While the building I worked in until recently had some severe drawbacks,
it also had some definite advantages. One advantage was that the
entire block north of the building was occupied by antique stores.
Many was the lunch hour I would spend peeking into corners looking for
treasures from the past, and looking through dusty attics for rare
books, being careful to walk around the edges so as not to fall through
I found myself frequently returning to one store in particular.
I have to admit that Amanda, who sat behind the counter every day and added
up the purchases, was the primary draw, but the store also contained some
fascinating memorabilia. One room held an immense railroad garden,
with little houses and trains.
But I was never able to go into that store without staring at a large
model ship, about six feet long. It was a three-master, carvel planked
with square sails and intricate rigging. The detail was astonishing:
If you looked in through the fo'c'sle gunports, and you could get enough
light coming in from the portholes on the other side, you could see
little hammocks swinging inside! Instead of a bottle, the ship was
kept floating in a tank of water, the whole affair being enclosed in a
large glass case.
One day, after my chatting up Amanda was interrupted by a customer wanting
to make a purchase, wandered over to the secondary object of my fascination
too look at it some more. Suddenly, a hand clasped my shoulder.
"She's a beauty, ain't she lad?" It was Bill, the owner.
"I'm afraid she's not for sale. There would be a revolt if we parted
with 'er. The whole place would come crashing down around our ears."
"I had figured that, sir. I'm... just trying to figure out what
kind of ship she is. She's not a caravel, not a sloop, certainly
not a frigate. I sure wish I could have met the builder and
This brought a twinkle to the old guy's eye. He gently patted
his shirt pocket. "You know, it's funny you should say that. There's
a story behind that, the story of how I got this particular maritime beauty."
"It was on a trip downy ocean with my Amanda and her brother, oh,
about 15 years ago. It was quite a busy day out on the
beach. You know how Ocean City gets around the end of August: You
can walk across the beach down to the water just by stepping on people
and not get any sand on your feet. I had made the mistake of
booking a hotel room at the same time as a convention of former child actors,
and the little has-beens were all out along the shoreline, making so much
noise I could barely think, and it was very hard to keep an eye on Amanda
"As the afternoon wore on, the beach became less crowded. With
the horde of screaming children having mostly left the beach, I was able
to hear myself think over the din. Fortunately, my own contribution
to that horde had mostly settled down and were happily building a sand
dribble castle about twenty yards away."
"Joey jolted me awake with a 'Look, Daddy!' and a small sandy hand thrust
in front of my face. 'A little bug!' He was all excited about
the little creature in his hand."
"'That's a sand crab, Joey. They live right along the shoreline.
If you're really careful, you'll find little teeny clams about this
big.'" Bill held his thumb and forefinger about a quarter inch
apart. I knew what he was talking about, as I had dug up dozens of
the little things and tried to take them home in a paper cup.
Bill continued. "'Now go take the sand crab back to his home, Joey.'"
"I was about to return to my book when I noticed Amanda had stopped
dribbling sand and was staring out to sea. A wonderful head that
girl's got on her shoulders, but she never was able to get over her mother
just...walking out on us. She had often said she was 'going to spot
the boat bringing Mommy back' and I imagined she was looking for it."
"But following her gaze out to sea, I could see this was not the case.
There was a large model ship, the ship you see before you, being tossed
in the surf. There was no mistaking it for the real thing, but only
because the waves were tossing it about like a real ship in a nor'easter."
"Let me tell you, I got pretty mad. Some idiot had taken a priceless
treasure and tossed it into the water just to see it float. If I
had found the culprit, I would have decked him."
"I was only halfway down to the water when, to my horror, the bow of
the ship went into a wave and it sunk! I ran out there to rescue
the thing from being smashed on the sand. Amanda's scream indicated
she saw it, too."
"After wallowing through the surf for a good minute I located her. Knowing
she'd break If I just yanked her out of the water, i eased her up, letting
water slowly drain out of the holds and portholes."
"Turning around with the ship in my arms, I was confronted with an amazing
sight: Amanda was scampering back and forth picking things off the
beach and placing them on the lid of our styrofoam cooler. Joey was
standing over the thing fending off seagulls. The seagulls
were more brazen than I ever thought a seagull could be; they really wanted
whatever was on the cooler lid. But Joey was holding his own, swinging
his toy shovel like Horatio at the bridge."
"'Joey, get away from the seagulls!' I cried. Amanda suddenly
stopped and yelled to me: "Joey's OK, Daddy! Bring the boat in and
don't let it break!'"
"How could I refuse? I lugged the thing over to my beach blanket
and set it upright on the sand. The lifeguard was running over;
his face was red, and not with sunburn. 'You idiot!' he screamed
at me. 'How could you put something like that in the water!' "
"'I didn't!' I screamed back. 'I just saw the thing and pulled it out
when it capsized!'"
"'Well, where's the fool who put it in?'"
"'I don't know, but I'd sure like to give him a bloody lip. I'm
in the antiques business and I can see how valuable this thing is.
Even with water damage.'"
"'You and me too, sir. I've called the Maritime Museum; most likely
it was stolen from there.'"
"So we waited around for a half an hour before a woman named Mary Vespucci
from the Maritime Museum showed up. She looked at the thing and immediately
said it wasn't from the museum. 'Although it breaks my heart to say so.
A wonderful primitive model ship. Looks as if you've rescued yourself
a boat, sir. Although I would be grateful if you loaned it to the Museum.'"
"'What do you mean, primitive'? I asked."
"'It's not any authentic ship style, sir. It's not a caravel, it's not
a sloop, and it's certainly not a frigate.'"
"'Daddy.' Amanda grabbed hold of my right hand. 'The captain says to
keep the boat in water or it'll dry out and break."'
"'Captain? What captain?' the lifeguard and I said, at the same time.
Amanda just looked at me."
"'I don't know about any captain', said Ms. Vespucci, 'but the little
girl's right. If you let it dry out it'll destroy itself. I
think the Museum has a tank the right size.'"
"We were able to get the thing hauled up to the Maritime Museum truck.
I turned to get the blanket and the cooler, but to my amazement I saw Amanda
and Joey putting them in the car. Ten-year-olds normally aren't all
that helpful, but I was just grateful at the time."
"As we pulled into the Museum parking lot, I thanked Amanda and Joey
for cleaning up. 'You're welcome, Daddy. We didn't want anybody stepping
on the little people.'"
"'Little people? Don't tell me I have a cooler full of sand crabs
"'No, Daddy. Little people. We had to save them from the seagulls.
Here's the Captain, he wants to speak to you.' She opened her hand, and
I thought I saw a small insect. But no, it was a tiny figure, about
a half an inch tall."
"I can tell you, my hands were trembling as I put the car into park.
Thank God we weren't driving or I would have slammed on the brakes and
the little guy would been splattered on the inside of the windshield like
a real bug. She lifted the tip of her finger, with the figure perched
on top, up to my ear. A tiny voice was barely audible."
"'I am nearly as grateful to you, sir, for saving our ship as I am to
your children for saving our lives. Many were drowned when the boat
sank, but your daughter rescued at least sixty of us.' said the voice."
"'Um, er, you're welcome', I replied, still not believing. 'Don't
"'Ah, but I must mention it. All our possessions were aboard that
ship. We are the only survivors of the island of Blefuscu, which
sank into the sea after the volcano blew up. Now, we must find a
I had to break Bill off in mid-story; my lunch hour was about up.
"That's an interesting, um, story sir, but I have to get back to work."
"No respect! That's the trouble with today's youth!" a voice that
I thought was Bill's said. "He was just getting to the best part, how he
wheedled the ship away from the Maritime Museum and set it up here!"
All of a sudden my ear itched; I reached up to scratch it but Bill grabbed
my hand. "Here I thought you wanted to hear how my ship was built, and
you interrupt the story." I could see it wasn't Bill talking. "Well let
me tell you: I'm the ship's carpenter, I built that ship!"
So this is how I left a $50,000 per year programming job for a bare
living restoring antiques and building model boats. OF course, being
married to Amanda, I wouldn't miss it for the world.