Henrietta And Bell(e)
By Harry T. "Tom" Serres
As most people
remember woman were bad luck aboard a military ship. Rules were different on a
lighthouse. This was true in the year 1951. The crew of four assigned to Holland
Island Bar Light Station, just 15 miles west of Crisfield, Maryland, managed to
hide two females from the Coast Guard authorities who periodically inspected the
chain of lighthouses which dotted Chesapeake Bay.
names of the women on the lighthouse were Henrietta and Bell(e).
Henrietta was the name given our 25-foot motor launch, which she was
affectionately called right up until the day I was
reassigned to the CGC Westwind, which resembled a pregnant white whale, and
called “icebeaker.” The other
“female” was called Bell(e), who hardly ever worked or was called upon to
work. She sat idly by during the two years I managed to serve aboard that
isolated building which was mounted on seven spider-like legs. I never really
got to know Bell(e) who just hung around the boat davits on which Henrietta
snugly swung when she wasn’t chugging her way to Crisfield. Crisfield was a
favorite liberty town on Maryland’s eastern shore. Of course when she went on
liberty, one of us had to go, too. Sometimes we spent an entire week in this fun
town, mainly because the weather would take us by surprise and cause the mighty
Chesapeake to get too choppy to navigate back to the house. The Chesapeake would
be slick cam (Crisfielder’s lingo) and Henrietta would still take on sprays.
That’s the way she was built. She knew whoever was operating her at the time
didn’t really want to return home. So we both prayed for harsh winds and
still hung around back at the light and probably yearned to see Henrietta’s
disgusting shape limping at about eight knots from the turn around Solomon’s
Lump, a caisson type lighthouse that had been abandoned around 1950. Henrietta
always knew the way back to the Holland Island Bar. That’s more than I can say
about my navigational skills. I’m thankful for her keen sense of direction.
When the sprays flew over Henrietta it was almost impossible to see where you
were going anyway.
As we approached my bawdy nine-room house I was alarmed to hear the tintinabular sound of Bell(e) crying out for joy at seeing Henrietta once again. The guys were glad to see me, too, because they hadn’t eaten for a week. I was sorry to hear that all they had to eat was mustard sandwiches. They also ran out of tobacco and had to smoke tea in their pipes. By golly, this is a true story. However, there’s no one left to attest to it being true. At one time I had a real woman stay with me out there. But that’s another story.
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