Wednesday 07 Dec 2016

The Yellow Submarine
AJ Robinson

Yes, I know, it sounds like a song title or a scene from a movie, but it's a childhood memory. In Edgartown, the high-class fancy town on Martha's Vineyard, they always had (have) a parade and fireworks for the Fourth of July. The parade was the stereotype small town parade - the boy scouts, the high school band, floats sponsored by local groups and businesses. The one I remember best was one for a restaurant - I don't even remember its name, but the banner on the side of the truck said: "You can eat like a King at (something)". On it, a man dressed as a king reclined on a couch and two princesses held up food.

For many years, the parade was late in the day, and then the fireworks after dark. We'd go down to the docks and find a nice place to sit, and then watch the people over on Chappaquiddick shoot off the fireworks. The first time my Mom and I brought my nephew Nick along (he was about four), she had to hold her hands over his ears; the boom of each firework scared him.

Then, one year, came the news that the "Yellow Submarine" would be visiting the Island for the Fourth. Oh, my friends and I were so excited! We didn't really know what the reference meant, but we were young boys - anything that involved a submarine had to be cool. So, my Dad took me and my friend Reed over to Edgartown extra early that Fourth. We parked and walked over to the little shuttle boat, and got onboard. It cruised slowly out the harbor's entrance, and that's when we saw it. I have to say, I was very disappointed - it wasn't yellow! The US Navy had sent one of its nuclear submarines, and it was moored offshore.

The boat tethered to the sub, and we all climbed onboard. This was a fascinating world we'd entered; it was unlike anything Reed or I had ever seen. My Dad was over six-feet tall, so he had to duck and squeeze his way through the hatches and down the gangways. Reed and I, we just bounded along like two monkeys swinging through the trees. Yeah, I know, no an image consistent with being underwater, but that's how it felt.

We saw the torpedoes and the crew quarters, the bridge and the dining area, and the cook even interrupted us to get some Wonder Bread out of a storage bin. The thing that surprised me was that the bin was under the floor. As a little kid, I'd never seen or even thought of such an idea; what a concept! Why, if I could figure out how to do that, think of the toys and stuff I could hide from my Mother, and never again have to clean my room. I'd just pop the hatch, grab a broom, and shove everything out of sight.

After that, each year, the "Yellow Submarine" would return. One year, me, my Dad, and Reed decided to sail my Dad's boat - the Gam, over to Edgartown for the Fourth. We figured, it was the perfect solution to dealing with the crowds, parking, and fighting the traffic to get home. Besides, what a perfect spot to watch the fireworks from! We'd drop anchor in the harbor, take the dinghy ashore to see the parade, watch the fireworks from the boat, and then go to bed. Next morning, a leisurely sail home.

Well, it didn't work out that way. It was a very foggy day. How foggy? Let me put it this way, we were offshore no more than a couple hundred feet, and we could barely see the Island! My Dad always used that expression about the fog being thicker than pea soup. I have to wonder, did pea soup taste so salty? I was a bit nervous that we'd end up sailing off in the completely wrong direction, but my Dad was supremely confident. This was my introduction to navigation, and the use of a compass.

My Dad explained, "No matter what, it will always point north, and guide you to your destination."

"How can it do that?" I asked. "It doesn't show you where you are."

He just smiled. "For that, you need your wits and your knowledge, and a good chart."

There, on that tiny sailboat, on that foggy day, we shared one of those special father-son moments as my Dad taught me how to navigate. It wasn't a big moment, but it does burn bright in my memory.

Later, he went below to help Reed with something, and I was left alone on deck to tend to the tiller. Made me feel quite the big boy. Then, quite suddenly, a huge, dark mass appeared out of the fog. My mind reeled, and I thought of that story Dad had told me about Ahab and the whale. I thought, this is it - we're going to be swallowed by a monster of the deep! I shut my eyes, and said a silent prayer.

The call of, "Ship ahoy!" came to me.

I opened my eyes, and saw that is was, in fact, the "Yellow Submarine". My Dad and Reed came on deck, we waved to them, and lowered our sail. Once we were tied to their stern, they helped us aboard, and we took the tour. Later, we found out that they fireworks had been cancelled on account of the fog. No matter, we'd be back next year, and do this all over again.

And, that's exactly what we did. These days, I doubt the sub comes to visit. Between concerns over security, and it not being politically correct to "expose" young children to the "weapons of war", it is yet another casualty of our modern era.

Click here for more by AJ Robinson.

Combining the gimlet-eye, of Philip Roth, with the precisive mind of Lionel Trilling, AJ Robinson writes about what goes bump in the mind, of 21st century adults. Raised in Boston, with summers on Martha's Vineyard, AJ now lives in Florida. Most of the time he writes, but sometimes he works at Disney World to renew his fantasies and get a few dollars more. AJ writes, with insight and passion, about his family and his dog. His liberal, note the small "l," sensibilities often lead to bouts of righteous indignation, well focused and true.

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