Time To Remember

By R. L. Keller


(Shamelessly adapted from an e-mail that’s been making the rounds.)


Every time Admiral Harriman Nelson came down the boarding hatch ladder into the giant submarine he’d designed and built he was always amazed at the good fortune he’d had in his life.  To be honest, it had come with a great deal of hard work on his part.  But he was still delighted that, after these years, so many of the dreams he’d had as a young man had actually come true.


All of which had nothing to do with his current mission.  He gave himself a shake – along with a private smile – and looked across the Control Room to the pair of khaki-clad legs sticking out from under the navigation computer.


Seaview was in port, having just gotten back the previous day from a two-week necessary, but boring for the crew, charting mission.  While Nelson’s PA, Angie, had sorted through all the mail and reports that had come in while he was at sea, and had actually handled a good bit of it, just leaving him detailed notes of what she’d done, there was still a fairly large stack that needed his attention.  He wanted to give Seaview’s captain, Cdr. Lee Crane, a healthy portion of it; Lee had become extremely adept at looking at project proposals and giving Nelson feedback on ways to handle them, as well as pointing out possible glitches to their smooth completion.  But when he walked down the hall to Lee’s office he’d been told by the secretary that Lee had left for the day.  A little unusual for the workaholic young man, but Nelson figured that he’d only left his office, not the Institute grounds all-together.  He piled the stack of folders on Lee’s desk with a note explaining what they were and when he needed them back, and returned to his office.  An hour later he suddenly remembered that he wanted to point out one of the folders in particular and had forgotten to do so when he wrote the hasty note.  He called Lee’s cell phone, assuming that Lee had probably walked down to the boat.  Nelson smiled to himself as he dialed.  There was no telling what Seaview’s Skipper was up to on board his beloved ‘Gray Lady.’


But the smile faded when the only answer was Lee’s voicemail immediately picking up.  Lee rarely turned the phone off as the Institute all too often needed to contact him on a moment’s notice.  But he could be somewhere on the boat where he’d needed to take it off his belt.  Puttering around in the ballast tanks came to mind, and Nelson’s grin returned.  Shaking his head, he told Angie that he’d be back in a bit and walked down to the dock.  With Lee, there was no telling where Nelson would find him.  But he was sure that Seaview’s XO, Lt. Cdr. Chip Morton, would know, and Nelson knew that Lee’s best friend was doing some puttering of his own with the boat’s computers.


Nelson remembered only barely in time to not totally surprise Chip.  He’d done it to Lee one day, while Seaview rested quietly in port.  Lee had startled so badly, thinking himself alone aboard, that he’d banged his head hard enough to require several stitches.  Still standing at the bottom of the ladder, Nelson cleared his throat loudly before walking across the deck toward Chip.  He saw Chip’s legs jump slightly, and grinned down at the blond as he crawled out from under the cabinet.


“Sorry, sir.”  Chip gave him a little grin as he quickly stood up.  “Thought that I was alone except for the anchor watch, and I think they’re all topside at the moment.”


“Actually, I was looking for Lee.  He’s not…”  He stopped talking because the instant he’d spoken Lee’s name a pained, almost worried expression briefly hit Chip’s face.  He got himself back under control quickly, but not before he realized Nelson had seen it.  “What’s wrong?” Nelson asked him gently.


Chip sighed heavily.  “Not totally sure anything is,” he admitted.


“Something to do with his friends’ deaths?” Nelson guessed.


“I think so.”


Several days before Seaview left on her last cruise, Lee had gotten word that his mother’s next-door neighbors, the MacDonalds, had been killed in a car accident.  The couple had been more than mere neighbors to Lee in his younger years.  After the death of his grandfather, and with his mother’s more frequent business trips, the retired commercial fisherman and his kindly wife had become surrogate grandparents and caregivers from the time Lee was twelve until he’d left for Annapolis at barely seventeen.  With Seaview’s impending departure, Lee decided that he didn’t have time to attend the funeral.  The MacDonalds had no other close relatives so it would just be a handful of friends attending, mostly people that Lee didn’t really know.  However, both Chip and Nelson assured him that things were in order and that he needed to go.  By some miracle his mother also happened to be home.  Nelson told him to spend a few days with her, and they’d pick him up by FS1 when he got back to Santa Barbara. 


But Lee being Lee, he’d left the instant the services were over and sailed with his boat.  Nelson and Chip both scolded him for not staying longer; taking a little time for himself that he so rarely did.  But Lee just shrugged it off.  He’d been a bit quieter than usual the whole trip, but not so much that he caused his friends to worry about him.  Now, from the expression Chip allowed to once more appear, Nelson wasn’t so sure.


“He was leaving the Admin building at the same time I headed down here,” Chip continued.  “Said he had a headache…”  Chip looked at Nelson and they both cringed a bit.  It was Lee’s most noticeable symptom of stress.  “I tried to get him to go see Jamie.”  That caused quick grins for both men – Lee had to practically be dead before he’d willingly subject himself to the CMO’s ministrations.  “But he just shrugged it off, said that he was going to take a walk on the beach and he’d be fine by morning.”  Chip hesitated.  “Sometimes it’s best not to push him, you know?”


Nelson nodded.  “Hopefully he’ll finally take the time to grieve.”  Chip nodded, but the worried expression this time didn’t leave his face.  “Chip?” Nelson prodded ever so gently.  Lee wasn’t the only one that it wasn’t wise to push.  He thought for a second that this was one of those times.  Chip looked down at the deck for several seconds before finally looking up.


“He had a small package under his arm.  Apparently came in this morning’s mail – had stamps on it.  I caught just a glimpse of the return address before he walked away – a law firm in Newport, R.I.


“Something that the MacDonalds may have left him in their will?”


“That was my guess.  And it brought everything, all the memories, back.”  He sent Nelson a small grin.  “Figured that I’d show up at his place about dinnertime with a six-pack of beer.”


Nelson grinned as well.  It was so typical of the two long-time friends to support each other – no matter what was happening.  But he suddenly pointed an eyebrow at his Exec.  “Didn’t I hear something about you having a hot date tonight?”  He chuckled openly as Chip’s fair complexion turned several shades of crimson.  Chip started to open his mouth, but Nelson raised a hand.  “I know that you think it’s your place to protect your captain, but you need your down time as well.”  He sent the blond a fond smile.  “You go enjoy your evening.  If he did go for a walk, where would he most likely go?”


Chip hesitated only a second.  He really had been looking forward to dinner with Monika.  And while Nelson could seem blustery and gruff to the outside world, Chip knew that he and Lee shared a bond that was, while different from his and Lee’s, just as strong.  “He sometimes goes out to the headland.”  Nelson nodded that he knew the spot Chip was referring to.  “But mostly he just heads north from his house.”


Nelson sent a glance toward the computer.  “You about done here?”


Chip’s expression turned sheepish.  “Another hour or so,” he admitted.


Nelson looked at his watch.  “See that you don’t keep your lady waiting,” he warned.  But the grumble in his voice was overshadowed by the smile on his face.  It spread when Chip’s face, starting to return to his normal color, once more turned red.  He nodded, and Nelson left.


Once back outside the boat, Nelson pondered his options.  He’d easily understood Chip’s concern, and also his intent at showing up later at Lee’s.  Always a very private man, Lee could internalize problems to his own detriment.  Chip had developed, over the years, the ability to, if only figuratively, kick Lee in the tail until he knocked his friend out of his funk.  At least, Nelson thought that it was only figuratively.  He grinned as he recalled the occasional threat of a sledge hammer being mentioned.  While Chip was right in his comment about Lee not taking well to being pushed too far, sometimes he needed to be reminded that he didn’t have to bear all burdens, no matter what they were, by himself.


Nelson slowly walked toward the Admin building.  Waiting in his office were several hours of work just to figure out what he wanted to work on first.  He sighed heavily.  He could easily admit to being just as much of a workaholic – if not worse – than his boat’s captain.  That thought caused a small grin.  Perhaps a nice walk on the beach was exactly what he needed as well.  He started to walk a bit faster, heading for his office, to pick up a few things and to let Angie know that he’d be leaving for the day.  Almost immediately he stopped dead.  He knew himself far too well for that – one foot back inside and he’d end up stuck there until who knew when.  He’d told Chip that he would make sure Lee was…  what? he muttered to himself.  Okay?  Of course he’ll be okay.  He’s not an emotional idiot, you old fool.  Nelson let another smile appear.  No, he’s not.  He’ll be just fine, as always.  But, and the smile spread, we all need our friends from time to time.  Lee, you’ve become a very special friend over the years.  And you’re not the only one who needs to be reminded to spend time with those special to you.  He called Angie on his cell, told her brusquely – before she could sidetrack him as she’d started to when she heard his voice – that he was out of the office for the rest of the day and didn’t want to be disturbed.  Well, he amended, for anything short of a Presidential command.  Even Lee would accept that excuse.  He disconnected quickly with another grin, and drove to Lee’s house.


Lee’s car was in the carport.  He didn’t answer the knock on his door, however, so Nelson walked around to the back and down the short path to the beach.  It was a glorious day.  The sun was shining, a soft breeze was blowing, and Nelson took the time to stand for a bit at the water’s edge, embracing the sights, sounds, and smells, before ambling north.  A workday, the beach was fairly quiet.  There were only a few of Lee’s neighbors on the beach.  A young couple out jogging passed him.  One woman was watching her toddler play in the sand, and Nelson waved a hand as she smiled at him. 


When Nelson had first envisioned his complex and started to buy up land, this stretch of beach had been among his purchases.  The developers were just beginning to move into the area, and Nelson could already see what they were going to do with it – destroy its beauty with forty-nine different hotel chains and condos.  He couldn’t save all of it.  A few miles further north that’s exactly what had happened.  But NIMR controlled this part, allowing only large lots with long-term leases, not ownership, keeping the population density at a comfortable level for everyone.  Lee had fallen in love with the area immediately, and Nelson had arranged for him to have a lot as close to the Institute end of the area as possible.


Nelson hadn’t walked all that far before he spotted a familiar form sitting in the sand, his back against a driftwood log thrown well away from the tide line by a long gone winter storm.  He grinned as he noted that Lee, unlike himself, had taken the time to change out of his uniform.  Dressed in an old pair of jeans, Naval Academy t-shirt, and sneakers, he was staring out at the waves and didn’t notice Nelson until the older man was about twenty feet away.  He blinked and started to get up, but Nelson waved him back.  He settled into the warm sand next to his young captain without saying a word. 


He smiled as Lee pointed a puzzled eyebrow at him.  “Chip send you?” Lee guessed.  It wasn’t an accusation – in fact, Lee sounded almost embarrassed. 


Nelson’s grin spread.  “Actually, I sent myself,” he admitted.  “Oh, Chip was prepared to show up with a six-pack later on.”  Lee’s embarrassment grew.  “I convinced him that he’s not the only one around who’s willing to listen when you need to talk something out.”


Lee ducked his head and once more stared out to sea.  Nelson remained quiet as well, controlling his expression.  Lee was such a private man, always interested in those around him, but uncomfortable talking about himself.  He would open up to his very close friends, but even then it had to be on his terms.  And truth be told, Nelson was enjoying the chance to relax, with no phones and no one demanding his attention.  He totally understood why Lee would often spend time here on the beach by himself.  He wished he’d do it more himself, but acknowledged how unlikely that was to happen any time soon.  However, for this moment in time, it felt great!


It took Lee nearly five minutes to get himself under enough control to even think straight.  After his exchange with Chip earlier he’d expected the blond to show up at some point.  He hadn’t been at all prepared for Nelson to do so and it hit him hard, especially considering what was causing his lack of emotional control at the moment anyway.  Slowly he allowed the comfort the older man’s presence gave him to overcome his lack of composure. 


Reaching down to his side, he handed Nelson a small brass box.  Nelson held it tenderly but didn’t open it.  “That used to sit on Cap’n Mac’s writing desk,” Lee told him, his voice still not totally under control.  Nelson nodded that he understood who Lee meant – his childhood neighbor.  “Sometimes, when he walked past the desk, he’d run his hand over the top of the box.  He never opened it – at least, not in my presence.”  Again he was silent for a few minutes, just watching the waves roll gently onto the beach.


Nelson was tempted to open the box but refrained.  There was a story here – something that was strongly affecting Lee.  Nelson would give him all the time he needed to express his feelings in whatever way he was comfortable.


“I didn’t see much of the MacDonalds once I left for Annapolis,” Lee finally continued.  Nelson had briefly met the couple when he’d driven Lee home his plebe year, after Mrs. Crane was injured in a car accident.  They had been upset about the accident as well and instantly assured Lee that, once his mother was released from hospital, they would be happy to help keep an eye on her until she was totally recovered.  “When I did go home I always stopped by to see them.  But…”  Nelson nodded that he understood.  Lee’s mother was a very successful freelance writer, and frequently on the road.  Lee most often went home with Chip on Academy holidays.  “I did write to them.”  He gave Nelson one of his patented through-the lashes, sheepish little grins.  “Sometimes more often than to Mom.”  Nelson grinned as well.  He had no doubts whatsoever, despite Chip’s occasionally derogatory remarks about Mrs. Crane and the way she sometimes treated Lee, that mother and son loved and respected each other deeply.  But theirs was an ‘interesting’ relationship to outsiders, and explained a lot of Lee’s independence.  “A few times I made trips home just to see them.” 


That did surprise Nelson just a bit, as he’d not realized Lee had done that.  But he only sent Lee another smile of encouragement and support.  The visits were actually a very ‘Lee’ thing to do.  There weren’t many people he’d allowed to get close to him over the years, but he held those that had in very high regard.


“A few years after graduation,” Lee continued, “I was taking some training courses in Groton.  The first weekend I drove over because Mom was home for a few days between trips.  Discovered when I walked over to visit that Mrs. Mac was having a few health problems – nothing too serious but at their age…”  He paused a bit before once more returning to his narrative.  “I made a point of driving over every weekend I could while I was there – a couple times I had training and couldn’t make it.”  Nelson saw a look of…something…cross Lee’s face that he couldn’t quite identify.  “One of those trips – at least I think it was then – Cap’n Mac, like I’d seen him do so many times, ran his hand across the top of that box,” he nodded toward what Nelson still held gently, “and I finally asked him what was so special about it.”  Again Lee hesitated, remembering, before sending Nelson a look that this time the older man recognized as almost wonderment.  “He said, ‘inside is something that is most precious to both Mrs. Mac and I.  That was all he said – didn’t explain what that was, and I didn’t want to ask.”  The two men exchanged understanding smiles.  “I just assumed that it was something that they kept to remind them of something special in their lives – they never had kids, or much other family.”  Once more Lee was quiet, his expression momentarily turning sorrowful before he gave himself a small shake.


“The morning of their funeral I walked over to the house and looked in the window – I’d spent a lot of time in that house.  For some reason I looked over to the writing desk and the box was gone.  I though, if it was something so special, maybe they’d wanted it buried with them.  I was really glad that, if they had to go, that at least they went together.  One would have been lost without the other.  I didn’t give the box another thought.  Until this morning.”


Nelson watched as Lee struggled to get his voice and emotions, both threatening to betray him, back under control.  He reached out a hand and squeezed Lee’s shoulder.  Lee gave him a quick grin, but it still took him several minutes before he could continue.


“That came this morning,” Lee finally got out.  Nelson held it out and Lee took it carefully in both hands, rubbing his thumbs along its sides.  “There was a note with it – well, two, actually.  One from the lawyer Cap’n Mac had left it with, and one from Cap’n Mac.”  Again Lee seemed to choke up, but he got himself under control a bit faster this time.  He slowly opened the top and showed Nelson what was inside – a gold pocket watch, its casing finely etched.  Nelson touched it gently but didn’t pick it up.  Instead, he sent a querying look at Lee.  “Cap’n Mac’s note was short.  ‘One of our most precious gifts was the time you chose to give to us’.”  Once more he hesitated, just staring at the box.  “I’ve been struggling to accept that, the thing they placed so much value on was my time.”


Carefully, Nelson kept from shaking his head.  Perhaps Lee was too close to the events to see what Nelson had understood immediately.  “We all make choices,” he started carefully, “about how we structure our lives.  How we spend our time, as it were.  That you, as first a youngster already busy with school, sports, and the Sea Scouts program among other things, should choose to spend time with them, an older couple, apparently touched them far more than you realized.  As a cadet with very limited time to yourself, and later as a naval officer with barely more free time and so many ways and interests of your own to fill it, well, that you should still stay in contact with them was obviously very special.”


“They were my friends,” Lee told him, still not quite understanding why they should feel that he’d done anything out of the ordinary.


Nelson nodded.  “And that friendship meant a great deal to them.  So much so that they found a special way to tell you.”


Lee nodded, staring at the box in his hands.  Nelson had a feeling that it would still take Lee some time to come to terms with the MacDonald’s last message.  Lee so obviously had seen nothing special about his continued friendship with them.  Just as he found nothing special about so much of what others around him recognized as the actions of a very special young man.  Again, Nelson had to refrain from shaking his head.  Just Lee being Lee, he told himself.


Nelson sat quietly, trying to figure out what to do next.  He’s accomplished what he’d set out to do – discover what was troubling his boat’s captain – and his friend.  Now he wasn’t totally sure what next step would be best for Lee.  Should he leave him here to sort through his thoughts?  Somehow that didn’t sound right to him, but it was Lee he needed to think about first, not himself.


“They were such special people,” came softly from Nelson’s right, and once more he had to remind himself not to shake his head.  Lee would never take credit for doing anything out of the ordinary – and in particular if he could give the credit to someone else.


“Life isn’t measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.”  Lee gave him a puzzled look, and it was Nelson’s turn to give his friend a sheepish grin.  “Sorry.  Something I was told once, and it just popped into my brain.”


Lee smiled.  A genuine smile, Nelson was pleased to note.  “Mrs. Mac would have liked that,” Lee told him.  “She was always saying little things like that.”


Nelson pointed an eyebrow at Lee.  “Was it her who taught you the William Feather quotes?” referring to a couple of instances when Lee had used them – with precision accuracy.*


Lee ducked his head again, but the smile stayed on his face.  “Yes, sir.”


“Harrumph,” Nelson growled.  But he knew that Lee could easily see through his faux frown from the way the younger man’s eyes were sparkling.  Because of that, he risked asking, “You feeling better now?”


Lee didn’t say anything for a bit, returning his eyes to the box in his hands.  “I wish that you had known them,” he finally told Nelson.


Nelson smiled.  “But I can – through your eyes.”  It was quite some hours later before either man returned home.





I believe that the MacDonalds first appeared in my ‘Cobwebs,’ as part of a suggestion from Susan F., and have been mentioned in at least one other of my stories.  It’s quite possible that they will show up again. J   RLK


* see “Quote-Unquote” by R. L. Keller