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It was a wet foggy morning. As I reached the top of the hill I saw the priest
motion to the nuns just below me that it was time to begin. The nuns had
only to raise their hands, and out of the stucco houses the women and
children came, gathering into a procession that made its way to the plaza and
then headed for the docks with grandmothers and mothers paying their
respects to their neighbors with a solemn nod or the touch of a hand, and the
children remaining silent.
I followed the procession to the docks and saw that all of the boats and even
the ferry was gone. That’s where all the men were. When the tall, muscular
harbormaster saw me hanging back he came out of his office and said,
“There was a storm last night. All the fishing boats are late. They fear
Minutes later the sun burned a hole in the fog, and I counted six boats sitting a mile off the beach. “Now look,” he added, “the first boat has its net in the water. That means that at least one man has been lost.”
I watched as the first boys went into the water, the older ones first, then the little ones. When the first boat grounded in the shallows, the tallest boys reached into the nets and captured the smaller fish and handed them to smaller boys to carry to their mothers. Then the taller boys went back for the larger fish, but as the fish fought to free themselves they entangled one of the boys in the net. Seeing the danger, the harbormaster kicked off his boots, rolled up his pants, stripped off his shirt, lowered a red ladder, climbed down, and stepped into the sea. Moments later the boy was free.
The first boat’s Captain then waved the boys off, lifted the net, powered the boat in reverse, and joined the other boats tying up at the dock. Soon the eighteen surviving fisherman were in the arms of their families, and it was the families of the three missing fisherman that led the procession to the church for the blessing of the fish.
I couldn’t follow them. I went straight to the train tormented by the passion play I had seen — one in which the children had proven their courage and honored their fathers; one in which the harbormaster had saved another boy; one in which there was no joy nor salvation because after the fish were eaten the men would return to their fishing and three more boys would go with them.