Since I wasn't aware of it at the time, I have no memory of my conception. Frankly, I doubt my parents were
Riding on the tails of my great great grandparent's fortune, they had little time for me, so my early years,
while more than comfortable, were mostly in the care of nannies and the butler.
Still, I remember my mother in her favorite rocking chair, singing me to sleep or comforting a scraped knee.
And I remember my father's bedtime stories, all about some of our famous ancestors, including Captain Shamus O'Hara Nelson,
an Irish immigrant's son, sailing around the horn in the spice trade adding to the family wealth. And a tale about somebody
on the Mayflower who's name escapes me. But I also remember him paddling me for messing up his library, priceless
first editions and antique manuscripts scattered all over the floor with crayon drawings of fish and submarines on them! I
couldn't sit for a week!
If I were asked for any pearls of wisdom that I’d like to pass on to the next generation, I’d have to say
all I or anyone ever needed know they could learn from an old Disney cartoon. I believe it was called Ferdinand the Bull.
In a nutshell, while all the other young bulls were scrambling around in the hills butting their heads together, proving
their superiority, Ferdinand just liked to sit under his favorite cork tree and sniff the flowers’ fragrance.
One day he sat on a bumblebee. You can imagine his reaction, galloping about, snorting, like a bull possessed. Just
the thing for the bullring, the scouts thought.
And so he found himself in the arena. But did Ferdinand give the matadors a run for their money? No, he discovered a
small bouquet of flowers a senorita had tossed into the ring, and he promptly sat down to smell them.
The matador, a fine fellow, embarrassed by the bull’s lack of showmanship, began to stomp and yell, anything to
get Ferdinand to attack him. Then Ferdinand noticed his tattoo. His tattoo of a flower.
Rising, he charged toward the man, the Matador pleased that now he could show off with his cape and sword. But then
Ferdinand simply sat down and licked the man’s tattoo.
Needless to say, Ferdinand was hauled back to the hills in disgrace, where he
lived out his life sitting under his favorite cork tree, and smelled the
flowers. He was very happy.
Moral of the story? Even if you make it to the bull ring, if your heart’s
not in it, you might as not be there, and instead just smell the flowers.
My Dog Rex
I wasn’t really into dogs. I much
would rather have stayed home with my Jr. Chemistry set and microscope. But my Mom insisted I accompany her to the Dog Show.
It was a big thing back then, and I guess it still is. And, she was worried about me. I didn’t have friends to speak
of, I guess my ‘brilliance’ kind of scared them away. I didn’t have the heart to tell her or Dad, most schoolmates
considered me either a pest or far too young to have anything to do with them. Anyway, her objective was twofold. One, to
root for one of her friend’s dogs, and two, to see what kind of dog I’d like to have.
I didn’t want a dog! I was a scientist,
not a pooper picker upper.(Boston was one of the first cities to insist on cleaning up after your dog, even if your manservant
or nanny might have the job)
Anyway, I might have been in High School,
but I was still only 12 and had no choice but to do as she said.
She wanted her friend’s French Poodle
to win. It was some sort of ‘champion’. Frankly I couldn’t see that it was anything but a dog, all crimped
and combed and cheech, I sure felt sorry for it. It was a boy dog, and boy dogs shouldn’t have little puffs of fur on
its tail and such.
While she chatted with her friend and nodded
her agreement for me to go look at all the other entrants, I couldn’t see what all the hoopla was about. But fate took
a hand that day and my life was forever changed.
We’d stopped for lunch after the
show, her friend’s poodle had placed but not won best in show, and while she moaned about the dog who’d won, and
all the finer points of animal husbandry- my parents didn’t want me sheltered from the birds and the bees- and badgered
me about which kind of dog would be best for me, I noticed a dog outside the window. He –I assumed it was a he at first
until I was able to confirm my diagnosis- seemed to be attracted to the smells of cooking food.Was a loyal customer, I gathered,
as the cook shooed him away, but not before tossing him a tidbit of some sort.
I asked my Mom what kind of dog he was.
She knew a lot about all the different breeds. But this one, well, she said it might be a mix, (a polite way I thought back
then for her to say it was a mutt. I learned later that the term is in no way derogatory and in fact there are several recognized
mix’s. But hey, I was 12. So I guess I can be excused for ignorance.
As she went on and on about this breed
or that, and did I want a companion dog or a fishing dog, a hunter…it was certain she had grand plans that I have a
As she paid the bill, guess who was back.
So I scooped what was left of my ‘pate’ onto a cracker and headed out the door before the cook could shoo him
away again. It was love at first sight, at least on his part. I mean, after all, any kid who’d give him goose liver
had to be okay.
Mom was not thrilled
and ordered me off my knees (“For Heaven’s sake, Harriman!”)and
to leave the poor dog alone. But he kind of followed us to the limo and I kept
looking back…he only wanted the food I knew, but gosh darn it, he had no home. And I did. So making one of those life altering decisions, I opened the door before the chauffeur could, and patted
the seat for him to jump in.
Aghast, the man tried to pull the dog off
me, but as my Mother saw the way the dog licked by face, (probably to get the dregs of the milkshake I’d hadn’t
managed to wipe off completely with my napkin) and the way I was enjoying the happy look in his eyes, and petting him, well,
she ordered the Chauffeur to ignore it, and drive us home.
An ordinary dog, maybe not a champion,
maybe just a mix, still, no matter it’s heritage she told my Dad, it was better than no dog at all.
He slept on my bed that night, washed and
groomed, of course, Nanny wouldn’t countenance anything but a clean animal.
He taught me a friend's love is unconditional,
so I guess he must have learned to like me even if I didn't have any goose liver, and years later when he died, I remember the ache I felt in my heart without him at my side or at the foot of my bed.
Rest in peace, my dog Rex.
Color Pencil Drawing of my dog Rex Nelson by Harriman Nelson, age 12
My thirteenth birthday arrived on a miserable
day. You could have sworn it was a hurricane that had gone astray. Still, waiting for me at the breakfast table was my birthday
card. The usual savings bond, so I wasn’t exactly overwhelmed. However, with a nod from my father, as the butler removed
the lid from the kitchen’s morning offering, no scrambled eggs graced the finely wrought silver. A simple Greyhound
Bus ticket. To Annapolis for one of their Visitor’s Day’s.
My father said that now I was a teenager
I had the choice of using the limo to take me to Maryland, which was Mother’s preference, I’d have a chaperone
so to speak, (Nanny had been retired off last year), or I could take the bus like a man.
I’m not sure, but I do believe they had had an argument about letting me go visit the place by myself.
I was a little hurt that apparently they
weren’t interested coming along. I opted for the bus. Then my father grinned and asked I’d like company, pulling out a second ticket from his pocket.
My mother had decided, or it had been decided
for her, (I never did find out,) that it would make me look like baby to drag her along. This was man’s business. And
back then no women allowed as Midshipmen. In fact there was hardly a petticoat to be found in the Navy, aside from the nursing
profession. Yes, this was man’s business. I remember that even in school, girls couldn’t wear slacks because it
was considered obscene. Unless you needed to wear them on a pig farm or some such thing. That was okay. And being exposed early on to that cultural ‘old boy’s network’ so to speak, I really
didn’t give the differences much thought. In fact, I was a little bit afraid of girls. So out of sight, out of mind,
suited me just fine. Little did I know how dramatically that would all change one day. And how in a very short time, though
still treading with a bit of caution around the female of the species, how very much I would come to want to pursue them.
The bus veered off the road a few times,
and the driver finally said the storm was just too bad to continue, and pulled into the nearest truck stop to wait it out.
I’d never been in a truck stop before, and was surprised at how many folks were downing the food like there was no tomorrow.
And so we decided to have a bite, me, because I was a healthy growing boy and was always hungry, he, because he wanted us
to ‘fit in’.
I had a grilled cheese sandwich and wondered
why the cook had never bothered with this culinary creation fit for the gods (in a manner of speaking-I was not a heathen!).
When Father had merely ordered coffee, I added that to my sandwich, but he didn’t stop me and let the order stand. I
couldn’t believe how awful it tasted. An ‘acquired’ taste he chuckled,
one I might come to enjoy in a few years. Like cigars, or cigarette, he
added. I didn’t dare tell him that thanks to some of my high school classmates, I already had a taste for Havana’s. And any brand of cigarette would do. But never in a
million years did I think I’d ever guzzle down coffee as if it were my life’s blood years later.
We’d never make it to the Academy’s visitor’s center in time, once the rain decided to come down vertically instead
of it’s incessant horizontal, and the bus could get underway again, but instead of calling home for the limo, father
decided we’d stay the course and could at least enjoy some of the historical city, rain or not. After all, naval officers
had to work in all kinds of inclement conditions. And perhaps we could still enter the grounds and have a look about.
It was late afternoon by the time we reached
the old town, and if anything the weather was even worse. But the Marine
Art Gallery was still open and
father noticed the Annapolis Opera had a performance that night, so he booked us into one of the swankier hotels. In the morning
we’d take a Chesapeake Bay tour and perhaps
get permission to walk about the Academy grounds.
One does not usually go to the opera in
anything less than a tuxedo, and green hard cash didn’t make the gent’s shop stay open late for us.
Fortunately or unfortunately depending
on your point of view, there was some kind of Scot/Irish convention in town, and father came into our room with two complete
sets of dress kilts, complete with sporrans, dress shirts and jackets, knee socks and a kind of black slipper that just might
pass as shoes. Might not have been ‘politically correct’, as far as tartans go, though. After all we were Nelsons,
not O’Callaghan’s. But any port in a storm, my father said so off to the opera we went. Even backstage to compliment
the diva and tenor. I did not tell either how bored I’d been. Music was
good enough and they certainly could sing well. But the story? Cheech. All hearts and flowers and drama and pathos. I might
not have understood a word of Italian, but I could read body language and get the drift of it, along with the program synopsis
for the ‘ uncivilized’…even today, give me an action adventure story any day over that dribble!
Our clothes cleaned and pressed by the
hotel for us the next day had us out and about exploring the town, and I was thrilled watching the yacht races, imagining
myself at the helm…then I saw one. A real live Midshipman. I could tell from the shoulder boards. He was a First Classman.
Just steps away from becoming an officer in the US Navy. I couldn’t help myself. I ran toward him, and started asking
all sorts of questions.
He, being an officer and gentlemen in training,
of course, couldn’t or wouldn’t tell the pestering kid to cease and desist.
My father apologized for the intrusion but did tell him that I had my heart set on entering the Academy.
The officer wannabe ruffled my hair then,
and said, they could always use a few a good men. And what type of action did I want to see? Well, I hadn’t really thought
about it and asked him what he was going to do when he got out.
submarines’, he said, and even told us the name of the boat he was hoping to be assigned to after Submarine School.
Now, I knew about subs. They were smelly
and claustrophobic and while you might not fall overboard, you could become trapped and never get out. Not even to be buried.
But while he waxed on about the submarine service, it’s value, and even some not altogether censored stories about them,
I was hooked. It was submarines for me.
What my mother would think, I had no idea.
My father looked at me askance and I could tell he was uncomfortable with the idea. Our middie noticed, and asked if we had
a few minutes, so abandoning whatever he had a pass for, he conducted us to the
Academy and gave us his own special one on one tour, if abbreviated.
As he escorted us to the main gate, he
told my father about some books that might help me decide what types of service I might like more than others. The clock tolled,
and with a wave, he was gone.
A few years later I learned with great
sadness that same sub he’d hoped for and probably had been assigned to, went down, and is still on eternal patrol.
Little did he know how very much I appreciated
his taking the time to show off the Academy and share his enthusiasm with a 13 year old boy with big dreams.
|Annapolis town yacht races by Harriman Nelson
As the spray stung my face for the umpteenth time I was beginning to have a few doubts about my career plans. While
I was aiming for submarines, being assigned to one during our ‘At Sea Training’ summers wasn’t written in
Annapolis stone. I still had a long way to go to finally graduate, go to Submarine School and after a time, pin on those dolphins.
I was simply grateful that I wasn’t hanging over the destroyer’s fantail puking my guts out as my fellow midshipmen
My stoic stomach was not the stuff of legend, it just happened to be tad more used to Neptune’s tantrums.
It had all begun when I had decided that I could use a little seasoning prior to the entire Annapolis application process
I’d be eligible for in a few years. I told my parents that I wanted to grow hair on my chest so to speak. What could
be better than to sign on with a bona fide sailing yacht for a famous race or two? I might be underage for the America’s
Cup or some fancy Rhode Island Regatta, but surely there were some junior level affairs I could enter.
Mother was not pleased. Father wasn’t all that keen on the idea either. It could be dangerous they stressed, and
what competitor in their right mind would even consider hiring me on? The expected growth spurt to my small frame hadn’t
happened yet. There was growing doubt it ever would. Not to mention the fact
that I’d never set foot on a sailboat in my life.
But my father, probably to keep me from pestering him to death, took me down to the Boston Yacht Club. There were big
boats, small boats, day sailers, a couple of schooners and a single brigantine in their prize marina, even paddle boats for
the kiddies, and of course a few mega cabin cruisers.
‘Now, how about a boat like that?’ he’d say as we passed by heading toward the clubhouse. After all, I wouldn’t be under sail in
the Navy. Surely he could check with some of the club’s yachting enthusiasts to take me on a short ride. Or better yet,
why not take an ocean liner (they still had a few back then) to explore the world and expand my 14 year old horizons, he pressured. I had the time; he had the money, and the influence to get me a visit or two
to the bridge.
Still, there was no ridding me of my ‘Moby Dick Syndrome’, as parents called it, as I had my heart set on
climbing the ropes of a ship under sail, (I learned later they were called sheets which made no sense at all but that was
the way it was) billowing sails above my head, with my hand at the wheel.
I took my Father aside and told him that if I really wanted to learn how to sail, (it was rhetorical) it was going to
have to be having to be their Junior Club or nothing. The Coast Guard had too many things to do just now than teach public
sailor wannabe classes. Still, the next Junior Club classes wouldn’t begin again for nearly two months. Enough time
to sit and stew just waiting. Perhaps I ought to take that world cruise instead.
It was then that I remembered an ad in last week’s paper. A Skipjack class sailboat for sale. ‘Make an offer’ it said and had two month’s
slip fee left on its contract with the Blue Water Marina. My fate was sealed.
My parents were away for the week, but I was glad to do this on my own. I was tired of my father holding my hand so
to speak, and I had enough financial acumen to complete the sale using my birthday present of cold hard cash from my maternal
“Okay, so she has a few barnacles,” I said as I showed her off to my parents when they returned, bill of
sale in hand.
“That’s the ugliest boat I’ve ever seen!” my Mother
wrinkled her nose, and not just at the sight of the peeling paint and a few patches of rotting wood. The water slapping against
her hull was rather stagnant and a bit green.
“A true sailor knows all about his boat. Every crack, every crevice, every nut and bolt…” I
insisted, “I’ll learn all about her, inside and out and her former Skipper’s going to take me out and show
me the ropes before we put her in drydock.”
“Well, as long as you don’t try to sail it by yourself.”
“Her, Dad, Her. All boats are female..er.. I’ll need a little help cleaning her up…
nothing too drastic, she has her seaworthiness certificate, but we will need to haul her out and….”
“That is if you want to…I thought it might be fun scraping her bottom, sanding her, painting. Just us guys…and
well, you’re always welcome too Mom but…” I let it drop. While she didn’t mind getting her hands dirty
now and then, it was always brief, a duty thing with this charity or that…I could never see her in jeans with a real
scrubbing brush in her hand.
They whispered together for a moment, then Mother insisted she’d at least come
along on my lesson cruise, while Father agreed to help me make Aurora a bit more presentable.
So on one fine Sunday afternoon, armed with picnic basket, (my Mother always felt more
at home with Champagne and cucumber sandwiches) and camera,(so they could take pictures of me at the wheel, such was my pride)
we boarded my boat, with little inkling of the fate awaiting us.
It began well enough as Cap’n Jake taught me how to put her through her paces, and I was a fast learner. He hardly
had to repeat himself and I was feeling pretty proud. I might not need those Yacht Club lessons after all. With the wind in my face, the sails billowing above me, master of my boat, my boat, I couldn’t
Whether it was the food or the swells, my folks began to complain that they were feeling a bit unwell. We agreed to
turn tail and head back to the dock. At least I wasn’t seasick. Yes, the fates had chosen correctly when they
made Harriman Nelson a sailor. That is, until I too, was draped over the side like a sodden rag. In fact, the boat could have sunk and I wouldn’t have noticed.
After Cap’n Jake pulled us into the slip to disembark, Father, finally able to stand without holding onto the
rail, asked for my money back.
“Sale’s final,” I interrupted while still puking out what little was left in my stomach.
“I won’t hold you to it, kid,” Cap’n Jake said, “Not
everyone’s meant for the water.”
“The hell I’m not,’ I managed. “Father, Mother, why don’t you go rest in the limo while
Cap’n Jake and I discuss more lessons”
“You can’t mean that you’re actually going to keep it?” Mother asked, aghast.
“Her, Mom, Aurora’s a her…It just takes a little getting used to the sea. Right Cap’n Jake?”
“Right kid,” he grinned. “And maybe a little of that new motion sickness medicine that’s just
hit the market…”
Suddenly I was brought out of my daydream and back to the present. The XO himself asked if I was okay and offered me
some Dramamine as another huge wave splashed over the deck, soaking us both.
“I don’t think I need it, sir.”
“No, I don’t think you do,” he grinned.
Yes, it only took a bit of getting used to.
I remember catching my first fish. We’d
gone out early, my father and I, and he instructed me in the nuances of the best bait and hook. I was so proud. That I was
only 5 years old didn’t enter my mind. I was going to bring home lunch.
What I hadn’t planned on was the
reality. Seeing that poor creature gasping for breath (what did I know about gills?), it’s eyes bulging so I pleaded
with my father to remove the hook and take it to the hospital, that I didn’t mind going hungry that day.
I’m not sure if he was exasperated,
(it was a rather large trout) or decided my education was sadly lacking, but he humored his hysterical little boy, and my
finned friend was plopped into a bucket of water, (he’d removed the hook easily and showed me there wasn’t much
real damage), and we went home.
It didn’t take long for my mother
to decide that the bathtub was no place for a fish. After all, 'what if the plug were accidently pulled by the cleaning
staff and it went down the drain? Surely an aquarium would be better. '
And so Trouty found himself seconded in
a rather large,(and expensive) aquarium, complete with a ‘sunken galleon’ and pirate treasure.
I came home one day to find the tank empty,
and thought perhaps I’d killed it with overfeeding. My aunt, who was ‘in loco parentus’ while my parents
were touring Venice, said it was ‘old age’. So I easily accepted her explaination. Until I overheard one of the staff say that the cook had run out of fish for our dinner and my Aunt said
there was a perfectly good Trout on the premises. And well, you know the rest of the story.
I couldn’t eat fish again for more
than a month.
It had come as a surprise to my parents that I
was shall we say, ‘too advanced’ for my age. So I’d been admitted to High School long before children of
my own age. I was only 11. That in itself wasn’t so bad. I was a Nelson, I could take the teasing, especially in the
boy’s locker room. Things began to change, however, when they discovered
the ‘poor little rich kid’s limo (my parents insisted I be driven to and
from despite my pleadings that I’d rather walk, or ‘heaven forbid’ according to them, that I use a bicycle),
had of all things…a bar.
Suddenly I became the Big Man on Campus. Amazing
what a little ipecac in the chauffer’s thermos of coffee could do. So while
he attended to er…his business in the men’s room, I treated them to a few snorts of my father’s finest.
Rum, Brandy, Vodka, and Gin.
In time we
got it down to a science, and it wasn’t always Ipecac. After all, he might catch on. One time he got an elusive
phone call from the schools’ office, a call from the ‘housekeeper’…anything that worked to get him
out of the way so I could open the bar.
False courage, triggered by my fifth shot of Vodka,
and the knowledge that these boys could drive, I decided to take the wheel. After all, how hard could it be? I’d seen
the chauffeur do it a zillion times.
Needless to say, when my father was called down
to the local jail, (my friends decided he had enough money to bail us all out)
he was told that I was not only being charged, like them, for underage imbibing, but that I was also being charged for Driving
Under the Influence and smashing into Conroy’s Crystal Shop.
If my friends thought my father would simply shake
his head and get us out of a bind, they were sadly mistaken. After a little conferring with the officers, my father simply
told the police he wasn’t going to post bail. For anyone. Let the punishment fit the crime, he said.
While the older boys were rescued by their parents,
I was to spend a sad, lonely, and miserable night in jail. One can’t drink all that on an empty stomach and expect to
get away with it. Having to use the filthy communal toilet to be sick made me vow never to drink again.
Morning came and I barely noticed my mother’s
tender embrace as I winced with every cooing word as she escorted me to the limo. Even my hair hurt. I discovered later that
my father had spent the night at the jailhouse himself, just outside the cell block, every so often peeking in on me as I slept.
Later that day, spending most of it, thankfully
at home in bed, (my mother had signed a note for school), my father summoned me to the den. A masculine escape from all the
frills my mother had decorated the house with.
a tongue lashing, he surprised me by asking, ‘Well, was it worth it?’
I had to admit I’d never been sicker in
my life, so it sure as hell wasn’t, and so he let me spend some time with him, and we spent some quality time discussing
things from the value of true friendship (those boy’s certainly hadn’t been), and that spirits could be enjoyed, but not in excess. (In fact, he’d help me to discern their finer points later on in my
life) but I’d still have to pay for the damages to the crystal shop by working there every day after school until
it was all paid for, something by his estimate would take until I entered Harvard. ( Oh swell, Dad, now they’re really going to taunt me, I mean, it was a shop full
of fancy crystal poodles, and things like that, sissy stuff!) I thought to myself. Then he grinned, knowing that if I
was in high school now, Harvard wasn’t actually that long off. Still I had another dream than Harvard. I hadn’t
told him yet. Perhaps it was time I did. By the time Mom got home from her garden party, Dad and I had a big announcement. Annapolis
wasn't a given. You had to have more than smarts to be admitted. But I was going to try.
I did, was accepted, and you might say I owe my Naval career to being DUI.
Harriman Nelson Learns to Swim
With a litle help from Rex
It didn’t come as any surprise to my parents
that I didn’t know how to swim. Most Nelsons couldn’t or had never had the inclination. But since I decided that
I was going to be a naval officer, well, it was a pretty good idea to learn how not to drown should I fall overboard. So at the ripe old age of 12, my father had a swimming pool installed in the ball
There weren’t too many indoor pools in the
residential parts of Boston, and it made the papers. I remember the headline. ‘Nelson digs up marble and
parquet flooring to put in a swimming pool for his son!’
I was the envy of everyone in town, especially at
school, from student to principal.
There was just one teensy problem as I stood with
my parents admiring the sparkling water in the brand new completed, filled, and filtered Olympic sized pool.
The next day the boys in the locker room were envious
and asked me how it was. I couldn’t very well tell them that I’d chickened out and told my Dad I’d just
eaten and had to wait a few hours, and then it was going to be bedtime. Saturday, when there’d be no excuse, seemed
like a long time off when you’re 12- I’d think of something. So I went with the flow with their comments,
and simply grinned. They all thought I was just being humble.
Dad was so proud. So proud that he tried to enter
me in one of the ‘open swim’ marathons that the Harvard Swim Club was sponsoring in Boston Harbor. Fortunately for me they wouldn’t accept children under 16.
Saturday came and I was still racking my brain to
delay the inevitable. Playing with Rex and my microscope didn’t hold water
any more. I was trembling so hard I thought I’d pee in my trunks. Dad was
getting impatient. He spent a lot of time and trouble not to mention money toward my dream of the Navy. I sure as hell better
use the damn thing! Of course, he didn’t say that to me. But I could tell he was disappointed that I hadn’t even
dipped my toe in it yet.
Just then Rex dashed into the pool house with a
piece of wiener in his mouth, the chef chasing after him. But Rex slipped on the wet tile left from the pool man’s cleaning
hose, and went head over heels and kersplash right into the deep end. I had no
choice. I jumped in to save him. The fact that I didn’t know one stroke from another didn’t matter. It was the
least I could do.
But somehow he already knew how to swim,
and I held onto him for dear life, as we dog paddled to the shallow
end and the steps up.
“You’re going to have to do better than
that son,” Dad said, “If you want to go to Annapolis.”
It wouldn’t have been quite so bad if
almost the entire male student body of my school hadn’t applied for the job of swim tutor that my father placed the
very next day. In the end, he decided on the girls’ Home Economics teacher
who had swum the English Channel.
But as I endured the snickers and teasing
from my far more mature and older schoolmates about needing lessons,one thing was certain, teacher or not, Harriman
Nelson was not going to drown if he fell overboard.
My dog Rex had taught me the dog paddle.
Bundle of Joy
There was another reason for the family
to celebrate my 14th birthday other than my upcoming graduation later that year. Of course, I just thought it was
a damned nuisance, when Mom announced that she was pregnant.
Now, I’m not saying that I didn’t
want a sibling, or that I didn’t recognize it as the miracle of life that it was, sanctioned by the church and the state
and that ‘doing the deed’ was a part of marriage. It’s different when they’re your parents; just thinking about sex between them grossed me out. I suppose most kids of my age felt the same.
It wasn’t the same thing at all about locker room talk about which of us would get to ‘third base’ first.
Not the same thing at all.
Back then, there was no way to tell what
gender the little miracle would be except for some old wives tales about how high or low the woman carried the baby.
It might be interesting someday for a scientific
study. But I digress. ‘As long as it’s healthy’ they kept saying when folks asked what they wanted. The
fact that I was an only son, it was reasonable to believe they wanted a boy. The
Brits would have called it the ‘heir and the spare’ syndrome.
Names were a problem as we scribbled down
names and put them in piles stacked on the dining room table. I tried to tell
my father that his first choice of ‘Harriet’ if a girl was outdated. But that was a fib. I was the ‘Harry’ in the family, and didn’t want anyone usurping my status. Besides, Father
almost always called me Harriman. Other popular names for girls were ‘Cassandra’,
‘Lee’, and ‘Abigail’. In the end they decide on ‘Edith
Louise’ after one of Mother’s great aunts. It sounded nice, she said.
Some of the boy’s name’s they
considered were ‘Abraham’, ‘Wendell’, and ‘Horatio’. Not only would ‘Horatio’
be stepping on my toes being my middle name, I stressed, but the poor kid would be teased unmercifully. They decided on ‘David.’
I began to think about becoming the big
brother. If it was a boy, well, despite our ages we’d have a lot in common even if I’d probably be more like an
Uncle than a brother and only see him while on leave from the Navy.
If it was a girl, well, girls were stuck
up prissy little things, but still needed their big brothers to protect them from the same kinds of guys in the locker room
I associated with regularly with now, or gigolos after her money. The fact that I’d be nearly 25 to her 14 and off at
sea didn’t matter. Girls took up a lot of time and trouble.
My parents established a trust fund for
the kid, whatever it would turn out to be, and had the lawyers over to make all the necessary adjustments to their wills. Little did they know that the decisions they made that day would prove invaluable
when Harriman and Edith Nelson found themselves the sole heirs of the Nelson estate after they both died in an automobile
accident on the French Rivera in the not too distant future.
It wasn’t the custom in those days
to allow the families in the delivery rooms. In fact they kept us in the waiting room. It was easy to observe who the new
fathers were. Some paced about, some didn’t, but they all had a ‘what if’ look on their faces. Fear, anxiety,
what if, what if… Other men were calm and relaxed and kept checking the clock. Anxious I suppose to congratulate the
wife, peek at the baby and go home to read the latest edition of the newspaper or listen to one of the more popular radio
I wanted to go home too; I had an experiment
on hold I wanted to get back to, but had accompanied Father out of the Nelson sense of duty.
It was a girl and I didn’t have
the heart to tell my father I disagreed with the nurses about her being a beautiful baby. All I saw was a round red blotchy
face, bloodshot eyes, and bubbles of drool escaping her mouth. Even her reddish curly hair made her look clownish. I told
my Mother I’d check with the local drug stores to see what they had in the way of hair products. She didn’t stop laughing at me for a week.
We got to bring her home in a few days,
the reporters at our doorstep. She was placed in my arms for them to take a picture. I was disgusted as I had better things
to do. And she had a wet diaper which the rubber pants did nothing to keep under control. It was before all these modern cushioning,
super absorbent things. So I had to maintain my composure until the photographer was done. But when the new baby nurse tried
to take her, her little fingers wouldn’t let go of my hand. Perfect little fingers they were too. And as she looked
up at me with her wonderful little grin, well, I was lost. She was a princess. She was my little sister and I vowed that come hell or high water, I’d take care of her, whatever and whenever needed.
Graduation had been a few weeks before
and I was enjoying an ‘extended’ summer vacation. It was still too early to apply to Annapolis
and I had a few years to kill.
It was suggested to me that I scrap the
Academy idea and just go through Officer Candidate School as soon as I was age eligible, as there was no doubt I could breeze
through Harvard before then.
But no, it was the Academy or nothing for
me. I’d be treated as an ordinary middie or my name wasn’t Harriman Nelson.
My Mother was grateful I could hang around
as the baby was proving to be a bit of a handful (for the staff mostly). While others cooed in baby talk to Edie, I read Einstein’s
Theory of Relativity to her, and my Father laughed that he sure hoped I didn’t turn her into heaven forbid, another
scientist like me. Besides it wasn’t the thing back then for girls in her socioeconomic class to do much but get married.
I couldn’t help thinking that was a bit sexist. If my little sister wanted to become a physicist or a doctor or whatever,
she damn well would!
For now, of course, most of her needs were
tended to by staff, and I used my time to volunteer at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. Menial tasks mostly, but I
got to use their libraries and spoke with the experts a lot about the currents, marine life, etc Things that would probably
never come in useful as a Naval Officer. But they interested me.
It was by chance that someone, upset I
suppose with my incessant prattle about my plans for the Submarine Service, said with more than a bit of sarcasm, that I’d
never be happy on a sub unless it had windows for me to make those marine observations up close and personal.
The seed was sown. Little did I know that
as I first envisioned the as yet un-named sub of my childish dreams, the fates took a hand and Lee Crane was conceived to
|Early drawing of Seaview before she had a name by Harriman Nelson, age 14