© 2005 Jess Mercer

Lighthouse

John Everts looked up at the judge. "I appreciate your honor's consideration. I assure you there will be no repetition nor violation of probation."

"I sincerely hope so, counselor. I have taken unusual liberty with my alternatives in this case only because of your standing in this community and my knowledge of your unfortunate circumstances." The judge looked at the teenager standing next to Everts and spoke sternly. "Next time, young man, I will have no choice but to declare you incorrigible and commit you to the state training school. Do you understand me?"

The boy nodded, not looking up until Everts tightened his grip on his fourteen year-old son's arm. His eyes met those of the judge as he murmured, "Yes, sir," almost inaudibly.

The judge leaned over the bench and said softly to Everts, "I want to see both of you in my chambers," then loudly, "Court is adjourned."

Everts pulled his sullen son through the doorway and pushed him into a chair next to the desk. The judge emerged from his robing room and seated himself at the desk. For a few moments he stared at the boy who evaded his eyes.

"Tony, do I have to tell you what seeing you in front of me in the courtroom again did to me?"

The boy looked at him for the first time. "I ... I'm sorry, Uncle Mark."

"Sorry! Dear God, Tony, you've been sorry every time. I know your mother's passing has been hard for you, but I thought you and Mrs. Wilson were getting along fine. Your Aunt Carol says you've spoken well of her every time you've been at the house. Your father loves you, Tony, as do your Aunt Carol and I. You are far more to us than just a godson. We're not in court now, so won't you tell me why you were shoplifting when you have plenty of money?"

Tony scraped the toe of his shoe against the nap of the carpet, looking down. "I ... I don't know."

"Damn it, Tony!" His father burst out, but the judge held up his hand.

"Keep quiet, John. I want to hear Tony's explanation. In fact, I wish you would leave us alone for a few minutes."

John Everts closed the door behind himself and paced the corridor until a sudden thought struck him. He ran for a phone.

Any crewman of the small craft transporting oil and provisions to the Rocky Point lighthouse would rise from his sickbed to make the trip rather than miss the brief time in the company of the keeper. Rough in appearance, gruffly spoken, and sometimes difficult to understand because of his heavy accent, the keeper was a hero to all who came into his sphere of influence.

Lars Carlstadt threaded his way cautiously over the spray-wet gray rocks and scowled out at the waves, bending to add another piece of driftwood to the stack in the crook of his arm. The scowl disappeared as he looked up at the visible tip of the lighthouse, the polished glass of the beacon gleaming in the waning sun. He had never felt lonely on this tiny promontory jutting out into the sea. It would be hard to leave, but the Coast Guard had agreed to let him finish out the eight months left until his retirement. Though the new light had been installed, the automated system would not be put into service until just before he left the island. He grunted at the thought. Automation was killing everything, even the last job a real man could have away from the rest of the world. But thinking on it, he surmised that kids of the present day could not do a job without someone around to chatter at.

He walked the crushed oyster-shell path past the small plot of planted earth protected by the walls of the house from the ocean's salt spray. He had carefully transported the earth to this spot where only salt-tolerant plants throve: a few early gallardia thrust their rusty-gold blooms against the white stucco of the tower, gathering warmth remaining from the sunlight, a small patch of grayish-green sea holly tentatively put forth new shoots.

He dropped the driftwood on the pile and stepped inside. Once his jacket was hung on the hook behind the door, he crossed the round room at the base of the tower and pressed a button to start the main generator for the light. After the diesel settled into a monotonous rumble, he checked the clock against his watch, switched on the light high above, and shut down the smaller generator that supplied the keeper's house with power during the day. With another glance at the meters to assure himself that all was well, he crossed the room and opened the door leading into the small house. The big yellow cat jumped from a chair to the floor to rub against his ankles. Lars bent to stroke the animal. "Time for dinner, Thomas. Come."

Tony Everts looked across the dinner table at his father. His face held a look of shocked disbelief. "Go where!"

"To stay with your Uncle Lars for a while. Your Uncle Mark and I both feel it would be better to get you away from whomever or whatever is influencing you. God knows I've tried, but you don't seem willing to listen to me and, despite what you tell your Aunt Carol, you haven't been very nice to Mrs. Wilson since she's been here."

Tony's voice changed from petulance to wheedling. "Please, dad, I'll do anything, just don't make me go. I don't know him. I don't want to live with an old man away from everything."

"Your Uncle Lars is not an old man; he's younger than I. And you can't say you don't know him. He's remembered you every year at Christmas and on your birthdays. You met him when he came to be with us at your mother's funeral."

"Yeah, for half a day. You can't call that knowing him. He's got that gruesome hook thing instead of his left hand and he can't even speak good English."

"I doubt he gets much opportunity to speak with anyone except when the supply boat makes its run. He's lived alone out there for twenty years. It's a shame that neither of us knows him any better since he's your only living relative, but this is your chance to get to know each other. I hope he will like having your company."

"If he's so great, how come he never came for a visit?"

"He has a very important job for which he feels a proper responsibility."

"Big deal. A lighthouse keeper."

"It becomes a very big deal when you think of the lives that depend on him doing his job faithfully. Perhaps he can help you achieve some sense of responsibility for your own actions. Have you gotten everything packed?"

"I guess."

"Be sure you have your heavy jacket. It gets cold on the point."
 

Tony shivered in the cold light of dawn and looked around the small deserted airport. Tempted to walk to the highway and try thumbing a ride back home, he bent to pick up his suitcase when he heard a sputtering motor. An open gray military Jeep pulled up beside him and stopped.

"You the kid going out to the point?" A voice called through the wisps of fog.

Tony looked into the merry eyes of a Coast Guardsman. "Yeah."

"Sorry to keep you waiting. Took a little longer to load than usual. Jump in. Lars is going to like having some company."

Tony climbed in the open Jeep, scowling at the man. "What'cha mean he's going to like having company?"

"Hell, if I had to stay out there by myself like he does, I'd go nuts. You any kin?"

"He's my uncle."

"No kidding! I didn't know he had any people; he never goes anywhere. You'll like it out there. He's a great guy to be with; they don't come any better."

"I just bet."

The Jeep came to a halt at the end of the dock. "Okay, get on board; bos'n's about ready to cast off. You can go below where it's warm if you want."

Tony carried his bag to the rear of the deck and settled himself on a seat. Might as well see the prison they're sending me to, he thought as the boat eased away from the dock.

A few minutes later he moved forward to stand by the helmsman, gratefully accepting a mug of steaming coffee from one of the crew. "How much longer?" He asked the helmsman.

The man glanced at his watch. "'bout twenty minutes. Be a lot quicker if we could go straight across, but the sound is shallow. You staying long?"

"No longer than I can help." Tony returned to his original seat to forestall further questions.

"There it is," the helmsman called out as the boat rounded a small promontory. He pointed to the low lighthouse seeming to rise out of the water. Tony watched as they maneuvered between the rocks to the small pier.

Watching their approach, was a very tall heavy-set man wearing a full beard with a black watch-cap pulled over his long blond hair. He bent slightly to catch the line one of the crewmen threw, secured it to a piling, and walked along the pier until he came abreast of Tony, holding out his hand.

"Velcome aboard, Tony," he said gruffly.

Tony passed his suitcase to his uncle and climbed up from the boat. He looked into the deep blue eyes. "Uncle Lars?"

The man nodded. "Take bag to house den you help us off-load."

Tony shrugged and started up the path as his uncle greeted the crewmen and began stacking the crates of supplies as they were passed up.

Tony dropped his suitcase beside the door of the house and turned back toward the pier, resigned to the stay. His uncle and the three crewmen were half way to the house. Tony would have turned and followed, but his uncle pointed back towards the dock. "More yet to bring."

They made several tiring trips. As Tony stumbled up the path with the last crate, he could hear his uncle and the crew laughing together. Irritated at the coolness of his welcome and having to carry crates, he dropped the crate at the step and pushed open the door.

His uncle looked at him over a mug of coffee. "Dat crate to storeroom go. Stow it und bring your bag."

Tony's hostility boiled over. "No!"

Silence fell over the crewmen. They looked at Lars whose mouth closed into a thin line. "Here, efferyone vorks, Tony. Put crate vere it belongs und haff coffee vit us while de oil pumped to de tank be." Lars' voice came whisper soft, but Tony read a message in his uncle's eyes that made him turn immediately and do as bidden.

By the time the crate was stowed and his bag in the room his uncle had pointed toward, the crew were starting down the path.

"See ya, Tony," called the one who had driven the Jeep with a wave of his hand.

"Yeah," Tony answered, watching them. As the boat cast off, he almost ran after them, ready to cry out: Take me with you! Don't leave me here!

His uncle closed the door and handed Tony a mug of coffee. As he took it, his uncle ruffled his hair. "Iss not end of vorld, Tony. To haff you here iss gut."

"I'll just bet," he replied sourly.

"Take jacket off und sit. I vas until later dis save, but ve get it settled now. I know vy you come. I no lie how I feel, but I make promise to your mother I look after you if you haff no udder place. I talk your father, so I say you come. I lead simple life, but content. You make complicated vith attitude I don't like und I expect change. Here effery man pull his own veight und you vill do also.

"Dese men chust here be friend. Dey be also yours if you let dem. You vill treat dem vith respect they deserff, und me also. Lighthouse like ship; vun man in charge only. Ven all vork togedder, tings go smooth, is vay it must be. Ven I tell you do something, I haff good reason und I expect you do as I tell vitout question. You unnerstand?"

"Yeah. I suppose."

"Gut. You eat on boat vile over come?"

"A cup of coffee."

"I sumppen fix you den." He threw an arm around the boy's shoulders. "Iss gut to haff you, Tony. I vant to know you. You much like your mother look. Her I luff much."

Tony squirmed out of the man's grasp and followed him into the small galley.

While Lars fried the bacon, he looked at Tony. "Vun ting more und I shut up. Ven you talk am ready, I listen." He turned back to the stove and easily lifted the bacon from the pan with his hook, spreading it on paper toweling to drain. After wiping the bacon grease from the pan, he broke the eggs into it.

Tony dropped his fork onto the empty plate and looked across at his uncle. Lars drained his mug of coffee and stacked it and Tony's plate in the sink.

"Get jacket, boy, und ve go dinner find."

"Huh?"

"Moof, boy. Iss boots in the storeroom fit you, I tink. Much time it take dig clams. Tide don't vait."

By the time Tony had pulled on the heavy boots, his uncle stood waiting, a pail and a couple of small shovels in his hands. He held out one of the shovels. "Here. You know how?"

Tony took the shovel without answering and followed clumsily. He stopped as his uncle moved across the rocks to the sand at the water's edge. When he saw a tiny bubble form, he speedily dug in the sand, reaching down to pick up the clam and drop it in the pail. He straightened to see his nephew staring at him.

"Iss dere!" He yelled, pointing near Tony's feet.

Tony began to dig, turning the sand cautiously.

"Fast! Damn it. You neffer get vun dat-a-vay." He thrust Tony aside and dug furiously. He pulled the clam from the sand and held it up. "Moof like express train. Must be fast or not get."

Tony looked at him in disgust. "Why go to all this trouble for a lousy clam? The boat brought enough stuff to last a month. Besides, you can get clams at the market."

"Get in head, boy, no market here iss. Men iss bring much for new light. You vant eat out tin, okay. I like fresh. Nothin' to vaste out here, you eat vat is on plate put. No eat, you agin get. Now see if clam you dig."

Tony managed to get a few clams. Feeling a sense of accomplishment as he dropped them into the pail, warming under his uncle's look of approval.

By the time they reached the house, Tony would have dropped into the chair by the fire, but his uncle pushed him toward the sink and handed him a stiff brush. "Scrub vell, I no in chowder sand like." He emptied the bucket of clam into the sink and turned the water on. While Tony scrubbed the mollusks, his uncle peeled and diced potatoes and onions then fried more bacon. Only when the ingredients simmered in a large pot did Tony find a chance to sit down and rest.

It seemed only moments before his uncle was calling, "Come."

"Where?"

"To light clean. You help."

Tony followed him up the spiral stairs, stopping at the top to look at the mechanism of the light. He followed his uncle through the hatch to the platform surrounding the light, gasping at the chill wind that tugged at his jacket. Lars mounted a short ladder to the glass and began to wipe away the salt film. When Tony looked out over the sea from the height, his feet froze to the platform. He remained rooted to the same spot until his uncle climbed down and took his hand, guiding him inside.

"You to it get used. Light no so high as others," he said as he applied lubricant to the gears that rotated the beacon. "Tink you could do?" He asked.

Tony shook his head. "Maybe what you're doing now, but I couldn't go up there." He pointed to the light above them.

"Not to vorry, I no make. I use' to. You tink lighthouse keeper nothin' do?"

"I guess I never thought about it one way or the other."

"Most don't, but light be velcome to boat at sea on stormy night. Time ve start her. Ve go now."

They walked down the spiral stairs and Tony watched his uncle start the generator.

"Is gut. Now can eat."

Tony felt the pinch in his stomach. " 'bout time. I'm hungry."

After they ate the chowder and crackers that with strong coffee comprised the evening meal, his uncle motioned for Tony to follow him as he started up the stairs to the light.

"What 'cha goin' back up there for? I thought you were done."

"Go for vedder check."

"Haven't you got a radio for that?"

"Ya, but no like experience to tell vat come."

Lars walked around the gallery looking intently into the sky. "You vill haff bad night, I tink." He said.

"Why?"

"You no see rising de fog?"

"So?"

"Vait. You see." Back on the ground floor, his uncle opened the door to the equipment room and flipped a switch. An air compressor started. A few seconds later a thunderous note throbbed above them.

Tony jumped and clapped his hands over his ears. "What the hell was that?" He screamed when the note ceased.

"Iss ..." his uncle paused as the note blasted the quiet again, "fog horn."

"How long does it go?"

"So long as fog. Hope it bodder you not much. I not notice."

"How can you ignore anything that loud?"

"Many years hear." He waited for the sound to cease. "In ears put cotton if vant. Not so loud in room. Iss bedtime."

"It's early. Can't we watch TV or somethin'?"

"Here iss no TV. Early you up get."

Tony sank into the featherbed and pulled the rough blankets over his head. The intermittent blasts of the foghorn made sleep slow to come. It seemed he'd had only minutes before his uncle was pulling the covers down.

"Up be getting boy. Ve got much to do."

Tony looked toward the window. A faint gray light broke the darkness. "Go 'way," he mumbled, pulling the blankets back up and turning over.

The blankets were snatched down. The chill air brought him into wakefulness. "Hey!"

"Iss time all hands be on deck. In ten minutes eat."

Tony came to the table grumpy. The cold room, the lack of sleep did nothing to improve his mood. The eggs on his plate were cold when he tasted them.

"Why didn't you wait 'til I got here? They're cold."

"Iss no short-order restaurant. I am telling you ten minutes. Iss my fault you take tventy?"

Before the retort in his throat could surface, Tom rubbed against Tony's ankles in hope of a piece of the untouched bacon. The toe of Tony's shoe lifted the cat clear of the floor.

"Go on, damn it! I hate cats." The cat arched his back and spat.

Instantly his uncle was on his feet, his huge hand lifted Tony from the chair. "Thomas no can do, I do for him." The crack of his hand across Tony's cheek brought tears of pain and rage.

"Damn you! I hate you. I hate this place! I want to go home!"

"So, you be qvitter, too."

Tony grabbed the mug of coffee and flung it at his uncle. The mug shattered against the wall, coffee making brown rivulets on the stark whiteness.

For a moment, Lars gazed at Tony. He set the cat on a chair and whipped off the broad leather belt he wore. "I not beleef sister raise such spoiled brat," he said as the belt whistled through the air to land smartly on Tony's rear.

Tony whipped around to look into his uncle's angry face. "Go ahead. Beat me," he challenged.

His uncle's arm dropped. "Go to room." He pushed Tony into the bedroom and slammed the door.

Shocked to hear the key turn in the lock, Tony flung himself on the bed, rubbing his smarting rear. There was silence until he heard the slam of the main door. Realizing the loneliness of his situation, the past flooded over him. He cried himself to sleep.

When he awoke, the silence prevailed. He tried the door, still locked. He crossed to the bath. His door opened, but the door leading into his uncle's room was locked. The one small window opened too far above the rocky ledge to give exit.

"Uncle Lars!"

There was no answer. Tony sat on the edge of his bed. As the hands on his watch crept along the dial, he tried reading, any diversion he could think of. At length, he fell asleep once more.

He awakened as the heavy generator rumbled into life. He looked at his watch unbelievingly. He'd spent the entire day with nothing but a couple of glasses of water. He pounded on the door with his fists.

"Uncle Lars! Please."

The key turned, the door opened, the big man's expressionless face looked down at him.

Tony raised his eyes. "I ... I'm sorry, Uncle Lars."

"Come, Tony," he said softly, leading the way into the warmth of the main room, his arm keeping Tony close to his side. He dropped into a worn leather chair and pulled Tony down on the hassock facing him. "Forgiff me, Tony. I haff no right. You are near to be a man, I tink. I should haff not strike you as vun duss child, but I haff much anger ven you Thomas kick. Before, he know kindness only."

"I'm sorry. I couldn't sleep, then I was late for breakfast and everything was cold."

"I know. You are to better used. Here, efferyting iss simple. I am too long from people. I liff by habit."

"I was wrong, Uncle Lars."

"You take punishment like man, efen unfair. For dis I am proud." He released Tony's hand and looked into his eyes. "It has bad been for you?"

Suddenly, Tony was a little boy again. He dropped into his uncle's lap and laid his head against the man's broad shoulder. "Nobody likes me, Uncle Lars. Mom's gone and I can't talk to dad."

"So. How iss in trouble you at school get?"

"I got into a gang, but I had to take things from stores to stay in the club."

"Vat you do vat you take?"

"Gave it to the leader. He said he'd sell it all and we'd have a party with the money. It was supposed to be this week."

"You not tell police?"

"I can't rat on the only friends I got."

Lars shook his head. "Your values much confused, Tony. A man vill respect others und vat belongs to dem, und stand for vat iss right."

"But ..."

"No. Part uf being man is know vat is right. If you let respect for self go, you haff nothing uf value left. Shakespeare say, 'who steals my purse steals trash. He dat steals my gut name takes all I possess.' Forgiff me, Tony. I try to take und you up to me stand. Dat iss gut, efen if I not understand den. Bot' uff us must change. I vill tell you ven you are wrong, und you must tell me ven I am wrong. I tink now your visit be gut bot' us. Come, iss long day und you be hungry."

When they stood, Lars hugged the boy, receiving a hug in return. Together they went to the table where a forgiving Tom rubbed against Tony's ankles to be rewarded with a bit of fried fish.

"Did you school book bring?"

Tony nodded. "Dad got some special books for home study."

"Den you after supper vork. If need, I help."

"You know all this stuff?" Tony asked, holding up a self-study trig book.

"Ya, I know. I from university graduate. You tink I be dumb because I lighthouse keep?"

"I guess I never thought a lighthouse keeper would need much education."

Lars smiled. "Is mostly technical. Repairs I must do. Can dangerous be." He held up the hook. "If attention slip, this what happen."

Tony paled. He quickly opened a book and began work. His uncle filled a mug with coffee and opened a new novel the crew had brought with the other supplies.

Slowly over the next few weeks Tony grew closer to his uncle, admiring the man's ability to do many things well. He began to enjoy fishing, digging for clams and making chowder. Even gathering oysters, though he couldn't bring himself to eat them despite his uncle's ability with cooking them in different ways.

Before Tony was aware, what had remained of spring and the summer had passed. The weather turned unpredictable with the advent of fall and cooler weather. Tony awoke early as had become his habit, but when he entered the living quarters his uncle was not to be seen. Not finding the man, Tony began to worry. He at last opened the door to his uncle's bedroom. The large man lay shivering in his bed, though covered with a down duvet and several blankets.

"Don't you feel good." He asked.

Lars shook his head. "Get for me vater und pills from bathroom cabinet. I vill okay be tomorrow. Is happen before. Today you light must care for."

"I don't know how!"

"You see me many time. You can do if you tink. I on you depend." Lars gave his nephew a chary smile. "You lighthouse keeper now, Tony. You are man, you not let me down, ya?"

"I'll try, Uncle Lars."

The man nodded and dropped back asleep.

After fixing himself a cup of coffee and a piece of toast, Tony pulled on his jacket and climbed to the top of the tower. Picking up the plastic bucket of cleaning supplies, he made his way out on the balcony surrounding the base of the light and began to polish the glass. He looked up at the top section and the tiny catwalk and shuddered.

Remembering his uncle's statement about the many lives at sea that depended on the light shining brightly and the responsibility to keep it so, he next polished the inside of the glass to get out of the wind and warm somewhat. When he was done, he spied a leather safety harness hanging on a nail near the hatch into the room.

He struggled into the unfamiliar harness, finally getting it adjusted snugly, then went back out to the balcony and climbed the ladder to the narrow catwalk. Seeing a small rod running around the light, he clipped his safety belt to it and began to wipe the accumulated salt from the glass. The wind had begun to pick up. As he finished polishing the last pane of glass and started back to the ladder to descend to the balcony, his foot slipped off the edge of the catwalk. Dropped cleaning materials were scattered by the wind, but Tony dangled from the harness, white with terror. No need to call, his uncle would not hear him, nor could he do anything to help sick as he was.

With supreme effort, Tony managed to pull himself slowly up the line of the harness until he was able to place one hand on the catwalk, his fingers finding the wide crack between it and the light. With strength he didn't know he had, he managed to pull himself up onto the catwalk. He lay exhausted for a few minutes on the cold damp metal mesh, then eased along on his hands and knees until he was at the ladder.

He was quickly down it, entered the base of the light, and all but stumbled down the stairs in his rush to stand on firm ground once more. His sigh of relief was long and heavy when he entered the kitchen and poured a cup of coffee for himself. Warming by the stove, he finished his coffee and checked on his uncle who lay sleeping soundly.

Knowing his uncle would want and need the cleaning supplies he had dropped in his fall, Tony pulled on his coat and went out into the cold once more. A search of the rocky promontory yielded the widely scattered containers of cleaning products, a few of the cloths were caught on sharp rocks. By pure luck, he found the plastic bucket floating in a small pool of water surrounded by rocks at the sea's edge. He put his finds into the bucket and carried it into the kitchen.

"Tony?" He heard the feeble call and went to his uncle's room.

"What do you need, Uncle Lars?"

"To bathroom me help. I much weak."

Tony helped his uncle up and, with his arm around his uncle's waist helped him into the bath. He would have left his uncle in privacy, but the man almost fell when Tony took his arm from around him. Tony dropped the man's pajama bottoms and lowered him gently to the seat.

"Call me when you're done. I'll be outside."

After he helped his uncle back to bed. He went into the kitchen and opened two tins of chicken-rice soup and heated them. He filled a large mug with the soup and another with coffee and took them to his uncle. Helping the man sit up, supported by pillows, he fed his uncle, then lowered him back.

"Gut boy," his uncle said. "Now am feel much better. Is time to start generator and light, I am thinking."

"Yes, sir."

Tony carried the used dishes to the kitchen and, before eating the soup he had fixed for himself, he started the big generator and shut down the small one. He ate his soup and drank another cup of coffee, then mindful of what his uncle had said his second day here, he climbed to the light again and looked around. Yes, he thought, there would be fog. It was already forming.

Back in the equipment room he switched on the compressor and waited until the stentorian blast issued forth. He checked to see if his uncle needed anything.

"Vy de horn, Tony?"

"I looked over to the mainland and I could see fog making up."

His uncle smiled. "You from top see?"

"Yes, sir."

"And to go there scares you not?"

"Yes, sir. But I remembered what you said about lives at sea depending on doing your job well. You made me keeper for today, so I tried to do what you did."

"And did you glass clean?"

Tony shivered. "Yes, sir. I found the safety harness and went up to the catwalk to do it all. I'm glad I had the harness, sir. I slipped off the walk."

Lars jerked up in alarm. "Tony! How you get back?"

"I pulled myself up on the line until I could get my fingers on the walk and get all the way up."

"Gott be thank!" Lars said, making the sign of the cross. "Come."

As Tony sat on the edge of the bed, his uncle kissed him on the cheek. "You very brave. I proud of you be."

"I found most all the cleaning stuff except the cloths. I guess they blew out to sea."

"No difference make. You safe be. Go sleep," he said as Tony yawned widely.

Once Tony was asleep, Lars, feeling considerably better, went into the living quarters and switched the radio from standby, calling the Coast Guard base and asking for a phone patch. After talking for a few moments, he signaled the base operator and spoke briefly to the officer in charge of light maintenance.

A few days later, the crew arrived with a technician and an engineer of the company manufacturing the new light components. They returned the next day, and by noon the Coast Guard technician reported to Lars that the new fully automated light was functional, giving him a list to check off during the evening. He also whispered something to Lars when Tony was out of the room.

The next day, Lars and Tony began to pack their belongings. Tony looked at his uncle's two large suitcases and the box of mostly paperback books. Thomas proved difficult to find until Lars opened a tin of tuna and called. Once the cat had eaten, Lars whisked him into the carrier.

"Thomas not travel like."

Tony shook his head. "I can't believe you're leaving here after all this time."

Lars nodded. "Ya, this place will I miss. Is much special for me. Your father invite me kindly vith you to stay. For short time, then I place for me and Thomas find."

"I wish you'd stay with us forever, Uncle Lars. I love you."

Lars shook his head. "I alone with Thomas liff like always. I to visit promise. Und you come to visit in summer. I vant little place on water. Will little sailboat get."

"Great! You can teach me how to sail."

"Ya. I vill like dot." Lars nodded toward the open door. "Come. Boat iss here."

Once the boat was loaded with their possessions, few words were spoken during the trip to the mainland.

To Tony's surprise, Thomas' carrier was handed to one of the crew by Lars, who then took Tony by the hand and led him to the large office building. A yeoman asked them to be seated while he informed the captain of their arrival. A few moments later, the yeoman in the lead ushered Tony and Lars into a large conference room.

Tony was astonished to see his father standing with many of the crew that always brought supplies to the lighthouse and would have gone to stand by his father, but his uncle's hook snagged his belt, keeping Tony in place. A captain entered with a sheet of paper in his hand and called Tony to stand before him as he proceeded to read a commendation from the Coast Guard for Tony's bravery in completing a hazardous job under adverse conditions while the lighthouse keeper was incapacitated.

Tony's face was crimson as the captain handed him the citation and shook his hand, adding a few words of praise of his own.

His uncle hugged him. "Vat a gut man you haf become, Tony. I am much proud of you."

"I am, too, son," his father added, hugging him also. "I wish your mother were here to see what kind of man you have become."

One by one, the crewmen added their congratulations and the ceremony was over. Their flight was brief but the shorter drive home seemed endless to Tony.

"I will depend on you to keep your things picked up and in order, Tony. I have only a daily helper who will cook our dinner and do general cleaning once a week, but that is all. I'm asking you to do our washing, Tony." His father said over dinner.

"I'll be glad to, Dad. What about school?"

"You will be in the senior class when the spring semester begins and graduate with them in June. I'm really proud of the way you studied."

"Uncle Lars was a big help. He made it all seem so easy."

Lars blushed at the praise. "I only little help. Tony help me vit English. I so much forget."

Tony's father smiled. "You'll pick it all up again in no time now that you're going to be around people and have TV to watch."

"Ja, und a young man to sail teach."

A few days later, Tony and his uncle went to the mall for Christmas shopping. Showing his uncle the coffee shop in the food court and telling him he would meet him there in an hour, Tony walked swiftly to a small shop he knew to buy a gift for his uncle. The clerk shook her head regretfully.

"I try to keep the Rocky Point lighthouse in stock, but I'm out."

"But I've gotta have one!" Tony cried, a tear running down his cheek.

"It's that important to you?" The clerk asked.

Tony nodded. "I want to give it to my uncle for Christmas. He just retired as the lighthouse keeper there, so it will be very special to him. He's never seen these nice miniatures. Please, can't you order one or something?" He wiped away another tear.

The clerk nodded slowly. "There's not enough time for even a rush order, but I may be able to help you since it means so much."

She turned and walked through a door at the back of the shop to return a moment later holding a white gift box. Opening it, and carefully lifting the foam padding, she extended the box and Tony looked down at the Rocky Point lighthouse.

"I have this set aside for a customer who can't decide between this one or the more popular Hatteras light. I'll just make the decision for him. He can take the Hatteras light and you may have this one."

"Oh, thank you, ma'am, thank you." Impulsively, Tony leaned forward and kissed the graying woman on the cheek.

She blushed. "Oh, my! How nice of you, young man. I wish all my customers were so easily pleased." After ringing the sale, she wrapped the box carefully in very fine Christmas paper, added a bow, and placed it in a heavy weight plastic bag. "Thank you and come back again, if just to look. I hope a nice young man like you has a wonderful Christmas."

Tony's smile was brilliant. "I hope yours will be, too. Thank you so much for letting me have the lighthouse."

Christmas Eve, Tony, his father, and uncle attended midnight High Mass at the Gothic Lutheran church. Lars, almost overcome by the joy of celebrating Christmas Mass in a church with wonderful music, lavish decoration, pervading scent of evergreens, amazed many when, on the chant and hymns, his magnificent bass voice provided a solid foundation for the other singers. John and Tony stood stunned at Lars' familiarity with the Mass, unaware that in the very early hours of each Sunday morning, Lars would arise, light the candles on the small altar in his bedroom, carefully tune his short-wave receiver, and join in the Lutheran Mass broadcast from Sweden. For him, it was a never-failing connection with his native language and homeland though, other than a few distant cousins, he had no family left there.

After a sound sleep and abundant breakfast, the three of them gathered around the tree. Once the general gifts had been opened and admired, Tony reached far under the tree retrieving a small gift and handing it to his uncle.

"I love you, Uncle Lars."

"Oh, Tony! I not know my lighthouse made so tiny. It beautiful iss. See detail. All iss perfect." He set it down carefully and hugged Tony, surreptitiously wiping away a tear or two.

Both of them looked suspiciously at John as he chuckled and handed a similar gift to Tony. "This comes with love from the proudest father in the city."

Tony's eyes flew wide open in surprise as he looked at another miniature of the Rocky Point light.

"I love it, dad, but why?"

John hugged his son. "To always remind you where you became a man."


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