I sit outside my church wondering if I should go in. I hear the melodic sounds of the congregation singing Christmas hymns. It sounds much better from here than inside. Together, they combine to create a singular chorus of joy and community. But from my pew, all I hear is offbeat, out of tune shrill from certain people in high and low tones drowning out the beautiful notes.
When the preacher begins the sermon, I barely hear bits and pieces of words. He’s a nice man, but he doesn’t exactly project to the last pew. You have to get to church early to get a good seat. Now that I think about it, maybe that’s his intention all along. Pretty clever.
As the door creaks open a bit, I listen. I think he’s telling the tale of the miracle birth of Christ. Lighthouse Cove could use a miracle like that right now.
My town is a simple sea town on the isle of Northhampton Virginia. We’re not even a dot on a map, but our lighthouse is very important. It lies at the entrance to the cove that leads up to Delaware and Maryland, along the Chesapeake Bay. Ships don’t stop in our small village, but they heed the lighthouse to find safe passage up the waterway. Without it’s continual beacon, they could lose their bearings and easily perish on the rocky land and miss the smooth secure bay waters.
For the last week, extra shifts of two men with binoculars were scheduled, searching the seas for one of our own, the Pearl.
She was a typical whitefish and halibut trawler run by a small crew of local men and boys. They went out to catch Winter Flounder for our annual town Christmas celebration. It’s my favorite time of year. The whole town gets together and celebrates with music and dancing. The feast of fish and vegetables with hot apple cider and the most marvelous cakes and pies anyone has ever eaten is legendary. But not this year.
The trawler didn’t return. For days, the men on the lighthouse have been watching and the women and children in the town have been worrying and waiting. They’ve been holding candlelight vigils on the waterfront after praying in the church every night for their loved ones to come home safely. They even decorated the church with anchor-shaped garland to honor the men who work in the sea to feed everyone.
As the head watchman’s daughter, I’ve had to act as the town crier more often than not. I sound a bell when the ships come in to alert the townspeople. And when any good or bad news regarding a ship is needed, my pa sends me into town to make an announcement. I don’t enjoy the job, but it’s my duty.
I dread telling these people the news. Pa and the others found some planks on the coastline. One was marked “The Pearl.” He told me to inform the others. I just don’t know how to say it. Should I burst in and blurt it out or wait until after the service?
I opt for waiting. I don’t want them to fret any longer, but a few more minutes of hope is better than despair. I won’t rob them of that.
The preacher ended and I hear the short proclamation hymn followed by the final prayer. It’s time. I put this off long enough. I open the door slowly, trying not to make a sound, but I see a young boy caught me. He was playing with a toy while everyone was praying.
“She’s here!” he yelled and everyone else turned around, staring at me in sheer silence. Looking into their worried eyes, I tried to speak, but at first, no words came out.
“They found some planks washed up on the shoreline,” I said softly. “And one said…”
Just as I was about to finish, a loud humming sound came in the distance and distracted everyone. The entire congregation gazed at the large oak doors of the chapel, perplexed by the distant noise.
As it grew louder, it was clearer. It sounded like a group of men singing a sea ditty. I was shocked at the insensitivity and impertinence to disturb a solemn occasion with a silly shanty. I walked toward the door with the intention of hushing the men, when the big wooden doors flew open.
The congregation gasped in a chorus with their eyes widened. It was my pa and the other watchmen with several other men covered in black clothing. It was the crew of the Pearl! They made it.
The mass of people ran to individual men hugging them as the organ mistress played a happy Christmas tune. I was very happy to see the men alive and well, but I was puzzled.
I waded through the sea of gleeful smiles and tears and found my pa. “What happened?” I asked.
“It’s the darndest thing. They got lost in the fog and crashed on some rocks further north, but they nursed the boat back, even with a good chunk of her gone,” he told. “It took a while to find their way back, but they said the lighthouse shined their way.”
My heart warmed peering at the joy all around me. I was happy that I waited so long to speak. I don’t know what made me waver, but I was glad. I guess it was another miracle for Lighthouse Cove.
©2022 Suzanne Rudd Hamilton