Leaving Pieces of Daddy

My father passed away three years ago at the age of 94.  He was a lifelong adventurer;  Whether  being a Merchant Marine in WWII or stationed in Korea, hitchhiking across the United States or traveling to the Great Wall of China in retirement. He led teenage boys from Camp DeWitt on canoe trips into the uncharted deep woods and rivers of Quebec and dragged a 26-foot camper behind an aging station wagon with his young family from coast to coast to coast.  He loved to pull off the highway in the Sierra Nevada’s to appreciate a view, marvel at the Terracotta Army in Qin Shi Huang China and appreciate the classic romantic architecture of Saint Petersburg.  My father was the definition of wanderlust.

My father, Benson Noice, traveling the world.

I requested and received a small portion of my father’s remains after his passing.  I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with them except to put some in a necklace.  It was my keepsake for good luck as well as keep him with me wherever I went.  I had a trip to New Hampshire to support my then boyfriend on his hike of the Appalachian Trail. I decided to take some of my dad’s ashes to leave pieces of him in some of the memorable places of his life (and some of my life as well).

These are some of the places where I left a piece of my Daddy:

The Cove at Camp DeWitt

Camp DeWitt is a boy’s camp that my father was the Waterfront Director every summer from the mid-1960’s through the 1970’s.  My father stood on the beach overseeing the sunfish sailboats, canoes and kayaks and countless life preservers while teenage boys, including my brothers, cycled through different activities throughout the camp.  My mother and I lounged, tanned and swam in the crystal-clear waters of the lake. Camp DeWitt was sold some years ago and now has elegant homes along the shores of Lake Winnipesaukee.  When I think of my happiest, most serene, carefree moments of my childhood, they are on that beach. The most frightening moment would be an errant crayfish or not putting on enough sun screen. I left a piece of my father on the beach of the former cove of Camp DeWitt.

The Statues of Major General Sedgwick

General Sedgwick is a family ancestor who fell at Spotsylvania in the Civil War whose famous last words were “They couldn’t hit an elephant at this distance.” My father wrote his Master’s Thesis on John Sedgwick and we did countless trips to Gettysburg where there is a stunning statue of Sedgwick on horseback on Sedgwick Drive.  Over the last few years since my dad passed, I’ve traveled to the monument where Sedgwick fell in Spotsylvania, the statue of Sedgwick at West Point where legend has it that a cadet who spins the spurs on boots of the statue at midnight, wearing full parade dress gray will have good luck on his or her final exam, and to his equestrian statue at Gettysburg. I left pieces of my father at each monument.

Hoosac School

My father spent his teenage years attending boarding schools thanks to his beloved Aunt Sadie.  Growing up in a broken home during the depression and moving countless times, Hoosac school was a safe haven for my dad.  He played football, wrestled and sung in the choir in this remote prep school in upstate New York, just spitting distance from Vermont.  As I was driving to New Hampshire and was trying to avoid the traffic in the greater metropolitan area of Boston, my circuitous route took me, serendipitously through Hoosac New York.  There I was driving alone and looking at the GPS when it showed that I was on Hoosac Road as I headed towards Vermont.  I felt like my father was willing me towards this prep school that I had only heard stories of and had never seen.  Sure enough, the sign for the school was along the road and I drove on campus. There at the top of a hill and at the base of the bell that I’m sure my father heard daily as a teenager, I left a piece of my father.

Penobscot Bay

Last fall, I traveled to the coast of Maine in the fall to see the changing foliage and to see where my parent’s relationship began.  My parents met aboard The Adventure, a schooner that traveled the islands and coves of Penobscot Bay, my mother as a guest and my father as crew.  As we drove into the quaint town of Camden, there was a lone parking space available on the crowded streets right in front of a sign for daily schooner tours out of Camden harbor.  It felt like a sign that I needed to get on one of the boats.  The next day I did, and even though it was cloudy and windless, I imaged my parents meeting in that boat some 65 years earlier; the prologue written that summer when my father turned 30 and met the woman of his dreams. I left a piece of my father in Penobscot Bay.

There have been other places along my travels to scatter pieces of my dad, Longwood Gardens where my father proposed to my mother, the top of Mount Washington, Goat Rock on the Sonoma Coast, Mount Rainer, and his headstone at St. Joe’s on the Brandywine.   I’m never sure of the next location but I know he’ll let me know like an ethereal tug on my attention.  I do know one location for sure and that is Peyto Lake in Banff.  In my father’s last days, he said it was the most beautiful place on earth and I’d like to leave a piece of him there so that he can be a part of that spectacular view forever. 

Genesis on the Waters of Penobscot Bay

My boyfriend, Roy, and I traveled to the coast of Maine in October of 2021.  While I have been to Boothbay Harbor and Ogunquit Beach in my childhood summers, this was the first time I visited the origin of my family on the waters of Penobscot Bay.  It was on these waters that my father survived incredible odds, discovered his love of sailing and the love of his life. Without these waters, I would not be. There is no start. No genesis to create my parents long sixty plus year marriage, three thriving children, four grandchildren and two great grandchildren. Without the waters of Penobscot Bay, there is no spark to start the fuse.

My father on the rigging of The Adventure on Penobscot Bay

Admiral Farragut Academy

My father’s first teaching job was at a boarding school in north New Jersey near Tom’s River, called Farragut, a 200-boy naval academy.  It was a grueling schedule teaching 5 different lessons a day, supervising a    120-boy dorm and presiding over a table of uniformed cadets three meals a day.  He coached football, wrestling and track and worked his first two summers as well.  This demanding schedule and a Farragut choral teacher named, Newt, is what brought my father to vacation on the waters of Penobscot Bay. 

Adventure

Newt and, his financial partner, Herb, owned a 119’ Gloucester Grand Banks schooner named the Adventure which sailed out of Rockland, Maine.  In the summer of 1954, Newt allowed my dad on the ship for free if he helped crew the boat.  The boat was fitted to take up to 50 passengers on a week’s trip around the myriad of islands of Penobscot Bay for an inexpensive week of sailing, sightseeing and partying during the summer tourist season. My father had no sailing experience!

Hurricane

After my father had been on the Adventure for just one day, there were hurricane warnings and they returned to let the passengers off the boat.  My father volunteered to stay with the Newt, two crew members and the cook to help anchor the boat behind a breakwater. As my father writes in his autobiography, “About midnight we dragged past the harbor opening toward the rocky shore south of us.  When a large coast guard cutter was spied shooting messenger lines towards us every five minutes, I thought we were saved.  But hurricane winds made it impossible to stand without hanging onto the riggings, and with horizontal rain slanting into your eyes, grabby monkey fists flying by became impossible in the blackness of night.  As waves got higher and the harbor shallower near foaming south shore rocks, the cutter gave up and left us. Newt warned me to tie myself to the main mast when the ship hit the rocks. As we drifted closer, I realized that at 29, I might not see that next half century of life I had hoped for. With an empty feeling turning edgy, wondering if being scared would turn to panic, I suddenly spied a smaller coast guard boat appear dimly nearby and begin to shoot monkey fists at us again.  I almost caught one but missed. On the next shot, Newt risked his life high on the bow stay—catching the tag end of the line before it fell into the breakers a few yards away.” They were pulled to safety.   As I write this, I can’t imagine how this inspired my father’s love of sailing. I’m just grateful that Penobscot Bay is not where he vanished into the water and rocks below. {What are monkey fists?}

Graduation

My mother drove from Wilmington, Delaware to Rockland, Maine with two other Clinical Laboratory Scientists, Margaret and Alta, just after their graduation from the University of Delaware. They were there for a celebration of their graduation and a week of fun and sailing on the Adventure. They arrived on Sunday, June 19, 1955 (my father’s 30th birthday). When my mother came on board, she noticed a well-tanned goateed man talking to a married woman. My mother was asked out by a guy in a motorboat to attend a dance at a local country club that evening.  She agreed and said she would bring along her two college friends. My mother set her hair and came out on deck to dry it.  There’s my mother on the waters of Penobscot Bay, a bright future laid before her, a blue sky and my father about to get her attention.

Splash

My father was irked that my mother had accepted a date with the guy in the motorboat.  He writes, “While she prepared for her date by washing her hair over the railing in her bathing suit that afternoon, I gave a gentle push – it was ten feet down. What a splash! Maine water is ve-e-ry cold. Sputtering in fury, she climbed the ladder and stomped to Captain Newt to ask how he could tolerate a crew member pushing a passenger overboard. With a quizzical smile, Newt opined as how any young man who did that must be interested.  “What right’s a married man got to push single girls overboard?” she exploded. Pointing out that I wasn’t wed, he guessed that I had wanted to get her attention.  I did.” My mother’s dive into Penobscot Bay at my father’s hand is the genesis of my family. Without the water, there is no origin.

My parents on board The Adventure

I’ve heard these stories my entire life. It’s not until I was there and took a schooner ride out of Camden harbor and saw the rocks of Rockland and the myriad of islands of Penobscot Bay that it hit me. Without all the pieces falling into place, without all the dominos falling just so, the love story never ignites, and they each go in a different direction.  But it does fall into place and the match is lit and the genesis is created on and in the waters of Penobscot Bay.