’ll be resigning after the first of the year.”
“What? Are you sure you want to do
Mark looked him in the eye.
No, Lee thought, he wasn’t sure at all.
The captain could see how much such a decision was eating at him.
“Yes, sir. I’m
“So then, our previous discussion of advanced
training for officer status is on hold?”
Again, Lee sighed.
“That’s all, Holmes. You
are confined to quarters until your next watch.”
Holmes looked at him expectantly for a brief
second and then nodded, got up and left his cabin.
Crane sat at his desk and absently drummed his fingers, anger at
the unfairness of the situation warring with abject sympathy.
Finally, he got up, went to the small locker built into the
bulkhead and pulled out several old letters.
Glancing over them, for he knew their contents by heart, he slipped
them in his pocket and walked back to his desk, picking up the mike.
It was Riley.
“Bring one of the portable vid-phones up to my
cabin, please. Give me about
ten minutes before you deliver it.”
“Aye, aye, sir.”
With resolve, he made his way to the radio shack.
“Sparks, get Linda for me.”
Within a minute, the radioman was handing him the phone.
“Linda? Oh, yes,
Merry Christmas to you, too. How
are you holding up as chairman of this year’s NIMR Christmas party?”
He laughed as she related the tales of the Admiral’s sister
trying to commandeer the refreshment committee and Sharkey’s mother
having six litters of kittens deciding which decorations would be most
appropriate. The party, like many in the past was going to be held the
night of Seaview’s arrival back at Santa Barbara. Then he got down to the heart of the matter.
“Linda, who has given you a negative RSVP?”
He listened carefully. It
was a short list, but as he expected, Lorie Holmes’ name was among those
few. “Okay, would you do me
a favor? I know you’re
busy, but….” He
smiled as he listened to Linda’s assurances that she was never too busy
to do him a favor. “Okay.
Would you contact Lorie Holmes and ask her to come to your office
so I can talk to her. Don’t
make it sound like an emergency. I
don’t want to scare her, but I do feel it’s imperative to talk to her
via vid-phone.” Linda
snorted and made a sarcastic comment.
“Yeah, I’m going to be the ghost of Christmas present.
Just get her to call me. It
will be private, in my cabin. Thanks,
Sparks, as always, kept a poker face.
Crane knew that nothing that had been said would be repeated,
especially to his fellow radioman, Mark Holmes.
That, more than anything else, made Sparks the best radioman
Let me know when something comes in for me.”
At Sparks’ affirmative, Lee left the control room area and
returned to his cabin. Just as he got there, Riley came down the corridor with a vid-phone
in his arms. He opened the
door and helped the younger man hook it up.
The admiral had told him he needed to have one permanently
installed but Crane had resisted, feeling that the few moments of the day
he actually spent in his cabin, he had not wanted to be bothered by calls
from the outside.
Knowing it would be a couple of hours at least
before he heard back from Linda, he sauntered to the wardroom for a cup of
coffee and a look at what the men had done most recently to get in the
holiday spirit. On the small
space above the coffee pot, someone had added a quite well done drawing of
Santa Claus and his reindeer on top of an outhouse.
There was no need for a caption; every one of the hundred plus men
on board knew the punch line. Looking
up, Lee saw that the Rudolph above the galley window still blinked, but
apparently the men had run out of red bulbs; the nose blinked bright
green. Paper garlands twined
and draped all around the room and a string of lights on one wall shaped
in the form of a Christmas tree blinked hypnotically.
Lee felt comfortable in the room.
The men did the decorations, each one adding his tiny, special
touch and Lee had only made two rules for the holiday decorating.
They couldn’t be erotic and they couldn’t be a danger in case
the boat ran into turbulent waters.
The closest anyone had come to the former, and for that matter the
latter as well, was the famous beach poster of Bo Derek, cunningly re-wardrobed
in a bikini-like Santa suit that someone had put up above the hatch
leading to the control room. Someone had taped a sprig of fake mistletoe above the poster
and two of the crewmen had strained muscles trying to kiss her.
But while the men liked their fun, they were also
quite sentimental about their beliefs, too.
The same artist who had done the outhouse, had also done a
cardboard crèche for the ‘front porch’ that was quite beautiful.
Several of the men lit candles in a menorah each night of Hanukkah
The intercom came to life.
“Captain Crane, you have an incoming vid-phone call from the
Lee looked at his watch and marveled at how
quickly it had come. Slightly
less than an hour. He
wondered briefly if Linda had made it sound desperate.
He got up and reached for the mike.
“I’ll take it in my cabin.”
As he walked forward, he hoped he would say the right words that
might help both of these young people resolve their problems.
He sat down in front of the vid-phone, and then
reached for the mike. “Begin
leaned forward and turned on the vid-phone.
Lorie Holmes’ anxious face gazed back at him.
He could see the baby in her arms.
At only one month, Maybeth looked downright angelic.
“Mark . . . is he all right, Captain?” she
asked without preamble.
“Yes and no, Mrs. Holmes.
He’s all right physically. Just
a few bruises and cuts, but it’s his emotional health I’m most worried
about right now.”
Was there an accident?”
Lee shook his head.
“No accident. He was
in a fight. In fact he’s
been in several fights lately. I
am worried about him.”
Her face darkened.
“You mean your secretary called me here because Mark was in a
couple of fights? She told me
it was important! I thought
something dreadful had happened to him on that . . . that tin coffin.”
“It is important, Mrs. Holmes.
I wouldn’t pull you away from your busy schedule if it hadn’t
been.” He sat back and sucked in a deep breath.
“And how usual is it for Mark to pick fights with his co-workers?
Did he seem volatile to you when you were dating or right after you
two were married?”
Lee could see her visibly calm down.
“I’m sorry. I
didn’t mean to belittle your concern, Captain,” she finally said.
Lorie Holmes seemed to mean it and Lee began to
feel a bit of hope. “May I
read something, Mrs. Holmes?” She
nodded. He skipped the
preamble of the letter in his hand.
“ ‘You can’t imagine how I wish I could be there with you
this Christmas. To think that
this is our baby’s first Christmas and I will be hundreds of miles away
seems unthinkable. However,
your descriptions have made the miles disappear. I can almost smell the baby powder and hear the soft cries
and feel the tender cheek. My
darling, we will be together before you know it and there will be so many,
many things we will do together. Celebrating
Christmas when I get home will be so much more precious, so much more
memorable. I can’t wait to
hold you in my arms, to feel your warm lips….”
Lee stopped. The rest
was very intimate.
“How dare he show you that!
How dare you pull me in here to read it!” Her eyes were snapping and her face flushed.
The baby began to fuss in her arms.
“It’s dated December 10th, 1945,
Mrs. Holmes,” Crane said softly. “It’s
addressed to Mrs. Benjamin Crane. My
mother. At the time my father
was stationed in the Philippines. He
was there to help secure the naval base after the devastating invasion of
the Japanese during the war.”
She paused, uncomfortable.
“I don’t understand. I
. . . It sounds like what Mark sent to me.”
She gazed into his eyes. It
seemed that she was finally understanding what he had said at the outset.
“Is he really all right? You
said you were worried about his emotional health.”
“I am worried about him. When Mark came on board a little over a year ago, he told me
that this wasn’t a job. Instead
it was a dream come true. He
loves this job, Mrs. Holmes, and he’s very good at it.”
“Why did you read that letter to me?” Her
voice, her eyes suddenly seemed suspicious.
Lee realized that he had to tread very, very
carefully here. Lorie Holmes
was not the typical military wife and if not handled properly, this entire
situation, not to mention Mark’s job and perhaps, even his marriage
could blow sky high. “What
was your response to Mark’s, apparently, similar letter?” Lee asked
“He didn’t tell you?
I mean if you were aware of what Mark was telling me….”
Her voice sounded defensive again and bordered on belligerence.
“No, he didn’t tell me.
He didn’t have to. It
was almost like reliving my father’s life.”
Lee paused. “What
was your response, Mrs. Holmes? Did
you tell him that if he loved you he would leave Seaview, get a
safe land job?”
“Captain, how many holidays, birthdays, special
events do you spend away from the Institute and your loved ones?”
“If you mean loved ones in the sense of
biological family members, pretty much all of them.
All of my close family members are dead now, Mrs. Holmes.”
She paused and brief sadness crossed her face.
“I’m sorry, Captain for your loss.
It must be terrible to spend holidays alone.
So you see, you can’t understand how I feel for that very
“Oh, but I think I can a little bit, Mrs.
Holmes. Because the message
that my mother gave to my father, the message that she gave me when the
sea beckoned me, the message that I believe you gave to your husband are
most likely all the same. ‘If
you love me, you will give up this foolish notion, this dangerous
She gasped, her eyes glinting with sudden anger.
“But it is dangerous. I
want my child to have her daddy, not just memories.”
“So did my mother.
As it is, I have had the memories for over twenty-five years.
My father acquiesced to my mother’s wishes.
He left the Navy when his enlistment was up and became a
“He traded one dangerous job for another,” she
“Walking across the street can be dangerous,
Mrs. Holmes.” Lee took a
deep breath to calm his own irritation.
“But I could tell that he dearly missed the sea.
He missed his job. I
could tell when he took me fishing on the Outer Banks and told stories of
his Navy days.” Another
pause. “My father died out in his pleasure boat, fishing,” he
said tersely, then he sighed. “I’m
sorry, ma’am. I didn’t
mean to sound so argumentative. What
I am saying is that any job, be it submariner, truck driver, postal worker
or accountant comes with it’s own set of risks.
Yes, I admit that some have larger risks than others, but
still….” He rubbed his hand over his eyes. “Still, when do you tell someone that they have to
stop doing a job that they love?
Do you think Mark loves you less because he relishes his job here
on the Seaview?” She
appeared ready to say something so he quickly continued.
“I can tell you that your husband loves you more than you can
imagine. And he loves that
beautiful baby you’re holding in your arms.”
Another pause. “How
much do you love him?”
She bristled. “Do you love him enough to let him do the job he enjoys?
Do you respect him enough to counsel with him about his career
instead of pressuring him ‘for his own good’?”
She looked ready to cry and he stopped talking.
“Captain, I . . . I do love him. But I am so afraid for him.”
“And that’s all right, Mrs. Holmes.
My family is here on this boat.
I fear for them every mission we set out on, the dangerous and the
mundane. Every injury, every
claxon fills me with . . . ” He
stopped, unable to go on for a moment.
“Fear?” she asked gently.
Her hands lovingly moved the baby from one arm to the other, but
her eyes remained on his.
“Yes.” He could say nothing else.
“But it’s so hard to be alone on a holiday and
also think that it could be a permanent solitude, Captain Crane.”
“I can’t promise anything.”
“How about starting with trying to understand.
Give him the Christmas present of him knowing that you don’t
equate his love for you for anything other than simple love.
Try to separate your fears of his job from the way you two feel
about each other.” He smiled softly.
“It’s my understanding that the love between a husband and wife
is supposed to be unconditional and enduring despite any obstacles and
The baby began fussing in her arms.
“Yes, it is.” She sucked in a deep breath.
“I will think about what you have said, Captain.
No promises, but I will think about it.”
He nodded. “That’s
all I am asking.”
She looked down at the baby. “I’m sorry, but I have to take care of Maybeth.”
He smiled. “She’s
beautiful. I can see why he
adores you both.”
She blushed even as she reached for the switch to cut the transmission. He did the same and then sat back. Lee thought that trying to manually shut down a runaway reactor was simple beside what he had just done. He only hoped that he had not stoked this fire, but rather had dampened it a bit.
Seaview docked three days later,
several hours after the sun had risen over the hills.
Lee was one of the last to leave and didn’t even take the time to
go to his apartment. He
simply changed in his cabin and left for the party.
When he got there, he found that Linda had coordinated the best
Institute party he’d ever seen. *Meeka
rushed up to him, grabbed him in a bear hug and then told him in five
minutes all the things that had happened while he had been gone.
Lee understood only half of it.
Later he would take her out and get the whole story.
She pointed toward the kids gaming area with pinball machines and
other entertainments, hugged him again and rushed off.
Everyone seemed to be enjoying the belated holiday.
Music was playing and some of the couples were dancing in a cleared
area near the dining tables. Morton
motioned him over to the drink table and handed him a cup of eggnog and
then steered him toward the huge Christmas tree.
“I was about to send a posse out for you, Lee.”
“Just some paperwork to finish. I preferred to finish it before I left the boat rather than
have to go back tomorrow.”
Chip laughed and then sobered. “Uh oh. Here
comes trouble.” He pointed
toward the door.
Lee saw Mark Holmes coming through the door with
his wife in tow. To
Lee’s immense relief, they began dancing.
Then she saw him, said something to her husband and made her way
through the crowd toward him.
“Uh, Lee, you want me to get a security detail?
I heard some scuttlebutt that you had a talk with her and she might
have fire in her eyes.”
Crane shook his head.
“No, I’ll take my lumps if there are any.” He wondered how the scuttlebutt got started.
“Captain Crane, may I have this dance?” she
A new song was beginning—something conducive to
slow dancing. He sighed
ma’am,” he replied. He
took her in his arms a bit trepiditiously.
“Mark doesn’t mind?”
She smiled softly as she settled into his arms and
the rhythm of the dance. “No.
I needed to talk to you anyway.”
They danced in silence for a moment.
Lee noticed several of the crewmen gaping at him.
“Captain, if you ever get tired of being in charge of a
submarine, you could get a job as a counselor,” she said as they
Lee almost laughed, but refrained. “Thanks, but I guess my so-called counseling skills only
exist on the Gray Lady and have been learned from excellent
teachers—like Admiral Nelson.”
“I will have to meet him.
Mark talks about him a great deal.”
The mellow notes of Bing Crosby singing White Christmas continued.
“Captain, I hope this doesn’t embarrass you, but I can’t help
but wonder why someone hasn’t latched on to you.”
It did indeed cause some discomfort, because at
times, Lee wondered the same thing. Before
he could think too deeply about that issue again, he said wryly, “I
suppose it’s because I have a mistress.”
Lorie paused in mid-step and gazed up at him.
“My Gray Lady,” Lee explained simply.
“She’s a very demanding woman.”
They continued dancing.
“Oh, you’re talking about Seaview.”
He nodded. “I guess she is, especially for the man in charge,”
Lorie said softly, almost sadly.
“Mark is very lucky,” he began. “That he has someone who loves him like you do.”
“As you know, Captain, I do love Mark very much,
but I have not been very understanding of that job.
I am still struggling to figure out why he is so dedicated to such
a dangerous job. Why he loves
it so much. I did promise him
that I would try harder to understand.”
She paused a moment before continuing.
“I also told him how afraid I am for him every time he goes out
on a mission. I don’t think that will ever change.”
Lee nodded. “I
appreciate that, Mrs. Holmes. On
“He insisted I come to the party to meet others
in the same boat.” She
realized what she had said and then laughed.
“I guess the pun is intended.”
She sobered. “He
said that knowing other wives would help me cope better with the fear.
I hope so.” She
looked away and then back into his eyes.
“It’s not solved, but I . . . I think….
Well, we’re going to try. Thank
you, Captain.” Suddenly she
got up on her tiptoes and kissed him on the cheek.
Then she whispered. “Please
continue to take care of him.”
“I will.” Crane felt someone tap on his shoulder.
“Skipper, do you think I could get a dance with
my wife in edgewise?” Mark asked, his eyes filled with happiness.
Lee pulled back as Mark took Lorie in his arms.
As they swung away, she said, “Merry Christmas,
Mark echoed, “Merry Christmas, Skipper!”
“Merry Christmas,” he replied, before turning to join Chip, who clapped him on the back and handed him a fresh eggnog. He suspected that this time it was more than plain eggnog, but that was all right, too. He smiled as he took a sip and watched the happy couples on the dance floor.
This is based on several things.
I do indeed have letters that my dad sent to my mother when he was
stationed in the Philippines after the war.
He missed most of my oldest brother’s first year.
But while my mother wasn’t happy to have him away for that first
Christmas, she was first and foremost a military wife and simply sent him
the descriptions and love letters she knew he craved.
(In fact, I think she begged him to stay in the service longer than
he ultimately wanted to. She was lost when he finally retired.) However, I do remember hearing about military wives (sorry,
but in those days it was mostly wives who were left behind) who did raise
hell about their husbands’ jobs. I
wondered just how in the world they condescended to marry an Army man.
I guess that understanding has come more clearly with having my own
Anyway, as you have noticed, I have hurt no one in the making of this little story…. : )
*Meeka is one of the orphans whom Lee co-fostered from the story "The Little Army" .
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