George was feeling old and nostalgic. He had recently been diagnosed with cancer and had experienced all the fear and mental anguish that accompanies such a diagnosis. In just a few days it was over with a happy ending. After the operation the surgeon reported that as far as he could tell, the cancer had not spread. He thought they got it all so he should be cancer free. It would, however, require monitoring on a regular basis and a regiment of drugs for the next few months. The surgeon's optimistic but slightly qualified comments left a lingering doubt in his mind.
That brief brush with death had a profound effect on George. He had begun to take stock of his life and wondered if he hadn't squandered much of it. Might he have accomplished more? Made more money? Made and kept in contact with more friends? Could he have contributed to society in a way that he would be remembered?
His parents had made a real mark on the world. They had brought joy to millions. And, because of them he had far more opportunities than most. Because of them he and his siblings were rich. He was coming to terms with his mortality and it was looking a bit depressing. Those who die young in wars or accidents are spared this experience. The euphemism for them is "forever young", but let's face it, that's not exactly a great tradeoff.
The more he thought about his life, more specifically its inevitable end, the more nostalgic he became. As a person who has a tendency to give into his compulsive impulses, he formulated a plan of action. He was going to dig out his parents' old photo albums and get drunk! His mom had put them and some old toys away decades ago in an old steamer trunk up in the attic. He might even call his brother whom he had not really spoken to in years. Or, was it decades?
He went up into his attic and after rummaging around through decades of accumulated old furniture, Christmas decorations and old clothing deemed un-needed, but too good to discard, he finally found the old trunk that he sought. He remembered that his mother had packed away toys from his very early childhood when she told him that he officially didn't live there anymore and that his bedroom was now going to be her sewing room. His parents were not going to tolerate what we today call a "boomeranger", so they handed him a few dollars, told him it was time to grow up, showed him the door and said "Keep in touch."
As he went through the trunk he discovered that it had a few of his brother's things too. He found an old windup rocket car and a mechanical motorcycle that goes in a circle as its spring unwinds. It was the kind of sheet metal toy that ushered in Japan's post war reindustrialization. He knew one was his and the other was his brother's, but didn't remember which was which. His brother or sister's grand children might like them. They both worked and were in remarkably good shape considering they had played with them quite a bit.
Going deeper into the trunk, he found his, or possibly his brother's, old sailor's cap, which brought a smile to his face. Those were happy years. Circumnavigating the world with their parents on a schooner was a wonderful childhood. The cap, called a "Crackerjack Hat", was a flat round, navy blue wool hat like those worn by US sailors in the 1940's. It was inscribed in white with the name of their boat, "Rhythm n Rhyme", on a black silk ribbon around the base. It had been meticulously packed in the trunk with plenty of mothballs.
As he dug even deeper, to his surprise he found the rest of the sailor's uniform. It seems his mother had used it as packing material to protect the more fragile items. I guess she didn't have the heart to throw it out, and now he wouldn't either. Thirty years ago he would have trashed it but time changes prospective. How many teenage boys would wear a sailor suit and crew on their parent's sailboat? Crew on sailboat yes, sailor suit NO!
His brother Ralph said no, but had badly overplayed his hand in a test of wills with their mother. George, on the other hand, saw nothing wrong with the sailor suits or his mother's idea for uniforms on a yacht. Then again, at eleven, he was the youngest of the three children, and was "the pleaser" and "momma's boy". He would ultimately become collateral damage in the ensuing conflict between his mother and brother when he picked the wrong side in that conflict. Life lesson to learn; don't needlessly get involved in other people's battles.
Sis had no problem wearing the same uniform as her brothers. Girls wear boy's clothes often and nobody thinks a thing about it. But, his fourteen year old brother began teasing their thirteen year old sister about dressing "like a boy" in an attempt to undermine their mothers plan for a uniform. Foolishly, George allowed himself to be roped into the fun and joined in the teasing without any appreciation of his brother's ulterior motive. Ralph's opposition to the sailor uniforms their mother had made for them had been so adamant, that she decided it was time to teach him a lesson.
It really doesn't matter what you wear on a cruising sailboat. Many sailors are naked as jay birds and except for the danger of sunburn, it matters not. When there's no other boat in a thousand square miles of ocean, who cares? But, a nudist boat probably wouldn't be appropriate for a family. It was truly much ado about nothing, but their mom decided to allow Ralph's willfulness to reach its inevitable conclusion, knowing that she held all the cards.
His parents issued an ultimatum to the boys; "Stop teasing Sis, or there would be harsh consequences!" But the boys didn't stop. Convinced that just a little more pressure would accomplish his goal and scuttle Mom's idea for uniforms forever, Ralph egged George on and the two of them kept it up.
In what appeared to be his mother's acquiescence, she offered to let Ralph set specifications for a replacement uniform if he agreed to wear it. Ralph agreed figuring that he could specify them right out of existence. Confident that he had outsmarted her with this ploy, he agreed that the resulting specifications would be formalized into a written contract that he would honor. It was a classic case of "Be careful what you wish for." It had been such a battle that they even called it "the Peace Treaty".
Ralph represented the boys in the negotiations and Mom represented the girls while Dad claimed to be a neutral third party. On a boat under sail moving at six knots across the vastness of the Pacific Ocean, there's plenty of time for such nonsense and the diversion was actually welcomed by all. They would all sign the resulting agreement and abide by it.
It turned out that Ralph, in whom George had placed his faith, was not a good negotiator. He allowed his mother to maneuver him into stating his uniform specifications as a list of negatives. For example; the sailor suit would not have bell bottom trousers or there would be no jumper collar on the tunic or jacket, or no vertical or horizontal stripes on the shirt or no cotton sailor's hats as worn by navy enlisted men. When he said he wanted "Bermuda shorts", she insisted that he state it technically, not by name, but by function as "bottom of garment will terminate well above the knee and be secured at the waist".
With enough negatives, and a few watered down affirmative specifications, he planned to kill the possibility of uniforms completely, even as he explicitly agreed to wear the uniform that would result from the treaty. That's called "bad faith". The flaw in his theory was that his mother could give him a thousand concessions, all of which were meaningless, because she knew exactly what the uniform he was agreeing wear would look like and she knew the few words that had to be avoided in the agreement to close her trap. None of the words critical to her plan ever even came up in the negotiations, so she did not ask him for a single concession. He dictated everything in the agreement, so he clearly had ownership of it.
What he lacked in skill as a negotiator, he more than made up for in confidence. By the time the negations had been concluded, the two boys were certain that they had covered all the bases with a long list of exclusions, and the final version of the contract was typed up and made ready for a formal signing with all due pomp and circumstance.
Ralph was certain he had won his war with Mom, and a formal dinner in the boat's saloon would mark the occasion culminating in the formal signing of their peace treaty, or as he termed it; "Mom's surrender". A loving smile was her only reply to that slight. Bursting an arrogant teenage boy's bubble is one of the great privileges and obligations of parenthood.
In a final act of defiance, Mom and Sis wore to dinner their old uniforms that had started the conflict in the first place, and the boys wore Bermuda shorts and tee shirts to celebrate their victory of freedom over order. Dad, in recognition of the occasion wore a standard yachtsman's uniform of white ducks a white shirt and tie and a blue blazer, but commented that the boy's informality on this important occasion reinforced the merits of their mother's case.
With the wind vein autopilot holding her on a steady course in calm seas and constant wind, "Rhythm n Rhyme" was on a broad reach that would last several days so there was plenty of time for a relaxing feast, the ceremonial signing of the treaty, and toasts with wine to mark the solemnity of occasion with an occasional glimpse at the radar, compass and horizon.
The next day, the treaty bearing all four signatures was framed and secured to the bulkhead in a place of prominence. There was an unmistakable similarity between Ralph's signature and that of John Hancock on the Declaration of Independence. Pride cometh before the fall!
The boys were allowed to revel in their victory just long enough before Sis and Mom gleefully modeled their new uniforms for them. They met all of the boy's specifications. These were the uniforms the boys had agreed to wear and it became immediately apparent that they had been hoodwinked.
An expression of horror filled Ralph's face as he saw what he had wrought and George yelled out in terror that this was all Ralph's fault before trying to storm out of the cabin in tears. Their mom knew that Ralph, in his male centric view, would never think to put even one single restriction on dresses or any other women's clothing.
Sis just had to rub salt in their wounds by thanking them for their concern for her sensibilities at having to wear a boy's uniform and she thanked Ralph for his willingness to wear the new uniform to spare her the humiliation of having to wear those old "excessively masculine" clothes. When the boys appealed to Dad to save them, he coldly told them, "You made your bed, now you're going to have to lie in it. Besides that, I've seen the uniforms and they are really cute. Much nicer than the old boring ones you insisted on replacing." Dad, as the captain, was exempt from the crew uniform requirements and referred the boys back to the treaty for any further recourse. Ralph's goose was cooked and he knew it. George was just along for the ride having allied himself with Ralph out of loyalty.
The new uniform was a cute ultra feminized interpretation of a sailor's suit with a short white crinoline petticoat under an equally short navy blue full skirt reminiscent of a French maid costume. Since it was a dress and not a tunic, shirt or blouse, the traditional sailor's jumper collar was included right down to the two while stripes of piping that also accented the bottoms of the skirts. No stockings or heels though, just boat shoes! High heels and boats don't mix well.
Adding insult to injury, in an effort to instill more empathy for their sister and other girls and as punishment for continuing to tease her after their parents warned them of "harsh consequence", their mother announced that they would both be wearing bras and girdles under their uniforms, as punishment and just so they know what it feels like for women.
For most families this would be an extravagant expenditure just to make a point, but they had constant money coming in through royalties and when you were on a sailboat in the middle of the ocean in the 1960's you didn't have much opportunity to spend it. So, the cost was of no concern to her whatsoever. Threats not carried out undermine credibility. In the future all three siblings would heed their parents' warnings knowing that their parent don't make idol threats.
Their mom had all of their measurements from the first uniforms she made, and she had clearly planned all of this before they left their last port. She knew how the negotiations would go and exactly what traps the boys would stumble into. Before they set sail, she had selected and bought their "proper underpinnings" and all the fabric, zippers, buttons, patterns and everything else she needed for the pretty new uniforms and matching hats. She even had the ribbon for the hats embroidered with the boat's name and had it all packed up before they left port. Sis had probably even seen the new uniforms before the negotiations had started; such was the deviousness of their mom's trap. There were life lessons being taught here and all three children were bright enough to learn them well.
Looking in the trunk at the cute little uniform that he wore as an eleven and twelve year old, he reflected back on their behavior and how they teased their sister until their parents snapped them back into line with petticoating. He can still remember his sister's glee at their first appearance on deck in their new uniforms. His brother didn't take it very well, but accepted the inevitability of his predicament. George, however, enjoyed the hell out of it.
Mom had gotten Ralph a training bra and a short panty girdle to wear under his new uniform believing that was about as far as she could push him and have him accept his fate without rebellion. Figuring George would tolerate more, she had gotten him a rather firm an all-in-one girdle. George didn't know how his mother knew this, but she had gotten him several pair of nylon panties so he could wear one under the all-in-one with the suggestion that tucking his private parts between his legs in the panties would improve the fit. It did. Perhaps the corsetiere, having petticoated other boys offered this advice that she passed along. The panties held him in place while he hooked and unhooked the crotch of the garment when needed. Going to the bathroom was complicated and since most sailors pee over the stern of a sailboat, neither the underwear nor the petticoats were conducive to honoring that traditional male privilege. The head below deck would be a safer and more private alternative when in that uniform.
The odd thing is, once George was in his new all-in-one, he loved it. This was not the reaction his mom expected, or wanted, but from that point on, he couldn't wait to get into his cute new sailor uniform each day. This little episode of petticoating had awakened a dormant curiosity in him. The pressure of the girdle on his tummy and the lifting of his butt are sensations a boy never experiences. He not only loved the firm embrace of the all-in-one girdle but loved the soft smoothness of the panties as well. From now on when they went swimming he would want to wear one of his sister's hand-me-down one piece bathing suits. And over time he even wanted to sleep in one of her baby doll nighties. His brother was mortified, while his sister embraced his new interest. But, on a sailboat, one does not carry a large wardrobe and Sis didn't have many extra clothes to share. His mother didn't expect him to wear it that often or for more than a week or two, so she had gotten only one girdle for him which would have to be laundered from time to time as he continued wearing it. If this interest continued, additional clothing for him would have to be acquired at the next major port.
The three of them, along with their mom would wear their new uniforms during their school lessons when they were at sea and if there were any misbehavior by the boys, the threat that they would have to wear them while entering port was enough to cow them. While George liked his little uniform, that didn't mean he wanted to be seen in it in public.
Their mother's form of discipline was remarkably effective and wearing the uniforms during class hours provided structure and routine into what could easily have devolved into disorder. Ralph was the only one who was anxious to change after classes. The other three sometimes wore them all day.
His parents were married in the early 1950's, were hippies in the mid 50's (although hippies hadn't been invented yet). By the time hippies were popular they had three kids, "been there, done that" and had moved on to successful careers as song writers. As such they didn't need an office or a factory; just a small electric organ and a guitar, a dictionary, a thesaurus and their imaginations fueled by their many adventures and their love for each other. That may be an oversimplification because they did have an extensive library on the boat both for the children's education and their song writing.
They had bought the boat with the earnings from their first hit song and began a life cruising with their children. The list of famous people who popped onto their forty five foot schooner in every corner of the world to hear and sing their songs would be a who's who of the 60's and 70's pop charts. Many of them were overnight guests in port or for short cruises as the boat could sleep six and the boys could sleep in the cockpit if needed. Larger groups could go day sailing.
Their boat was a 45 foot (length on deck) wooden staysail schooner modified from L. Francis Herreshoff's proven "Mobjack" design. His design called for ketch rigging, but their father was a romantic and had always wanted a schooner, so a schooner she would become. If you counted the elegant bow sprit and stern dingy davits she stretched in length to 56 feet with a 12.5 foot beam and a 5.5 ft draft. Her hull was framed in oak with fir double planking and teak decks and trim. She was always the prettiest boat in any anchorage and the extreme clipper bow revealed "New England Yankee" in her pedigree, although they were a Canadian family.
Maintaining her kept the three children and their dad busy and out of trouble. Displacing 36,000 pounds with 12,000 pounds of lead ballast she was stable and safe. And a small 60 HP auxiliary diesel would get her safely into or out of port. Under sail, the prop would turn in the water as the boat moved. Belted to the rotating shaft was a compressor to keep their refrigeration system going, and an alternator to provide DC power for the radar, navigation and other critical systems. Lighting at night was by oil lamp and cooking was done on an alcohol stove. They did have a small gasoline powered generator, but it was rarely used.
Going still deeper into the trunk, George finally hit pay dirt. The photo albums were carefully rapped and under them were several dozen boxes of slides. His parents took slides then got prints made of perhaps the best one percent or so. He'll go through the prints, the cream of the crop, and then perhaps go through the slides themselves to see if any were of particulate interest to him or his siblings. He skipped the baby pictures and everything up to first pictures when they bought the boat. That's when life really became interesting.
The photographs brought back memories of the various places and people they had seen. Yes it was his parents' lives, but it was his and his siblings' lives too. As he saw the pictures his memory was refreshed. Many of their pictures are of famous buildings or features everyone would recognize, like the Golden Gate Bridge, but many others were of people. His mother had labeled each picture and written on the backs of them as well.
"My God they were courageous! And skilled." He thought to himself. Sailing in the 60's wasn't like it is today. Wooden boats were the norm and fragile compared to boats of today. There were no weather satellites or weather fax's showing fronts moving. On the open ocean you took your chances with your barometer, hoped for news via radio from other boats or ships and watched the seas and skies. A sextant for celestial navigation, a compass, radio direction finder and a "Walker Log" spinning behind the boat to estimate speed for dead reckoning were your navigation tools on the high seas, not a GPS that now gives you a precise location at the touch of a button. He remembered his dad and mom recording the exact time and angles of the sun, moon or star and doing complex calculations after the sightings that would ultimately yield lines of position and a dot on a chart deemed to be "a fix". The boats were truly on their own and had to be ready to handle any emergency from a fire to a hull breach by themselves. The sea does not forgive.
As George looked at the album, he was amazed by the places and the details of life and people that caught his parents' attention. It wasn't normal tourist points of interests. From Halifax they had headed to Bermuda then down into the Caribbean on their way to the Panama Canal. From Panama they would head up the west coast of Mexico to the US, then out to Hawaii, Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, the Philippines.
Their parents impressed on them the fact that many of the places they sailed past were embroiled in wars and civil wars. A little over two decades earlier World War 2 had been raging. A taxi driver they met in Manila broke into tears telling them the names of the American Officers and NCO's from his unit who most likely died on the Bataan Death March. It made an indelible impression on George. The man had been serving in the Philippine Army in 1941 when the Philippines were a US territory and most of their officers and many of their NCO's were Americans. He had escaped from Bataan when it fell and obviously had tremendous respect for these men. He hated the Japanese with all his heart, but explained how they had to put such feelings aside now and become friends. "They aren't the same Japanese who killed so many of our people." On their way out of Manila Bay they stopped at Corregidor and toured the island but were warned to stay on marked paths because of so much unexploded ordinance still there.
The city state of Singapore was their next destination. After that, was passage through the pirate infested Strait of Malacca, at the time made safer thanks to a very high US Navy presence due to their involvement in Vietnam. Bombay beckoned and then through the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea so they could pass through the Suez Canal just on time for the 1967 Mideast War. There were so many wars going on that George concluded it must be the favored means of conflict resolution despite the near universal condemnation of it.
Cruising isn't a safe undertaking, but it can be fun and educational. They ended up spending a year in the Mediterranean visiting sites in Asia, Europe and North Africa. Dad was a history buff and enjoyed pontificating on the subject. The time spent on their sailboat gave the children an education that surpassed anything any school could offer. Not only had they been personally exposed to different types of governments and cultures, but they saw historical sites and geography most would only see in books. They had practical experience in many disciplines as well. One of George's science projects was construction and maintenance of a large solar still to generate fresh water. Replenishing fresh water was always a major concern on a cruising boat at that time. Leaving Gibraltar they headed for the Azores and then for home ending their four year circumnavigation.
Going through the pictures he noticed something he hadn't remembered. Ralph must have learned his lesson quickly because after only a week or so, according to the pictures, he must have apologizes to his mom and sister and been given the option to select his original uniform (and underwear) if he preferred it. He did! George, however, stuck with the new feminine uniform for quite a while. With his long hair, it's unlikely anyone would have noticed anyhow.
The family would live on the boat for a short time after arrival back at Halifax while their parents prepared the house on a farm they had bought. The boat was eventually sold after they moved off of it and to the farm house that George subsequently inherited. His parents and siblings moved on from their sailing days, but George never did. When he left home his life gravitated toward yachts and he ended up running a boatyard and yacht brokerage. While he had never settled down and had a family of his own, it has been a wonderful life. He had met a lot of superb people, had a good reputation within his industry and in his community. He had been truly blessed.
At the bottom of the trunk, which he now realized was actually a time capsule assembled by his mother; he found something truly unexpected; the ship's log and a manuscript written by his parents. George now had a new mission, a family reunion! He would make the manuscript, log and pictures into a documentary to be shown at the reunion. He would have to cancel his plan to get drunk, because he had no time to waste. He called his sister and then his brother and arranged a get together. They talked for hours and it was as though they had never been separated. He is happy with the life he has had and he wouldn't change a thing. Now he doesn't have time to worry about cancer. He's got a documentary and a family reunion to arrange.