by James Bates
The huge iron ore freighter was thirty miles out when Jerry Jorgenson saw it appear on the horizon, barely visible, a tiny spec. He pulled down his seed company cap to shade his eyes, and used his binoculars to watch as the ship slowly made its way toward where he was standing, close to the shipping canal between Lake Superior and the Port of Duluth. They say that death and taxes were what you could always count on. Well, to that you could add the Mesabi Miner, thought Jerry, as he watched the huge vessel's slow but steady progress. The freighter had been carrying iron ore back and forth across all of five of the great lakes for seventy-three years, Jerry's entire life. It was as dependable as the day was long, was how he looked at it.
It took nearly two hours for the ship to make the journey, and as it approached the entrance to the canal it began slowing down, making ready to leave the lake. By now Jerry was surrounded by a boisterous crowd of men, women and children from all walks of life. Everyone was excited and the festive atmosphere blended in perfectly with the bright sun and warm sand and raucous seagulls. The huge vessel was so close he could almost reach out and touch it's riveted steel immensity: one-thousand feet long, one-hundred feet wide and over fifty feet deep. It was fully laden with nearly eighty-thousand tons of iron ore, and it gave him a thrill beyond words to be standing so close to it.
The wheel house was seventy-five feet above the water. Unexpectedly, a figure appeared at the small window, leaned out and saluted good naturedly to those gathered below. It was the captain. The crowd called out and waved back excitedly. Not Jerry. He wasn't what you'd call a demonstrative person by any stretch of the imagination. Instead, he watched closely as the captain doffed his cap, expecting to see a grizzled and weathered seaman. But that's not what he got. He did a double take, and then had to raise his binoculars to make sure his eyes weren't deceiving him. They weren't. It wasn't a man who was doffing a cap and commanding his beloved freighter. It was a woman. And, even more remarkable, she wasn't even very old. He was stunned beyond belief. What was going on? Was this a sick joke of some kind? What had happened to manly tradition and the stoically competent seafarers who were supposed to be safely guiding the huge iron ore freighters across the always treacherous Great Lakes? More to the point, what was this woman doing on what he always thought of as his ship?
Jerry could not accept what he was seeing. It made him almost physically ill. Then as if to add insult to injury, the captain (That woman!) shook her head and set free long tresses of blond Scandinavian hair that shown in the sun like the finest imported satin. Her tanned face broke into a big smile as she gave the jovial crowd an impish wink and waved enthusiastically to them.
Jerry was aghast. She's going to smash that ship, that's what she's going to do, he thought to himself. I'll bet my pension check from the steel workers union that she's going to sink the Mesabi Miner to the bottom of the canal. Then they'll be sorry. Everybody knows that only men have the knowledge and skill necessary to make it through that narrow passageway and into the port beyond. He folded his arms tightly across his chest in a huff, as if challenging her to fail. Then he watched and waited, expecting the worst.
If the young captain could sense Jerry's skepticism, she didn't let on. Undaunted, she turned seriously to the task at hand and, like thread through a needle's eye, she cool handedly guided Jerry's beloved iron ore freighter through the narrow canal into the safe harbor beyond, completing the Mesabi Miner's journey by tooting it's horn three times. The crowd erupted as one and began wildly cheering. Not Jerry. He turned away in disgust, the roar in his ears almost too much to bear.
He took two fast steps, and in his haste to get away almost knocked over a young girl about ten years old wearing a Minnesota Twins baseball hat. As he sidestepped her it occurred to him that his own granddaughter was about the same age. She was a delight to be around and was already an accomplished hockey player. It dawned on him that her mom, Jerry's daughter, was about the same as the ship's captain. She not only was a wonderful mother, but also a highly respected veterinarian. Damn. It was a pain in the ass to do so, but he had to admit that the world he used to know was changing. Sometimes too fast for him, but it was.
He quickly apologized to the young girl who smiled and said cheerfully, "That's okay, mister."
He took a few steps and then stopped and thought to himself, Hell, that lady captain actually did do a good job steering the freighter through the shipping canal, way better than I could have anyway. His shoulders slumped ever so slightly as the realization hit him. Yeah, she really was pretty good.
He straightened up tall, having made what was for him a momentous decision. He turned and gave the departing vessel as snappy salute. Then he begrudgingly joined in with the crowd and began applauding.
About the author
Jim lives in a small town three hours south of the shores of beautiful Lake Superior. As much as he loves to go there, he doesn't get there nearly as often as he'd like. More of his stories can be found at: www.theviewfromlonglake.wordpress.com