By: Patricia Tramble
A smoky white mist slowly moves across the lake. The fog is so thick, I could barely see in front of me and if not careful, I could easily walk into a watery grave. The smell in the air reminded me of scented trees mixed with wild flowers with a hint of fresh water. The air smelled clean as I took in a deep breath. Above my head the sky was filled with of stars, it was a clear night in spite of the fog on the lake. As I tried to focus to see in the distance, I saw a light coming near. Behind the light, I could see a ship slowly following coming towards the pier by way of the sea.
Once the ship was near to the pier, I ran behind the forest trees anticipating what I might see. The forest in front of the lake held a well-worn path between the trees leading into town. The closer the ship came to shore. I could hear what sounded like a dog barking. The barking grew louder as the ship drew docked and slowly lowered its plank onto the shore. It was a warm spring and Mother Nature was letting everyone know she was yet alive from the smell of the crisp clean air.
Once the plank was lowered a little dog ran down the plank anxious to get to shore. It was little white terrier barking, sitting, and rapidly wagging its tail. It seemed to be a ritual, the dog would run in circles, bark, sit, then rapidly wage its tail. All the while looking up at the ship, I could tell the dog was anxious for the passengers and its master to descend. With a pair of binoculars and a carefully hidden place in the woods. I could see everything going on at the shore. The light in front of the ship was still shining brightly as the passengers started their descent. A man wearing a tall black hat dressed in a black suit with a shoe string tie held by a silver medallion underneath his white collar appeared first. He wore knee-high shiny black leather boots and following behind were two children whose hands he held as they all descended the plank. “Now don’t run, hold my hand.” I heard him say in a baritone voice to the children. The little girl wore a pink lace ruffled dress with pink and white ribbons in her
hair, pink stockings, and pink shoes with bows. Once on the shore, he stopped long enough to pat the boy on the head dressed in knee-length gray and black plaid shorts with a matching jacket, white knee socks, a gray cape, and black leather shoes. Behind the man you could hear the chatter and laughter of the other passengers men, women, and children as they all descended the plank. The ladies wore long frilly dresses of various colors while the men were dressed in brown or black suits. They all appeared to be in good spirits and dressed as if they were going to a ball.
As I considered these events, it was strange to me that the ship traveled by night. Looking at the forest path, I noticed the path was lined with hanging lanterns on various tree branches lighting the way into town. Where I stood, the evergreen trees seemed to touch the sky. They stood on both sides of the path like attendants welcoming guests. Looking through the forest trees out into the distance, I could see a few cabins sitting atop of sloping hills. Through my binoculars, I could see smoke rising from a cabin’s chimney as I remained hidden from view.
Following behind and unnoticed by the crowd, I journeyed into town with them. The town itself reminded me of an olden antique town. The kind of town you see in westerns but hardly see anymore. Somewhere in America maybe, this type of town still exists. As I wandered alone, I wondered where everyone was going. The town stood on a colored cobble stone street, which seemed to go on and on with no end in sight looking in both directions Walking along the street, the shops’ glass windows advertised what they did. Shoe maker, tailor, restaurant, doctor, dentist etc…all housed in wooden or brick buildings lining both sides of the street. I noticed each store and office had a unique style of build, no two shops looked exactly alike as I strolled by. The only thing they all seemed to have in come were the same stencil writing on each glass window. From the look of the letters, the town used the same calligrapher.
In what appeared to be the middle of town stood a building larger than any other building on the street. It looked like two school buildings put together. The building trimmed in white with black
letters painted on the front read “Town Hall.” The building was completely brick except for the white columns holding the roof that covered a cement porch, which wrapped around the building. As I walked by, I could hear music and laughter coming from the inside every time the doors swung open and close. There must be some kind of party or celebration going on I surmised. This is perhaps, why the people came from the ship dressed in their Sunday best while their children played outside.
I traveled back to the ship through the forest to see what else was going on. The ship appeared to be unloading more than just people; I saw a few ship hands unloading things to take to town maybe to sell. I believe this was one of those traveling ships sailing to various places and sea ports unloading people and things along the way. The town seemed to look forward to receiving fresh seafood and whatever items the sailors had to sell or give-a-way. This is probably why they were celebrating. I remember seeing a sign in town that read “Seafood, Trinkets, and Everything Else.”
In this town, I noticed no one seemed to be in a hurry. Walking by the town’s people, I was greeted with “Hello. How are you?” The tip of a hat by strangers or a warm smile by the ladies. Lamps held by poles lined the cobble stone street allowing your reflection to be seen in each store window. It was still night; dawn had not yet appeared. I looked at my watch and discovered it was only midnight. I wondered how long have I been out here?
The last one to descend the ship while barking out orders was the captain, a bow-legged Dutchman wearing an old blue fisherman’s coat with brass buttons and a blue captain’s hat.
“Every onnya know the rules, Ayee. Be back here at 4:00 am and if not make sure you got good lungs, I ain’t waitin. Arrgh….”
“Aye, Aye, Captain!” was the response.
The Dutchman went down the plank carrying a package. “Calm down boy, I’m coming. Ayee…” The Ole Dutchman slowly walked down the plank, his traveling companion waiting at the bottom. The two walked down the forest path leading into town. The dog ran ahead to play with the children much to their delight. I don’t think anyone knew the dog’s name. All the Ole Dutchman would do is whistle and the dog would run back to him.
Every time the Ole Dutchman came to town everyone seemed to know where he was headed, Millie’s Diner. There was rumor he was sweet on Ms. Millie, a black plump Indian woman with salt-pepper gray hair and large bright brown eyes. He’d bring her something to serve at the diner and something special just for her. When the Dutchmen headed for the diner, I overheard town folk say she and her husband started the diner. Married in her youth for about ten years until Ms. Millie’s husband disappeared at sea. Now sixty, she never remarried or had children.
“How you doin Ms. Millie? Argh…I brought you a little fresh seafood and a package just for you.”
“Oh Dutch, you didn’t have to do that. I still have fish in the freezer out back from the last time.” She’d giggle like a school girl. Everyone knew she liked him too.
“Ta-ain’t no trouble Ms. Millie. I don’t mind tad-all.”
“Thank you for the beautiful dress you gave to me last time Dutch. I wear it to church and people always askin me where I got it. Ya see they don’t have no stores like this in town. I just tell’em a friend gave it to me. Let’em gossip. It don’t bother me none.” She’d then turn her head and secretly smile.
“Alright now Ms. Millie, Aye.” The Ole Dutchman would wink and laugh out loud while diners looked on.
Some diners had no reason to go down to the lake. They knew when the ship was in because they could hear Ole Dutch enter the diner with the bell ringing over the door and the sound of the little white barking dog through the window. A familiar sound of “howd-y” greeted everyone. He’d then take off his hat and coat exposing thick white silver hair with a full beard to match. The atmosphere filled with a warm smile and laughter as he took a seat at the bar. Resting his hat on the counter, he’d look at the bottles of whiskey in front of him. Ms. Millie knew the Dutchman like she knew the back of her hand.
“Howdy, Dutch. I got your favorite.” She’d pour him two shots of brown liquor in a glass and ask, “So what you want for breakfast?”
“Scrambled eggs, grits, and a nice slice of ham. Oh and don’t forget dem biscuits with dem molasses. I love your homemade biscuits Ms. Millie.” The truth is everyone loved Ms. Millie’s homemade biscuits from what I could see and hear.
“Comin right up.” She’d say. Truth is I think Ms. Millie was happy to serve the old man from the smile on her face and the twinkle in her eye.
While the Dutchman ate he could see his dog outside the diner window running after the kids or the kids running after the dog. You could hear the dog yapping from outside as the kids laughed with
delight having the time of their life with that little white dog. Like clockwork at about 2:50 am, the Ole Dutchman rose up from his seat and headed for the door while saying goodbye to Ms. Millie and the diners.
“You take care now Ms. Millie. That was a wonderful breakfast.” Raising one hand and squeezing the tips of his fingers together, he’d blow a kiss. “That was good! Until the next time Ma-dame.” The diners laughed and so did Ms. Millie.
“Take care of yourself Ms. Mille, I’ll be seein ya when I come back this way again.” To the diners he would say, “Ya’ll be good now and don’t give Ms. Mille no hard time ya hear? Arrgh.” And just like that the Dutchman headed back to his ship.
Back at the Town Hall, the party was ending. After I left Ms. Millie’s, I saw people coming out of the building. I looked at my watch it was 3:00 am. Parents were gathering and calling to their children as they started the walk back to the ship. The fog had lifted. The Ole Dutchman was the first to board the ship, he blew the horn as a reminder to passengers it was time to leave. The little white dog stood at the bottom of the pier watching and waiting for the last passenger to board. He ran in circles, barked, sat, and wagged his tail until the Ole Dutchman whistled and said, “Come boy. Argh…”
By listening, I gathered information from the diners who seemed to never notice I was there. After the Ole Dutchman left I headed back to the pier, I was curious to know the name of the ship. On the side of the ship painted in large red letters like the stencil patterns on the shop windows in town were the words, “THE DREAM.” I woke to the sound of my little white dog barking, sitting, and waging his tail.
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