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By The Sea 1887   By: (1847-1924)

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By Heman White Chaplin


On the southeastern coast of Massachusetts is a small village with which I was once familiarly acquainted. It differs little in its general aspect from other hamlets scattered along that shore. It has its one long, straggling street, plain and homelike, from which at two or three different points a winding lane leads off and ends abruptly in the water.

Fifty years ago the village had a business activity of its own. There still remain the vestiges of a wharf at a point where once was a hammering ship yard. Here and there, in bare fields along the sea, are the ruins of vats and windmills, picturesque remains of ancient salt works.

There is no visible sign left now of the noisy life of the ship yards, except a marble stone beneath a willow in the burying ground on the hill, which laments the untimely death of a youth of nineteen, killed in 1830 in the launching of a brig. But traces of the salt works everywhere remain, in frequent sheds and small barns which are wet and dry, as the saying is, all the time, and will not hold paint. They are built of salt boards.

There were a good many of the people of the village and its adjoining country who interested me very greatly. I am going to tell you a simple event which happened in one of its families, deeply affecting its little history.

James Parsons was a man perhaps sixty years of age, strongly built, gray haired, cleanshaven except for the conventional seaman's fringe of beard below the chin, and always exquisitely neat. Whether you met him in his best suit, on Sunday morning, or in his old clothes, going to his oyster beds or his cranberry marsh, it was always the same. He was usually in his shirt sleeves in summer. His white cotton shirt, with its easy collar and wristbands, seemed always to have just come from the ironing board. "It ain't no trouble at all to keep James clean," I have heard Mrs. Parsons say, in her funny little way; "he picks his way round for all the world just like a pussycat, and never gets no spots on him, nowhere."

You saw at once, upon the slightest acquaintance with James, that while he was of the same general civilization as his neighbors, he was of a different type. In his narrowness, there was a peculiar breadth and vigor which characterized him. He had about him the atmosphere of a wider ocean.

His early reminiscences were all of that picturesque and adventurous life which prevailed along our coasts to within forty years, and his conversation was suggestive of it He held a silver medal from the Humane Society for conspicuous bravery in the rescue of the crew of a ship stranded in winter in a storm of sleet off Post Hill Bar. He had a war hatchet, for which he had negotiated face to face with a naked cannibal in the South Sea. He was familiar with the Hoogly.

His language savored always of the sea. His hens "turned in," at night. He was full of sayings and formulas of a maritime nature; there was one which always seemed to me to have something of a weird and mystic character: "South moon brings high water on Coast Island Bar." In describing the transactions of domestic life, he used words more properly applicable to the movements of large ships. He would speak of a saucepan as if it weighed a hundred tons. He never tossed or threw even the slightest object; he hove it. "Why, father!" said Mrs. Parsons, surprised at seeing him for a moment untidy; "what have you ben doing? Your boots and trousers legs is all white!" "Yes," said Mr. Parsons, apologetically, looking down upon his dusty garments, "I just took that bucket of ashes and hove 'em into the henhouse."

The word "heave," in fact, was always upon his tongue. It applied to everything. "How was this road straightened out?" I asked him one day; "did the town vote to do it?" "No, no," he said quickly; "there was n't never no vote. The se lec'men just come along one day, and got us all together, and hove in and hove out; and we altered our fences to suit... Continue reading book >>

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