By Seamond Ponsart Roberts


Here is a true story. I hadn't thought of this in years, but on seeing the new $1.00 coin the other day we got talking about the $2.00 bills (sic) which I think are totally out of circulation now. Remember how they used to pay you with $2.00 bills up in the Massachusetts area?  Most of the rest of the country either never saw them or were superstitious about them. I remember Mom and Dad sent my sister some money to California in $2.00 bills and she said the local store wouldn't take them - she had to take them to the bank to get "real money," i.e., $1.00 bills!

As any lighthouse kid knows, a lucrative source of income was that of taking summer tourists up to the top of the tower and giving them the spiel of how high the tower was, the number of steps, how far the light was seen, how to run the lighthouse, etc. This was always done while Dad was off painting or cleaning brass, fixing the fog signal or something and he would say, "Sure, Seamond, take 'em up. I'm too busy."  Well, this 99% of the time resulted in tips for my piggybank - which built into savings bonds back in those days.  The keepers of course were not allowed ever to take tips, but with the kids . . . aw well you know.

This routine I had down pat by the time I was five and my piggyback account swelled considerably.

Back then, one of the most dreaded things to happen for lighthouse keepers - much worse than hurricanes or cantankerous oil lamps - was a surprise inspection by the Eastern Board Inspection Team and tops bad news was an inspection by the ogre of them all, a certain Captain Eaton, "Old White Glove Eaton" as he was known. Well, it so happened in 1944, right at probably the worst possible moment, just weeks after the hurricane of 1944 when the station was a mess, it so happened that Captain Eaton himself showed up, totally unannounced to our lighthouse right from New Bedford, skipping the usual route from which we would get phone calls that he was coming. 

Yep, a total surprise which was victory on his part. My father was sweating blood over this (and thinking of a possible reduction in pay as the inspection board gave you a "report card'
"  from which a pay loss could result if the station was in not so good shape.) I was told by mother to keep out of the way which I did as long as I could stand and then spotted the inspection party going up the tower. That did it. I guess in my mind even Captain Eaton needed to hear "the tour." 

AND ......... I did just that. Well, Captain Eaton was all ears and my poor father I think was ready to jump off the tower in embarrassment all the while trying to herd me downstairs. Captain Eaton said, "Oh no, let me hear this," and gave me free wheeling for the whole thing. When I got through and after he had quizzed me on several fine points, which I think I did well answering, he said, "And Little Miss Ponsart, do the tourists ever thank you for all this information?"  and I said, "Oh yes, Captain Eaton, and I now have $17.00 in my piggybank where they thanked me so much," and seeing Dad's OH GOD NO look, I added, "And when I grow up, I want to join the Coast Guard too just like that lady there."

Well, they all laughed heartily. I got SHOOED downstairs and before leaving Captain Eaton came over to me to shake my hand and tell me, "Your Daddy has a great little helper and the Coast Guard is so happy that you are such a great little assistant keeper."  (In his hand was a $2.00 bill!)

Everyone laughed.

Dad got a Very Good (one grade down from Excellent because we had so much repair to be done) and DID NOT lose any salary.

As for me, well I got to buy another savings bond - and many years later, I did join the Coast Guard (14 years of it) and got to wear a uniform (or nearly so) "Like that lady" who was a SPAR accompanying Captain Eaton. 

Whenever I see a $2.00 bill, I always think of Captain Eaton. I must say that his tip was the best tip of all of them.

Return to Coast Guard Stories