I must confess that I’ve not been able to read Moby Dick in the decades since I first started trying. I make it part way, and then just sink to the bottom of the endless whaling descriptions. Jim Levernier, a member of my Master’s committee and incredibly generous professor of American Literature, swore that I would really love it. I’ve been trying every since.
This week, though, I managed to finish Typee— Melville’s first book, and his only best-seller. In sort of celebration at this triumph, and of fall in general, we drove north to Clayton, New York to visit the Antique Boat Museum, where I landed the shot of the fiberglass fish model in the bottom of a canoe. I’d like to dig into some thoughts on that book, which isn’t really a novel, and isn’t really an autobiography although it is billed as the latter and usually taken as the former. It’s an embellished and researched recollection of his time in the Marquesa islands in the South Pacific. While in Clayton, I overhead a different sort of fish story that I’d like to relate here, a recollection if you will.
After visiting the boat museum, we were strolling down the main drag and ducking into a few shops. There was one with assorted dishes and crockery that looked interesting. The featured exhibit was a huge collection of blue ceramic dishes in celebration of America’s bicentennial. It won’t be long until those are antiques. A talkative woman behind the counter was spinning a yarn to a couple at the counter completing a purchase, and I paused to examine an 8″ earth tone stoneware casserole that was quite attractive. As I looked it over, I heard a story.
She was calling the roll of several long-time families and residents of the Clayton area, looking for a glint of recognition from the customers, and chanced to mention her cottage in Bermuda where she winters. “Not just everyone can own property in Bermuda, you know. It’s an interesting story how we came to own it, you know.”
Her husband, a Clayton boy, dropped out of high school because he had no interest in education and knew what he wanted to be— a fisherman. He connected up with a family friend who fished out of Pompano Beach, Florida, and started to work down there right away. He fished off the coast of Bermuda a lot, so they’d often go ashore there. He came to find out that there was a parcel of land available near his favorite watering hole, so after much wrangling and red-tape he finally got it cleared through the government to allow him to purchase the land, where over successive seasons he built a cabin. They’ve had it to this day.
The casserole, like my memory of the story, was filled with hairline cracks. I’m afraid that though it was affordably priced, would not have been serviceable, and would best be left as a show piece. The shop had some fine crocks, which though they might be nice to have for future use, we had no immediate need. Krista informed me that they were priced as collectors pieces, and we could do better. So we went next door to our primary destination, River Rat Cheese.
We returned to the car, parked in front of an auto parts store, with our bounty and drove away. Just before we got on the freeway, we passed a distillery where I had to make a final still life of our little road trip. I remember fondly the day that Jim Levernier regaled our class with the story of the memorial Hannah Duston Jim Beam bottle. There’s nothing quite as all-american as liquor and tall tales.
Krista told me after we got home that there were fish traps in the back of the store which I hadn’t noticed. Aren’t there always?