Commander Harriman Nelson climbed from the borrowed
‘54 Chevy then almost immediately let out a loud oath as he tripped on
a piece of tread lying on the pavement. He kicked it aside then turned
to peer through the darkness at the shredded mess that was once a left
front tire. A brief inspection of the rest of the sedan revealed the
right front tire was in the same if not worse condition as the left and
he sighed heavily at his limited options. He had only one spare and
there would be little if any traffic on the road at two in the morning,
so after clearing the road of the remaining debris he climbed back into
the car. He then started it up and with a few sparks from the rims as
they contacted pavement he eased it onto the shoulder of the road.
Finally, after brushing the dirt from his uniform and gathering his
personal belongings he headed out on foot towards the
“Some shore leave,” Nelson mumbled to himself
as he trudged along the road. He couldn’t help but think that the
guardian angel watching over him must also be on leave, but he had to
chuckle at the image the passing thought conjured up. It did seem to him
that he had encountered more than his share of problems of late.
After making port at his duty station in
The naval officer who was also a
PhD and scientific genius was not one to waste time so as he put one
foot in front of the other his mind began to process data on another
topic. His current posting had him working on a team studying ways to
improve the function of the world’s first nuclear submarine, the
Nautilus, so that what was learned could be used in antisubmarine
warfare. The issue at hand was structural modifications that would allow
the sub to run much more quietly. While he had been trained on and even
commanded diesel-electric subs, Nelson was in his element as a
researcher and designer of the nuclear powered boats. Some day he hoped
to find a way to combine his design skills with his first love, the
field of marine biology, but for now he spent his days and nights
generating ideas and data for the Navy. He was so distracted by his
current calculations he almost failed to see the sign for the turn that
would lead him into town.
As one of the larger communities on the cape,
“Whaddya need?” replied the teamster as he
continued to carry the bundles over to the stand.
“I hit some metal on the road just west of here.
I need to get my car towed to a shop. You know anybody I can call?”
Without looking up the man dropped his load and
replied in a
Nelson took no offense at the matter-of-fact manner
of the man. He was raised in the area himself and knew it was just the
way people acted and spoke, especially to strangers. He had to gain the
man’s cooperation so he decided his best bet was to play the sympathy
card. “Actually I need to get back to my base. I’m due to ship out
in a few hours. When do you suppose there might be someone around to
“Don’t know for sure,” responded the man,
this time looking up. He then pointed to the logo of the major
Sensing he needed to modify his strategy, Nelson
put on his best forlorn schoolboy look and cocked his head. “I can’t
miss my boat and I need to take care of my friend’s car…it’s on
the side of the road in a bad spot. Think you could help me out here?”
After a couple of minutes of restacking his
remaining bundles the man turned to face the officer. “Sorry about
your problem. Where you bound for?”
“Submarines, huh? I
read about them a lot lately. What do you do there?”
“Research. Listen I need to…”
The older man interrupted. “Yeah, yeah, I know.
Secret government stuff. Tell you what. I’m finished with my
deliveries after the next stop. I’ll give you a lift back to Mattapan.
You can catch the train south from there. Best I can do.”
“What about the car?”
“Some boys I know run a shop up in
“Give me the name and number of your friend and
I’ll see they call him.”
“That will work,” he said while pulling out a
notepad and pencil and wrote out the needed information. He then reached
into his jacket and pulled out his wallet and extricated several bills
and held them out. “This should cover it.” After the man took the
money and placed it in his pocket Nelson introduced himself. “I’m
The man nodded. “Simeon. Just call me Pop. Climb
on in, I need ta keep movin’.”
After tossing his bag into the back of the truck
Nelson climbed into the cab. In a few more moments the man known as Pop
was seated behind the wheel and the pair headed out. They made a brief
stop to drop off several more bundles at a spot along the road north of
town then Pop turned the truck around and headed back along the highway
Nelson’s head snapped up. “What…what’s
that? Oh, yes, sorry, I was lost in thought.”
“No kidding. You must be thinking about something
“It’s work, just a bit of work.” Realizing
that he was being rude, Nelson put away the notepad and gave his full
attention to this stranger who was doing him a huge favor. “So Pop,
how long have you worked for the paper?”
“Forty years off and on. Used to sell it on the
street corner back in the day. Been on this route for almost twenty.”
“I’m sure you’ve seen you share of
‘Sure I have. Met some interesting people, too. I
bet you’ve got tales to tell.”
“Seen some quite interesting things but there is
always much more to see and explore.”
There were several minutes of silence before Pop spoke again. “I was a seagoing man
Navy or merchant marine?”
“Neither un,” he said then laughed out loud. I
used to sing with my barbershop quartet on the cruise liners. That was
back when they were the place
to be.” Pop then launched into his rendition of A
Bicycle Built for Two.
Nelson couldn’t help but laugh himself. He was
quite impressed with the man’s clear voice and with the effort he put
into belting it out. “Impressive, quite impressive.”
“You into fights?”
“Of course. That is, when I get the chance.”
“You ever get to see Marciano?”
“Never had the opportunity. He was a good one I
“Was and still is. He and my son used to pal
around some as boys. He’s a good man. Retired b’fore he got too
banged up and lives up the road here. I guess it’s good when a man
knows his priorities. He wanted to spend time with his family.”
“Hmmmm. You have a family, Pop?”
“Two daughters and a son. Son now has two
daughters of his own,” he said with a proud grin.
“I have a sister, and she means the world to me.
Family is a good thing.”
Pop nodded in agreement. “Sometimes we get too
busy, and forget.”
The pair drove into the heart of
Once they were again on their way, the older man
began to quiz the officer once more. “You
didn’t say what you did on your submarine. I read all about that
Nautilus. You have anything to do with all that?”
Nelson smiled. He knew the exploits of the boat
were well publicized, but he could reveal limited information about his
own work, since most of it was classified. Instead, he proceeded to give
what amounted to a publicity speech like those from the movie house
newsreels. Pop caught on pretty quickly that the officer was being
“Sounds like you really believe in what you do,
enough to give me the company line and still sound like you mean it.”
“You know, you’re right, it probably does sound
There was a long pause as Nelson thought about what
he could say that would satisfy Pop’s curiosity but wouldn’t simply
retell the “Tales of Nautilus” that regularly appeared in the press.
He let out a long breath and relaxed his shoulders then turned and put
his knee up on the seat. “You know Pop, it’s crucial work but doing
it is truly fascinating and all involving. Sometimes it doesn’t seem
“Isn’t it risky…being on one of those
“Of course there’s risk. Every man who has ever
gone to sea has faced risk. I like the challenges, though. There are
rewards in solving a problem, then moving on to the next one.
We’ve only just begun to explore the depths and
to see what man and his machines are capable of achieving. Nuclear
power is the wave of the future and I’m fortunate to be a pioneer.
I’m not doing it alone by any means but someday I would like to take
what I learn and use it for the benefit of mankind.”
“There are bound to be untapped resources, some
that might solve our energy problems or others that might cure a
disease. We should be able to feed many millions on the sea’s
resources. I don’t know exactly, but I am a biologist by education and
a sub designer by training and someday, I want to combine those
interests and see what’s out there.”
Pop began to chuckle at the intensity of the
officer’s comments. “I have no doubt you will. You know, you remind
me a lot of Millie.”
“Millie? Is that your wife?”
“Nah. Millie…Amelia…Earhart. She used to go
on and on about her plans and dreams, like you just did.”
“The Lady Lindy? You knew her?”
He nodded and smiled warmly. “She was a gem, and
so funny, and boy what a kind heart. You know she used to be a teacher,
nurse, and a social worker? She taught English to the new settlers.”
Nelson shook his head. “Never heard about that
side of her. I suppose it wouldn’t sell papers like her exploits
“She didn’t make a lot of money doin’ her
job, so I used to drive her to the airport when I could. She saved her
money to follow her dreams…and she had more ‘n a few!
She and that fellow…can’t recall his name… had the idea to
develop a smaller airport out Dennison way. That was the old Squantum
naval air field, ya know. Said she wanted a place where women would be
welcome as pilots and respected. She was tough but she was a lady too.
She had built a setup for a powder room out at that field. She said most
places had no place for women to go and freshen up, and it was a damn
“Did you get to see her fly?”
“No never had the pleasure. Usually I just
dropped her off and went on my way. I kept up with her though. She ended
up teaching ‘bout careers for women at
“Her disappearance was a sad thing.”
“Couldn’t believe it m’self. “ Pop said
sadly. There was a period of silence as he apparently lost himself in
the memories of his friend. “The press hasn’t been too kind to her.
Said she lacked experience with radios and navigation. Lookin’ back I
wished that I had pushed her to get more experience with ‘em. She told
me a few times that was something she meant to get around to. ”
“Sometimes you just have to jump in with both
feet, Pop. Most great advances throughout history were made when someone
took a risk.”
“Yeah, maybe. I should’ve been a better friend.
Anyhow, when you’re working on that sub, make sure it has the best
radio and navigation system in the world, and the best people to operate
‘em. She would tell you that if she was around.”
Nelson smiled to himself. He would take the man’s
and Millie’s suggestions to heart.
Despite their extreme differences in background,
Pop being a first generation immigrant from eastern Europe and Nelson, a
descendant of some of the first Irish-American settlers, the two men
found they had a number of things in common as they shared information
about their lives. Very few times in recent memory had Nelson been able
to just talk to someone about everyday things and he enjoyed it
immensely. Pop was a talker and a great storyteller, but he was not a
braggart or a simple name dropper. The thing that impressed the officer
the most was that the older man relayed a lesson in every story he told.
He had not only met the famous and the infamous, he had listened and
learned from them. It was certainly a quality to aspire to, and one that
would be invaluable as he progressed through both career and life.
The conversation made two hour trip back to
Pop nodded. “It was nothin’. Good luck,
Nelson stepped out of the truck, went around the
back and pulled out his bag then tapped on the side so Pop would know he
was clear. The truck then pulled off leaving him standing alone at the
curb. He set his bag down and looked up at the heavens and grinned. His
angel had been on duty after all and sent him Pop. As if in response to
his thoughts, the morning sun broke over the horizon.
Retired Admiral Harriman Nelson had been busy, so
busy that he had been chain smoking and his personal coffee consumption
had practically keeping the world’s producers in business for months.
He was on the eve of launching his creation, the world’s most advanced
and only privately owned nuclear submarine. The craft was to be called
Seaview and its purpose was to explore the ocean frontiers. In the
process of designing and constructing her, Nelson had gained more than
his share of detractors; however, he considered them narrow minded and
envious men and seldom paid any attention to their rants.
Today was a little different. Nelson had been
seriously considering stopping the launch in order to address some of
the issues that had been brought forward. None of them would materially
affect the operation of the boat but they would significantly influence
how the submarine’s missions were to be financed and ultimately how it
was used. Nelson wanted autonomy and “they” wanted control. There
had to be a happy medium to be found somewhere but it was certainly not
in sight. Today, he was weary of the fight.
While he had spent a significant amount of time in
As he sat behind his desk at the newly created
Nelson Institute of Marine Research, the admiral stared at the stack of
letters in his inbox. He had left orders with his secretary that every
envelope that came in the mail was to be pre-screened. He wanted all of
them saved but today he was only interested in reading those that were
supportive of his plans. He reached into the box and grabbed a stack and
began flipping through them. It
was obvious that many of them were written by children and he smiled,
knowing that kids were often more supportive of new ideas such as his.
He scanned the return addresses to determine where the letters had
originated and he found some were from halfway around the world.
After spending about ten minutes at the task he
stood up to stretch. He turned and caught sight of a small envelope that
had fallen to the floor and he picked it up. Flipping it over he looked
at the name on the envelope and something about it was familiar but he
couldn’t quite place it. He pulled out the single page letter that was
inside and a broad smile came to his face as he read.
I don’t know if you remember me,
but we met in Barnstable Mass a number of years ago where you managed to
tear up a friend’s tires and I gave you a lift. Anyway, I’ve been
reading about your career and your current project and just wanted to
give you a little encouragement, since it is all I have to give.
I know that about now you are pulling
out your hair and fed up with dealing with bureaucrats. While you might
hope they will go away, you know they won’t so you might as well get
used to it. Trust me that they’ll still be around when you’re gone.
Like cockroaches, they are.
You will leave a legacy for someone,
whether it’s for your family or your friends, or even the world.
Don’t worry about those that have no faith in you. Just have faith in
yourself. If you surround yourself with good people you will have
If you ever get down, think about
Millie Earhart. She never got down, just down to business. Remember her
lesson: Prepare for the things that you can and moderate your risks.
After all, the world can’t afford to lose all its dreamers, can it?
I will definitely look forward to
reading about your adventures in the near future.
Nelson sat back down and refolded the letter before
placing it in his top right desk drawer. That was the place for
documents he knew he would refer to often and it was a matter of respect
to place Pop’s letter there. He leaned back in his chair and tented
his fingers as he recalled the incident that brought the two men
together. It could be no mere happenstance that he would receive this
letter out of the blue on this particular day. He once again stood then
gazed out the window, wondering what message the higher power might be
sending him now. After a number of minutes of deep thought he picked up
the phone and dialed.
“Morton here,” announced the voice on the other
end of the line.
“Chip, this is Nelson. There is something
that’s been nagging at me about the inertial guidance system. I want
you to check into it before we sign off on it. And I want you to have
Comments welcome. My e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org