The Lost Year
Two hours passed quickly. In that time Salty and Rich were introduced to more than 60 family members and at least that many friends that came by and left. Family remained and great amounts of food were brought and tables were set up in the yard. Two men comprised a band of a bongo drums and guitar.
After everyone had eaten Patrick stood on the porch of the house and he gathered everyone around. “Today is a good day for my family, because Abernathy has returned. He left many years ago and promised to come back, but if not for him most of you might not be here today. It was all because of my friend, Mr. Collingsworth. Abernathy will you come up here and say something.”
Salty stood confused, but he was urged by every to come forward for a speech. He stepped nervously on the porch and looked out over the small gathering.
“You are such nice people. And it’s been a pleasure to meet you all. I really don’t know what to say. I must honestly say that I am confused. When I found out me and Rich was sailing here I could only remember Patrick, because he took care of me when I was here, but my stay was so brief I don’t remember much more other than I was sick a lot. I don’t ever remember why I was sick. I always assumed it was influenza. Other than that I don’t remember anything. When I saw Penelope, I remembered her. Some of the places look familiar, but that’s it. So it seems to me I should be the one throwing a party for Patrick and Penelope; they saved my life and nursed me back to health.”
Patrick stood beside Salty and looked sympathetically at him.
“Abernathy,” Patrick said, “you don’t remember the rescue?”
Salty tried desperately to conjure a memory and confused, shook his head.
Patrick asked for two chairs. Salty and Patrick sat on them.
“Everyone sit,” Patrick said, “and let me tell Abernathy.”
Everyone grabbed chair or sat on the ground.
Patrick spoke with great eloquence of the Barbuda before modernization came. He spoke of how the small island population worked to show respect and kindness, to show love of neighbor and strangers in spite of the cruel past by their British owners and taskmasters.
“I was fishing one day to the north of the island. Penelope and I had been married for two years. We had one son, Fredrick.”
Fredrick stood and grinned, “I am Fredrick, in case anyone was wondering.”
There was a burst of lighthearted teasing from the family. “Sit down, Fredrick.” “You did nothing.” “As usual.”
“One day my fishing partner could not go with me. Penelope wanted to fish with me. She wanted to make it easy for me and she thought the movement of the boat would keep little Fredrick asleep. I knew it was unwise. A man never takes his wife with him to danger. When we are young we are sometimes foolish. I took Penelope and little Fredrick. Yes, it was good. We thought it was fun working together. Frederick slept and Penelope helped.
“Fredrick still sleeps,” someone quipped and there was more laughter.
Patrick kindly smiled and continued. “She knew fishing from her father. The weather changed so fast. I should have sensed it. We were north of the island and further out than what we should have been. In moments the sea was rough. I started to sail toward the island and suddenly we were hit by a large wave. The boat capsized. I was able to place Fredrick on the boat. Penelope and I hung on to the sides. We simply were not going to live. That was it. Penelope and me said our goodbyes and said them to little Fredrick. The waves washed us toward the rocky reef. We knew that we could not survive the rocks.” Patrick paused for a breath. “Can you tell a little, Mamma?”
Penelope slid a chair next to Patrick and sat. She held his hand. Patrick held Salty’s hand.
“This is difficult for Patrick to tell, especially with Abernathy here after so many years,” Penelope said. “When he was younger he told it without so much emotion, but when he is older it becomes more difficult and it is because he sees the family becoming larger; and the loss, although it didn’t happen, it becomes larger.”
“Thank you, Mama,” Patrick said. “Please continue for me.”
“I was the weakest,” Penelope said. “Fredrick was on the capsized boat and Patrick and I were fighting to keep from going under. Patrick was losing strength. He was Fredrick’s only hope so I pushed away from the boat thinking that was the last time I would see little Frederick and Patrick and it would be the last time Patrick would see me, but I did not go under. I was being held up. At first I thought it was an angel. It was a man. It was Abernathy. He saw our plight from his boat. He could not bring his boat close to us because of the rocky reefs. He tied a line to a lifesaver and swam to me and got to us just as I was going under. He pulled me back to the boat. He swam back and got Frederick and finally he got Patrick. He saved us all. And I know you have heard the story many times.”
“But at last,” Patrick said, “here is the man.”
Salty wiped a tear. “I used to have a dreams and I dreamed things like you describe, but I never thought of them as being anything other than a dream.”
“You became very ill,” Patrick said. “We took care of you. We were not sure what made you sick. Most likely a bite from a fish and infection. You lived with us for nearly a year.”
“A year!” Salty said. “Are you sure?”
“Yes,” Penelope said. “it was a year.”
Salty nearly panicked with confusion. “I had no idea it was that long. I thought it was only about a month or six weeks at the most.”
Salty collected his thoughts. He smiled and stood. “Folks you have been so nice to me tonight. I don’t recall what all happened over 40 years ago, but I’m glad it did. Well, when I left here I went back to my home in Maine. I built and repaired boats all my life, but I always knew there was something missing; someplace I had to return and this must be it. My friend Rich asked me to sail with him around the world. He came by my place one night couple of weeks ago. I was ready to go in a couple of hours. Some might think that’s not enough time to think things out, but my mind had been planning it all along. I just didn’t know about it.”
The party continued a few more hours. Rich and Salty stayed at Patrick’s home that night and slept safely and well.