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By Thomas F. O'Neill


They walked along the beach in a slow pace as the waves rushed in on their bare feet. They both had a deep affection and fondness for each other as they enjoyed each others company. Emory, turned Ninety-two years old on that day and his great-grandson turned twelve. The young boy has always enjoyed sharing that special day with his great-gramps.

He has always been intrigued by the tales of his great grandfather as they walk and talk. But, on this particular birthday the old man asked his great grandson to row out to sea with him. They placed a bag of fish in the small row boat and pulled the boat into the water.

It was a beautiful bright sunny day and the ocean had a calmness to it.

“I like the ocean,” the young boy said.

“I come out here every year on this date,” he told his great grandson.

“What are the fish for?” the young boy asked, “You have no fishing rod to use them as bait.”

“Row,” the old man said, “and you will soon see.”

“How far out are we going?” the young boy asked.

“When I was your age,” he said, “eighty years ago on this very date. My grandfather took me out to sea in a small fishing boat,” he began to tell his story.

* * * * * * *

On the day Emory turned twelve the ocean was calm and his grandfather went to pick him up and take him out to sea. Emory comes from a long line of fisherman but he never took much interest in fishing.

“He is a man now” his grandfather told Emory’s mother.

“He is only twelve years old, he belongs in school with other children, getting an education,” Emory’s mother said to her father.

“When I was his age I worked on my father’s boat. He was a fisherman, his father was a fisherman, and his father before him. Emory is going to be a fisherman, like me. He is going to learn to be a man just like I had at his age.”

“He is going to stay in school and make a better life for himself,” she said to her father.

“I provided for you and your mother with the fish I caught. I kept food on the table and made enough money to take care of my family. Your husband ran off to join the Merchant Marines five years ago and never returned. I won’t be around forever. Emory needs to lean the trade. His school books won’t put food on the table.”

“He is not like us. His teachers say he is a very bright and gifted child. He is different then us. He is smart and very sensitive. The fishing boat is not for him.”

“Emory, get on the boat. We are going out to sea,” he yelled to his grandson who was sitting in another room reading.

Emory raised the sails on the boat’s large mast, “this boat has been in our family for over a hundred years, it has provided for us. So respect this boat and it will protect you from harm,” his grandfather told him.

They sailed far out to sea and Emory asked many questions. His grandfather told him the stories of his great catches and of the various fish and their value in the markets. “We are going way out,” he told his grandson.

They sailed all day and into the night. Emory lowered the sails that night and he lowered the boat’s anchor. They slept on the boat and early the next morning as the sun rose, his grandfather lowered the net into the water. In the distance Emory saw fish jumping out of the water.

“What are they,” Emory asked.

“Flying fish,” his grandfather said, “when you cook them they taste like chicken.”

“I didn’t know there are fish that can fly.”

“The ocean reveals many secrets to its masters,” he said to Emory.

Emory watched the flying fish and then noticed what he thought were very large fish jumping out of the water.

“Are they tuna, grandpa?”

“No” his grandfather said laughing. “They are Dolphins and where you find Dolphins you will find tuna.”

He then told Emory, “Dolphins eat tuna but the Dolphins meat is much too sweet. Their meat doesn’t sell well in the markets. Tuna sells though for a nice price.”

“Dolphins aren’t fish grandpa, they are mammals like us, and intelligent. I read about them in school. They are the most intelligent sea mammals,” he then said excitedly, “I never saw one up close.”

“They are just big fish that weigh down my net,” his grandfather said, “they are a nuisance. If they are intelligent as you say then why do they repeatedly get caught in my net?”

“Maybe because they are trying to help you catch the tuna.”

“You have an overactive imagination, Emory,” he said laughing.

“What happens to them when they get caught in the net?”

“You are a man now, Emory” his grandfather said with a smile on his face. “So, learn to provide because one day you will have a family of your own. We are the masters of the ocean and it provides us with an abundance of food.”

“What happens to them when they get caught in the net?” he asked once again.

“Why are you concerned about those stupid fish?”

Later that afternoon as they prepared to pull in the net, Emory, noticed the Dolphins in the distance playfully jumping and diving in the ocean.

“Pull up on the net,” his grandfather yelled, “stop day dreaming, concentrate on what you are doing.”

It was then that Emory noticed a large Dolphin franticly jumping up and down in the water a short distance from the boat. At the same time he and his grandfather struggled with the net for it was full of various fish.

“We have a lot of tuna, plenty of tuna,” his grandfather yelled, “pull Emory, pull!!!!!!!” he shouted.

Emory noticed a very young Dolphin in the net. “There is a baby Dolphin caught in the net,” Emory yelled, “That must be its mother out there jumping up and down out of the water.”

Emory grabbed the knife from his grandfather’s belt and cut the net so that he could help the young Dolphin free itself. His grandfather continued to struggle to pull the remaining fish on board but the net from being cut continued to tare and fish began to fall and swim away in the water.

His grandfather walked over and smacked Emory on the side of the head.

“Twenty fish” his grandfather yelled, “all we have is twenty fish” he smacked Emory once again. “What were you thinking? We lost a multitude of tuna and other fish because you are refusing to grow up. It is going to take a day to repair the net. You Emory are going to repair it !!!!!!!”

That evening as Emory was restoring the net a large female Dolphin and two of its young calves popped their heads out of the water. They made the sounds that Dolphins make. Those excited, heartily sounds, filled with the warmth and vigor of youthful life.

“Hello,” Emory said to them.

His grandfather hearing them grabbed a club to keep them away from the boat.

“Don’t hurt them,” Emory yelled grabbing his grandfather’s club and tossing it in the water.

“What the hell is the matter with you? Don’t you understand why we are out here? We are men, we must provide for our family. That is what men do. We provide by being fishermen. We catch and sell fish. So get that through that head of yours,” he said while he pocked Emory in the head with his index finger.

“They are not fish grandpa they are Dolphins. She is providing and caring for her babies.”

“I give up I am taking you back home. You are not a man, you are a child, repair that net because in the morning I am taking you back home.”

As his grandfather slept Emory heard the Dolphins on the side of the boat. He reached over and placed his hand on the large female. He was filled with deep emotion because he was able to touch her and her two young calves.

“I won’t let my grandfather hurt you,” he said, “are they your babies” he asked the large female Dolphin.

The Dolphins jumped up high out of the water and returned to the side of the boat. “I never met Dolphins before especially this far out in the ocean. You sure are trusting animals. The animals around my home run away every time I go near them. They are not as trusting and friendly as you guys. It would be great if all the animals were as friendly and trusting towards me as you guys are. I would love to pet them too. I could never be a hunter and hurt animals. I love animals, especially Dolphins.”

He went over and took one of the tuna and gave it to the large female. He then gave each of her two calves a tuna. They swam off but a little while later they returned to the boat and the large female had the club in her mouth the one that Emory tossed in the water.

“My grandpa will hurt you with that, you keep that OK. Your babies can play with it.”

“Where are the other fish?” yelled his grandfather the next morning. “There are only seventeen fish here.”

He then yelled, “Eat,” as he tossed one of the tuna to Emory. “You are going to need your strength for the voyage home.”

“It’s not cooked,” Emory said in a shocked voice.

“It’s just as good raw as it is cooked. Use that knife you are so good with in cutting the net,” he said, “gut the fish and eat it.”

“The tuna is a little salty but it tastes ok raw,” Emory thought to himself.

He then said to his grandfather, “This is the first time I ate a raw fish.”

That is all I eat when I am out here alone. It is good for you to eat raw fish. Go easy on the water though we are low on water. We just have enough to get back home.” He then asked in a stern voice, “did you repair the net?”

“Yes,” came the reply.

“And the other three fish?” he asked, “what happened to them?”

“They looked like they were rotten so I tossed them in the ocean.”

“You gave them to the Dolphins I bet. I am really worried about how you think. You need to grow up.”

Emory raised the sails and they headed home. “I am sorry about the net grandpa and the fish. I just couldn’t let that baby Dolphin get killed in the net. I am sorry too about throwing your club in the water. It’s just that I couldn’t bear the thought of you hurting those Dolphins with that club.”

“Well I am sorry for hitting you, but you deserved it for cutting the net. The club you threw in the ocean was my fathers club. I had that club for a long time. Your mother is right you are too weak to be a fisherman. Maybe when you are older but you are not a man now. You are still a child. Not grown up enough to be a man.”

They sailed for a time and his grandfather noticed large storm clouds in the distance. “A storm is coming we are going to have to wait it out. Lower the sails,” he said.

He then handed Emory a large bucked and asked him to tie it to the mast, in an up right position, so that it could catch the rain water. He told him that they are going to need that water for drinking after the storm passes.

The storm hammered the boat for hours and his grandfather tied Emory and himself to the boat’s mast to keep them from getting washed out to sea. Emory never saw his grandfather so frightened. That was the first time he witnessed fear in his grandfathers face and voice. His grandfather was not just concerned for his own safety but for Emory’s safety as well. “We are going to founder,” his grandfather yelled as the boat rocked from one side to the other. They could hear the cracking of the boat’s wood from the strain of the massive storm and the large waves crashing into the boat.

“We are going to founder,” his grandfather yelled once again, but young Emory did not understand his grandfather. In the language of the seaman his grandfather meant the boat is going to sink.

The mast broke off from the boat but Emory and his grandfather remained secured to it with the hope that they would survive the storm. The boat was eventually swallowed up by the ocean waves and sank to the ocean floor.

When the storm passed they continued to hold on to what was left of the boat’s mast. The sails were still tied to it as it floated in the ocean.

Emory and his grandfather were now at the mercy of the ocean. They were still secured to the mast from the sails ropes. “If we are going to live we have to kick with our legs in order to move the mast in the direction of the shore,” his grandfather said to him.

“I don’t see any land, grandpa.”

“It is out there. We are just too far out to see it. Kick with your legs as if you are swimming.”

They both kicked and the mast slowly moved in the water.

“I’m thirsty grandpa”

“Kick, our lives depend on it.”

His grandfather cut himself loose with his knife and spread the sails over the cross beams on the mast. He used the cross beams and sail to make a large raft for them to lie on.

“Get up and rest for a bit,” he told Emory as his legs kicked in the water.

They never saw the large fin in the water that circled the raft. If they had his grandfather would have certainly gotten out of the water.

It was a hideous gurgling sound that his grandfather made as the blood poured from his mouth, down his chin, onto his chest. His body began jerking to the left and then to the right. The shark severed his grandfather’s body in two with three quick successive bites. Emory saw the face of the shark as it chewed on the lower half of his grandfather’s body.

Emory’s body began to shake as he went into shock. He remained on top of the raft trembling with fear.

The blood in the water attracted other sharks that circled the raft. It was at that moment that something large popped out of the water and Emory screamed in terror. That was before he noticed it was the large female Dolphin.

“Don’t let the sharks eat me, please,” he cried out in terror.

He saw the large fin move quickly through the water heading towards the raft. “Don’t let it eat me!!!!!!”

He franticly cried out to the large female Dolphin as he shook and trembled on the raft.

One of the sharks bodies quickly came to the surface, rolled over on its side, and sank to the ocean depths. Emory, being on top of the raft did not see the Dolphin ram the shark underneath the water. Her blow caused serious internal damage to the shark. The two other sharks had the same fate.

“I didn’t know Dolphins are such great fighters,” he said to her, “I thought those sharks were going to eat me.”

“Thank you for saving me,” he said, as he placed his arm and hand over her head.

The Dolphin quickly dove into the water but she returned a while later with her two calves. He then noticed other Dolphins circling the raft as if standing guard to protect him from the sharks. He could see the fins of the sharks in the distance and then slowly one by one they disappeared. The Dolphins rammed the sharks with deathly blows.

“Are those other Dolphins out there your friends,” he asked. Her two calves then popped their heads out of the water.

The other Dolphins began to take turns pushing the raft as if they knew it was important for him to get to shore. One of the young Dolphins popped its head out of the water with a fish in its mouth. Emory took the fish and ate it.

“I wish I could understand your language,” he said to one of the Dolphins as he ate the fish. “I wish I knew how to talk to you guys. The fish is great but I am really thirsty.”

The storm blew many coconuts off of the local Island’s trees and many were blown out to see. Emory saw some of them flouting in the water and he swam and grabbed a few. Some of the Dolphins seeing him grabbing the coconuts out of the water brought other coconuts to him. He used the knife his grandfather used to make the raft and punched holes in the coconuts to drink the coconut juice. The Dolphins continued to push the raft in the direction of the shore.

“Are one of those Dolphins your babies father?” he asked the female Dolphin. “My father has been gone for a long time. Now my gramps is not going to be with me.”

Other Dolphin’s began to appear, Emory, got the nerve to once again dive into the water. He grabbed one of the Dolphin calves fins and the Dolphin pulled him underwater. One of the other calves placed its nose right up to Emory’s face and shook its head up and down. The Dolphin then pulled him up to the surface of the water. He no longer had fear of harm because he felt totally safe with his friends and protectors. When he retuned to the raft Dolphins brought him more coconuts and fish.

When Emory saw the shore line he jumped into the water to swim. The Dolphins stayed close and he grabbed one of their fins. The Dolphins brought him closer to shore. When he reached the shore he looked out to the ocean and saw the beauty of them leaping out of the water. “I will see you guys again,” he yelled.

He went to the first house he saw and he discovered that he was thirty miles from home. The owner of the home covered Emory with a blanket and gave him some food and water. Emory told him his story as the oil lamp burned on his kitchen table. The next morning the owner brought Emory home in his horse drawn carriage.

Upon seeing her son she wept because she knew it was a miracle that he survived such a storm. It was the storm of the century as the newspaper described the storm’s carnage.

“You survived for a reason,” his mother told him, “because you are destined for something great.”

A few months later Emory’s father returned home from the merchant marines with enough money so that Emory can choose school over the life of a fisherman.

Every year on his birthday he would row out to sea to visit his friends.

He wondered to himself as he handed the fish to the Dolphins on his thirteenth birthday, “do they think we humans are some sort of gods that they went out of there way to save my life.”

He eventually got married and they had four children. He and his family have continued over the years to tell the story of what happened to him. They say it was the year he became a man, out at sea, during the storm of the century. It was the same year he turned twelve years old with his friends the Dolphins, who saved his life, out of compassion, and brought him back to shore.

* * * * * * *

“You can stop rowing now,” Emory told his great grandson.

A very old Dolphin slowly raised its head out of the water.

“Hello old friend,” Emory said as he placed his old wrinkled hand on her head.

“Is that one of the Dolphins that saved your life great gramps?”

“I don’t know how long Dolphins live,” he said, “but I like to think she is one of my old and dearest friends.”

“I bet she is the mother of those two baby Dolphins. The one that saved you from the sharks or maybe she is one of the baby Dolphins that was with you. The one you played with in the water. She could be one of those baby Dolphins all grown up now,” his great grandson said.

“They were all my friends and still are my friends but I am getting to old to come out here each year by myself,” he said, “that is why I brought you out here with me. I’m ninety-two years old now and to old to row the boat.”

He handed one of the fish to the old Dolphin and she slowly took it, “We are not the masters of the ocean,” he said, “we are at its mercy,”

He then said to the old Dolphin as he looked out at the ocean. “This is now our twilight year, old friend. I wish I could understand you better and how you think. What do you see in us humans? Why do you have such affection for us?”

He reached down and petted a small Dolphin calve. “We humans at times do not have this kind of compassion and affection for our own kind. Yet you show so much love and affection for us. Why?”

He then added, “We humans can be very cruel at times and heartless. We can learn so much from you about, love, compassion and affection. Your love is not just for your own kind but other mammals as well. Like how you reach out to us humans. I would give anything to know what goes on inside of you.”

“Great gramps I can bring you out here every year on your birthday. This is such a great place. I never touched a Dolphin before.”

“This is my great grandson,” he said to the old female Dolphin, “have your friends and family watch out for him when he comes out here to visit you guys each year.”

* * * * * * *

Long after Emory passed away his great grandson continued the tradition of meeting the Dolphins at sea. He gives them fish out of respect and affection for saving the life of his great grandfather.

The great grandson of Emory told his five year old daughter and seven year old son as they offered the Dolphins some fish.

“These Dolphins are the great great grandchildren of the Dolphins that saved my great gramps life.”

“We need to come out here ever year on your birthday,” his daughter told him, “the baby Dolphin nibbled on my hand,” she said giggling. “I never petted a Dolphin before; I wish we could take it home.”

“They need miles and miles and miles of ocean to swim in. I don’t think it would be happy in our bath tub.”

“Let’s come out here every year on your birthday,” his daughter said once again.

“Yeah, let’s do it,” said his son, “let’s come out here every year.”

“I will, if you guys behave,” he said with a smile as he petted one of the Dolphin calves.

With love,
Thomas F. O’Neill

Click on author's byline for bio.
(800) 272-6464
Other articles and commentaries by Thomas F. O'Neill can be found at the links below.
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