My parents had a lot of stuff they acquired over a 62-year marriage. They didn’t throw anything out, literally. That was left for the last one standing, me.
This fall will be a year since we sold the house on Blackpoint Road in Rumson. After 13, 20-yard dumpsters were carted off; we were left with a basement of things that had meaning or value. That has been reduced to a couple of handfuls of items that will stay in our family. One is an Elgin Watch I found at the bottom of a box. It didn’t look good, but after I had pieced together its history, I decided to have it restored and repaired.
The watch was given to my grandfather by his wife in 1926. Her initials inscribed next to his inside the case near the guts of the watch and serial number. The case has his initials, VT, a Freemason symbol, and the number 32 etched on the back. Freemasons are a kind of secret society, and one of the most significant fraternal orders still active today. There are several Freemason Lodges here in Monmouth County. Think of help and fellowship. The number thirty-two has Freemason meaning and connotes a Master Mason – which means something to Freemasons but not to those of us not initiated.
I paid a king’s ransom (pun intended) to have it restored. It works well and looks good for a hundred-year-old trench watch. It was used and abused by a veteran, who was a plumber with a curiosity about life. I had a strap made from a shop in Finland, which is perfect. The dial has the 12 facing towards my elbow, which was the style of the time. The design from a time when watches were made more user friendly for those fighting wars.
When you settle an estate and dig through the stuff someone else thought was important enough to keep around, it is good to give pause and try to figure out why. The watch was my grandfather’s, passed to my mom, and made its way to me from the bottom of a dusty metal box. It was never intended for me, or it would have been given to me when everyone associated with it was still alive. But it made its way from an old man’s arm to his favorite grandson. That’s cool.
I can’t watch tv news anymore. The competing networks are just too over the top. Deciphering the truth eventually leads me to believe nothing is the truth. There is probably a fancy word for that, but for now, let’s just call it bullshit.
The bullshit is basically that everyone either has or will get the virus. The whole world is protesting (Trump supporters don’t wear masks because they are immune from their last vote) looting and burning. Cops are killing people at random, and being black, white, or gay is worse than being a woman.
But I think I have found a bright light at the end of the tunnel. I saw an ad last night for a lawyer looking for people who have been abused by priests. This tells me at least one person in the CNN ad department thought it was a good idea to take this lawyer’s money so he can help those poor people and put a bad guy in jail.
I remember fishing with my dad out beyond the tip of Sandy Hook near Romer Shoals. There is a lighthouse that helps captains navigate the waters into New York Harbor. It was also a great fishing spot, and I would imagine it still is. (The lighthouse story is a good one, the tale could be a book or movie. Google it for some fun reading.)
The trip began from Pauls Boats in Rumson. We could make the trip out, fish, and get back after work and before dark in the summer. I remember bouncing around in our boat as we passed over the shoals several times with our lines in the water. Trying to maintain your footing in a heaving boat with a fish on the line was always an extra challenge. Mom would make Chicken Kiev and wrap it in tin foil to maintain the heat. (Who the hell eats Chicken Kiev fishing on a boat, near capsizing, on a shoal outside NY Harbor? My mom was an excellent cook, and Dad liked to eat). I recall watching him biting the Kiev balls right out of the tin foil wrapper, butter running down his face and onto his shirt, the other hand steering the boat.
My dad’s absolute fascination with the water came from his relationship with his father. The latter was a global captain he hardly knew. Bad relationships and distance kept them apart. For me, it was just a bad relationship. And I only had a mild interest in boats, they require effort well beyond any I am willing to expend.
As the sun started to lower to the west, we turned for home. I always liked looking at Highlands as we made our way under the bridge heading South. Then the right turn up the Navesink. This meant home.
My maternal grandparents lived on Bridgewaters Drive on the south side of the Shrewsbury River. Their home faced the Oceanport Bridge with Rumson and Sea Bright far off in the distance. They loved living on the water with the sunsets off to the west over the train bridge, making for some beautiful evenings.
A low tide reached sometime overnight meant there was a good chance my grandfather, Victor Terwilliger, would call and ask if I wanted to go jacking with him. These were the most memorable and the best of all my time spent on the water as a kid.
We attached a kerosine lamp to the front of the rowboat and headed out into the black of night. Only a small area ahead of the boat had any light. We spent a couple of hours creeping through the rivers’ inlets peering under seaweed looking for some portion of a crab hiding there. The net-less end of the pole propelled us through the night sky until we filled a peach basket or two with crabs. You had to be fast, and it was more than once that one of us tumbled overboard into the river’s silty mud. We laughed and cussed because we knew it would be cold the rest of the way, and there was no going back before the tide turned.
My grandmother would track us and the other jackers in the river from her kitchen window. She would watch the lanterns glow and move through the river. Her kitchen window being a perfect vantage point to keep an eye on an old man and his grandson in the middle of the night.
As I got older, my time on the river dwindled as I did what every teen does chasing girls and finding trouble that needed some help. My grandfather died in that house on the river quietly with my grandmother by his side. She had served him some tea as he was fighting an illness. He sipped some and declared “that tastes good,” closed his eyes, and passed. He was 88
I want to write about what it takes to be a good man. I believe I am a good man. Sure, I have my moments and faults that are likely to annoy some of my family and friends.
I also believe people are good. They want to do the right thing, and most of the time, they do just that. I am no exception. Sometimes I fail to deliver. Other times I do things that are just plain wrong. If someone hits me, literally or figuratively, I will hit them back. I learned this as a kid. I feel the need to even the score. I am the father of three young men. I tried to give them the best of me and to hide the worst. Time will tell how I did, but I think they are good men. It is good to pass good on.
I see a world of opportunity out there in the public and private sectors. Problems are opportunities, just begging for help. I tell my young men this all the time. It is the exceptional who push through the inertia and make something happen. We live in a time of polarization, of finger-pointing and blame. Think there’s not some opportunity here? We also live in a country whose infrastructure is failing. We are pushing the limits of our electrical grid, bridges, tunnels, and roads. I smell opportunities, and it smells good.
When I was a kid, a minority of any kind was ostracized. I am not declaring victory—we have more work to do. Consider this: We have had a black president, a woman ran and almost won the last election, a man who was on the Wheaties box in 1977 has adorned the cover of Vanity Fair, as a woman. We have had an outpouring of love and support for the gay community, which endured such pain in Florida—by straight people. White people are protesting the injustices done to black men by police officers. There was no such thing as a marriage between two women or two men when I was a kid. Think we haven’t progressed?
The way forward needs good men and women, and you know what? We have them. They are the sleeping bear. A bear that is about to get poked despite centuries of advice that tells us not to: the electorate has to make a choice akin to choosing the tallest midget. We will select and start complaining about our selection this December. Despite all the good that comes for everyone from whatever holiday you are celebrating, people will complain. Then we will point fingers and blame the other side of whatever side you’re on. We will seem to be coming apart at the seams. Like Anarchy, but …
Two women will marry, a black man will risk his life to save a white man, inequalities will be exposed by people who benefit from the bias because they have moral values. A child will help an old woman push her shopping cart. Doctors and researchers will work tirelessly to find treatments and cures. The Sun will come up every day.
Hope is buried in the hearts and minds of all of us. Sometimes we get so overloaded with the rhetoric we can’t see the good men and women out there. Here’s a headline: It is most of us. Almost all of us are good men.
I am a good man, and I know plenty of other good men. There are good women too. Again, almost all of them are good. Add us up, and you have the formula for social change that will come and lead our great nation to new heights. Don’t just watch, poke the bear!