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 the floor.

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 asked him."

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 and Joey."

"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 back there.'"

"'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 mention it.'"

"'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 new home.'"

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.

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