Monday, December 1, 2014

The Great Humarock Beach Submarine Race


(In CinemaScope and Technicolor)

Before the world knew what postpartum depression was we used to simply say that a woman was being a bitch. After my youngest sister was born my mother started being a bitch and we didn't know why.

All the rest of us wanted to do was stay away from her.

It was early one Saturday afternoon when I approached my father and said to him, "Hey, Dad. The Navy is having a submarine race between Minot's Ledge and the Cape Cod Canal. I'm going to Humarock Beach to watch it."

"Where did you hear about this?" he asked.

"On the Navy shortwave," I replied and I detected a flicker of his eyebrow. He knew what the deal was. He reached up and ran his finger down the side of his nose and I knew the message was received. It was an excuse to get out ot the house.

I had a surplus shortwave receiver that had come out of a Navy airplane. A friend had built a power supply for it and the then fairly modern WW2 rig was an excellent receiver. The previous winter during a storm for a couple of nights we had monitored a mayday from a ship and listened as the Coasties came to the rescue with pumps. It had been touch and go but the ship and all hands had been saved.

"Let's go," said Dad. "I'll go with you."

This actually meant Dad would drop me off at the bottom of the hill. I would walk to Damon's point. He'd get a six-pack and meet me there and we'd go fishing. I had a couple rods hidden under the pier there.

Mom came busting in on that one and decreed the whole family would go to the beach and see the submarine race.

We were screwed.

So we packed up the whole safari and headed to the beach. When we arrived about four of my mother's friends were there along with one of the husbands.

Mom, true to form told all of her friends about the scheduled submarine race and they got excited. There was only one husband there, Tom Murphy. Tom and my dad were friends.

Tom actually went by 'Murphy' to everyone, even his wife called him that. Murphy had told me to just call him 'Murphy' the past spring as I guess he thought I wasn't a little kid any more. If nobody was around that would rat me out I called him by his last name. If there was a rat around he was Mr. Murphy.

I didn't have to tell him, he knew the deal.

Murphy came up to Dad and asked him "What's this submarine race business?" His tone of voice made it clear he thought it was a crock.

Dad quietly told Murphy we had been busted trying to get out of the house. Murphy seemed quite amused.

I had brought binoculars as I figured I would brass this one out as much as possible. Murphy reached over and took them from me and looked at my dad. "So we give them a submarine race," he said. "What's the big deal?"

He took the binoculars and went to the womenfolk and looked back at me. "What time does it start, Pic?" he asked. He was scanning the empty ocean with the binoculars.

"Thirteen thirty," I replied. I knew military time would make things sound official as well as confuse the women.

'It's fourteen ten now," he said. "Likely it will be a couple more minutes...wait. I see something! There!" He pointed.

It was a fairly calm day and out in the water there were a few 'slicks' which were calm spots. He pointed at one. "There!"

Shirley Lispcombe saw the slick and pointed at it and started talking about it to the women. Another calm spot appeared to the right of the first one and Shirley pointed at it. "They're right there."

Shirley was an idiot that thought she knew everything about everything and was a self appointed take charge kind of person. She was also the most easily fooled of the group. She started pointing to the next little slick and told the women that they had moved along.

"Are these the nuclear powered subs we heard about?" asked Katie, who was Murphy's wife.

"I think these are a couple leftovers from the war they're taking to scrap," I replied.

"If they were nukes they'd be going a lot faster than that," Dad added. "

"I heard one of them was the U-357 that they kept at Portsmouth after they surrendered off the coast of New Hampshire," added Murphy. "I saw something in the paper."

All of this was hooey but it added to the credibility of the story.

Shirley was getting all worked up and was firmly in charge. She was running her mouth calling the race at 100 mph. My mother seemed confused. She didn't seem to know what she wasn't seeing and went over to Shirley who explained carefully to Mom. Mom seemed to understand but looked a shade dubious.

Lois Smith, who everyone called 'Lois Lane' because she looked like Superman's Lois Lane came up. She hated that nickname which, of course, cemented it among the guys. She asked how Dad and Murphy knew about submarines.

Dad spoke first. He instinctively knew Murphy needed a second or two to conjure something up. He knew Murphy had been in Korea and would think something up.

"When I was checking out in B-29s in Mississippi we did a lot of training flights over the Gulf of Mexico. We were always on the alert for U-boats," he said.

Murphy said that when he was in Korea he met a couple of Marine scouts that had been trained in submarine evacuation.

Neither of these were lies but neither of them admitted to having any real training, either. It was a pair of pretty slick smooth stories.

Murphy returned the binos to me and stood beside my father and I. He looked out at the ocean and kept a serious look on my face as did Dad. It was at this time the two men imparted a life lesson to me. It was the value of keeping a straight face while everyone around them made fools of themselves.

By now the women were excited and pointing at an empty ocean and if anyone with any authority had come by and seen them the five of them would have been carted off straight to the booby hatch.

Other people came up and asked what was going on and it was explained to them there was a submarine race going on and they joined and the crowd grew and grew. There were almost 100 people there and they returned back to their families and the entire thing started working its way down the beach.

You could see people pointing and hear mothers calling their kids to come and watch the submarines.

Murphy and Dad seemed somewhat amused and then they both cringed. Murphy's face turned briefly to a look of horror. He turned to me and quietly said, "Not one single word to anyone about this."
I nodded and Dad said to Murphy, "He knows."

I knew if word got out that it was a hoax there would be hell to play. None of us would ever hear the end of it. Ever.

Then Murphy quietly said he had to pee. My dad said he did, too. I said, "Me three." All three of us had been laughing so hard inside that we were ready to wet out pants. 

There were no facilities on the beach so without a single word we walked down to the water and waded in up over out waists and peed in our swimsuits and then swam a few strokes to hide what we were doing. Afterwards we returned to our posts and looked down the beach as the spectators of the non-existent race worked their way down.

After the excitement was over we hung around a while until Mom was ready to go home and we packed up and left. All the way home Mom commented on how exciting the day was. Dad kept a straight face and said he was glad everyone had a good time.

For years afterwards every time I saw the women together one of them would often bring up the submarine race and how exciting it had been.

The only people I ever told were my aunt and uncle because I knew they would keep their mouths shut and not tell anyone. Forty years later if the cat ever got out of the bag I'd STILL catch holy hell.

Murphy and Dad are off the hook. They are buried near each other in Marshfield Hills cemetery which I find fitting. Those two characters were a pair I learned a lot from. They also enjoyed a good jug together once in a while.

When my mother passed about an hour before the funeral I swung by Dad's grave and looked at his and Murphy's and said aloud, "Hey, you two! Party's over. Mom's on the way!"

I, however, am still alive as are a couple of the women that were there and as long as one of them is and I am I think I am still in danger. Most of the women had Irish blood and the Irish do not forget. I'm still in danger.

The thing that reminded me of this story is that my aunt has Alzheimer's and I visited her the other day. She didn't recognize me but I sat down and chatted with her. I told her I was her sister's oldest son and started telling her funny stories about the family and we laughed.

When I told her this story it broke a dam and suddenly she called me by name and started asking about my brothers and sisters. 

She certainly wasn't 100% but an awful lot of things seemed to come back to her for at least a few minutes. It's funny what laughter will do. 

My aunt addressed me by name and started asking about my brothers and sisters and a lot of other things. It was amazing watching her punch her way out of the fog. Her eyes sparkled.

I wrote and posted this here to let my cousins know the story that broke the ice during my recent visit to her.

To find out why the blog is pink just cut and paste this: NO ANIMALS WERE HARMED IN THE WRITING OF TODAY'S ESSAY


  1. 20" barrel, no folding stock. Removable handle allowed only recently. AR15 rules. KA4KOE

  2. Glad you got the straight dope, Pard.