A bond that needs no words

Opie

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Mar 1, 2017
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The Beach Strip
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Posted with permission from the Hamilton Spectator
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A bond that needs no words
My daughter on his lap. No last names, air full of unspoken words and truths, writes Jim Howlett.
Opinion 02:18 PM by Jim Howlett Hamilton Spectator



An ocean-going freighter, known as a Salty, probably similar to the one helmed by a lonely Bosnian sailor who spent a short but memorable time with Jim Howlett and his daughter. - JACK RENDULICH , The Associated Press
Goodness doesn't always need words. Sometimes mute deeds are magnificent tools of charity by themselves. A plain old smile being the universal facial icon in the lexicon of love.
In 1992 I looked out my window at a blue ship with a strange flag. She was tied at Pier 25. A Salty. Not a Laker. Saltys are skinny. Lakers are freshwater fatboats. Saltys run shallow in the St. Lawrence or go aground, and so carry a partial load through the locks, then fill up at an eastern seaport for a richer Atlantic voyage. Often, a Salty in Hamilton Harbour is a tramp steamer, never on a regular run and always churning for somewhere far away.
Hamilton docks were somewhat accessible then and crews were eager to socialize after a trip up the seaway, so I got into my truck with my three-and-a-half year-old daughter, Jessamyn, and went to see this unusual vessel.





The gangway was down on Pier 25, the crew milling around, testing land legs. A few tried talking to no avail, but on learning we were only visiting the ship, they called down a man on deck. He spoke English and said he was the captain and they were all from Bosnia. They would be here a few days as they loaded fertilizer bound for St. Johns, N.L. The captain was affable and proud of his new vessel, he offered us a tour and the men ushered us up the gang to the main deck.
He led us through a hatch in the wheelhouse bulkhead. Inside, the rush of fans made us strain to hear as we went over the main engine and curious smiles greeted us from the oilers. We toured the cabins, crews' mess, and the captain's cabin, but the crown jewel was the bridge. Inside, an array of instruments spoke of risk and responsibility. The helmsman took us to the steering wheel and motioned that I could help little Jessi up to it and let her play. After I put her on the deck I saw the helmsman staring, his eyes wet. He caught my eye, then spoke. The captain nodded. "He wants know if can pick up your child," he choked. I said yes to his request and the man picked up my daughter, looking at her like she was the treasure little girls are. "He has girl. Same age. We leave home two years. Now … country at war … all commu-neecay-shun gone. Not see family from 1990 …" The captain talked to Janko, who looked at me with a deep serious face. I nodded, and tapped a fist over my heart. He gave a grim nod back.
We spent an hour that day and ate with the crew. On leaving, I offered to drive some of them around town while in port but no one spoke up. Then, as we headed down the gang, the captain said that Janko could go tomorrow. So, we set a time, and said goodbye.
The next day I pulled up to the ship in a '48 Chevrolet Fleetline sedan. Black lacquer and polished chrome. I had not mentioned it the day before, and the crew oohed and aahed as Janko got inside, Jessi between us with a picnic basket. The captain told us: "Janko was farmer. Go see farms." So, I took the long way out to Smithville.
On that beautiful October day, trees ablaze with colour, I took every dirt road til I arrived at my friend, Farmer James, a second generation dairyman with a large herd. Jessi and I were familiar visitors there. He greeted us warmly, shook hands, and then put us to work, like any good Dutchman would. Then we set to spreading hay in stalls and pouring out the silage mix for each cow. The best part was feeding the calves. Jessi was given giant baby bottles of milk to put in holders built into each calf's tiny white house. She took great pride in this mothering as Farmer James hooked up the milking machines.
In an hour it was time to go, but we stopped by 20 Creek for sandwiches and drinks. I wondered if this was overwhelming for a 30-year-old seaman far away from home, as he often appeared distant. Who could blame him?
We drove back to the Beachstrip, and Pier 25. Then sat as Janko showed me pictures: wife, parents, daughter. The captain had said Janko didn't know if they were alive or dead. So, we sat. Temporary brothers. My daughter on his lap. No last names, air full of unspoken words and truths. I gave him a card with my name and number, shook hands one last time, and he made his way to the ship after giving Jess a goodbye hug. Then he stopped on the ramp, and thumped his chest over his heart. I nodded and he went up the gangway to who-knows-where. I never heard from him again. But who needs words. Deeds will do just fine.



Jim Howlett is a radio producer at Hopestreamradio, a freelance writer, and a lifetime Hamiltonian. He is also a Hamilton Port Authority director





Jim Howlett is a radio producer at Hopestreamradio, a freelance writer, and a lifetime Hamiltonian. He is also a Hamilton Port Authority director
 
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