A Writer’s Notebook: Capt. Snoek, the elder: Adventures at sea with Ted Snoek’s father (Pt. 2)

Today, we’re we should have been on our way home from the Netherlands (see the note at the bottom), so I’ll conclude the story of my great-grandfather and return to other writing exercises next week.  As with last week’s entry, I’m still working from the basic interview-storytelling exercise I mentioned in the first “Capt. Snoek” entry.

The RC Windom was relocated to Galveston, Texas, which is where Papa met my mother, Florabell Freeman.  Papa and Momma were married in June 1911—which is a story she liked to tell and did often, and will tell herself in a future chapter.

Momma also loved to tell us stories of the Papa’s generosity. While they were strolling down streets near their home, they would observe a family being evicted for failing to pay their rent. So Papa would pay their rent for a couple months, letting the family move back in until they fell on better times. This occurred more than once.

My own parents had just bought a house when the RC Windom was dispatched on a long trip.  At the time, Momma was pregnant with my oldest sister, Henrietta.  Momma’s mother, Sophie, had gone to take care of an elderly man in Lampasas, Texas and, not wanting to be alone during the birth of her first child, Momma went to stay with her mother.  So Henrietta was born in Lampasas rather than Galveston, and my father was away at sea.

Must have been when the Windom returned to Galveston, if it did, that Papa paid off from his tour in the Revenue Cutter Service and started a new venture in his life. For a while he was a stevedore loading bales of cotton (my brother Karl ended up with his bailing hook). Then he ran a launch used to board ships and to ferry people across Galveston Bay. He was employed aboard tug boats, and was captain of most of those he worked. He chartered a tug and barge in 1914 and was towing a barge loaded with rice where the Trinity and Brazos Rivers meet when he saw thirty-eight people stranded by the flood. He emptied his cargo and took all of the people aboard the barge to ferry them back to Galveston. This was during the Christmas season. On the way, a baby was born on board, and the lad was named William in honor of Papa. They were still some ways from Galveston, but when the water subsided to a point he could wade through for two hundred feet, he took a message ahead that the people were safe.

Another time he spotted a ship aground and sent a towing cable to tug it loose. The strain on the cable was too much. though, and it snapped, swung around and amputed both legs of one of the seamen. Papa caught the man in his arms, applied tourniquets to both bleeding thighs, but it was in vain.

Before the 1915 storm that struck Galveston, Papa owned a tug a and three barges. He carried cargo from port to port and also chartered out his barges. After that devastating storm he was moving bales of cotton and found bodies under the bales he was moving. This caused him to have terrible nightmares so he sold his tug and barges to the International Shipbuilding Company, incorporated in Orange, Texas, and hired on with them as a Vessel Superintendant. Sailing ships were being built in Orange and Papa was a sailing ship seaman, a sailing master. After the ships were built and launched, he took them on trial shakedown runs.

During World War I on a tugboat trip to Mexico, Papa’s Chief Mate reported a light that he thought was Galveston. Papa said it was in the wrong direction, ordered the tug full speed ahead, and had the crew don their life jackets.  What the Chief Mate had stopped was not Galveston but a German submarine lurking in the Gulf of Mexico.  It was a narrow escape, but Papa’s tug managed to out run the submarine, and once he’d got them clear, Papa headed the tug for the nearest port to report it.

In 1916 the family moved to Beaumont, Texas. In 1919 Papa signed aboard the Modena, a five-masted barkatine with an auxillary engine, making it a motor vessel. This was the ship my Papa was aboard when I was born, the ship he had to sell in Rio.

This is it for my great-grandfather’s story, but I have plenty more story to tell.  The next time I take this up, I’ll be moving on to my grandfather, Capt. Ted Snoek, and explaining why he’s mathematically Chinese.  So look for that story later this spring.

UPDATE: Our flight out of Amsterdam was scheduled to leave late Thursday night, putting us back in Abu Dhabi on Friday morning. That didn’t happen. Instead, a volcano erupted in Iceland, and the resulting ash cloud shut down almost all air traffic throughout Western Europe. So we’re stranded. As I write this, at 4 pm local time in Amsterdam on Friday afternoon, we are back in our downtown B&B and waiting to board a flight that won’t take off till Sunday.

The good news is that despite all the headaches and chaos at the airport, and the exhaustion of heading from B&B to airport to airport hotel back to airport then back to B&B, we are at least downtown again and have a full day to squeeze in some last-minute relaxation (and recover from the hectic travel mess and re-prepare to fly out). There are certainly thousands of passengers in worse situations.

So, since we effectively have an extension to our vacation, I am continuing my travel journal and will document all the frustrations and kindnesses we’ve experienced the past day or so. It’ll take me a few extra days to post the travel journal here in the blog, but I’ll include everything, so look for it next week.

Published by Samuel Snoek-Brown

I write fiction and teach college writing and literature. I'm the author of the story collection There Is No Other Way to Worship Them, the novel Hagridden, and the flash fiction chapbooks Box Cutters and Where There Is Ruin.

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