The Personal History, Adventures, Experiences & Observations of Peter Leroy
The Personal History, Adventures, Experiences & Observations of Peter Leroy
🎧 714: Once the voyage . . .

🎧 714: Once the voyage . . .

What a Piece of Work I Am, Chapter 33, read by the author


ONCE THE VOYAGE was underway, there could be no turning back. It wasn’t an easy trip for Grandfather. Often, along the way, he had doubts about the wisdom of having set out at all. Sometimes he wished that he could just end it, put into any port along the way, and sometimes he wished that he could start again—better prepared this time, better equipped. Sometimes, standing at the window and pretending to see the sea, he felt that he must be making a fool of himself. At other times, the effort of keeping up the pretense seemed too difficult for him. But most of the time, the making of their imaginary voyage brought him the pleasure that comes from doing what’s difficult, and when he finished a day of deception and settled into bed he felt—and it was hard for him to accept this under the circumstances—wonderful.
     However, like many another practitioner of the art of deception, he became more and more concerned about making the illusion convincing, and this brought doubt and worry. Most nights, at some point before he fell asleep, the satisfaction he had found in his day’s work would begin to fade, and concern about the next day would come upon him. Worry and doubt would replace that wonderful feeling of success. Had he really been convincing when he was describing the looming bulk of a tanker passing in the night, the flying fish skimming the crests of the waves, or the coast of Cuba, things he had never seen? Often he would awaken in the dark to find that in his dreams he had been anticipating the coming day, or even the days far ahead of them, dreaming up details and sights and crises and unimportant bits of business to make the whole thing more believable. In the dark, when he caught himself planning all of this instead of fretting over the shortcomings of the days that they’d left behind them in their wake, he would realize that he was smiling.
     I like that thought, the idea of my grandfather lying there and smiling while he fabricated a future, and I think it’s probably true, judging from my own experience, and I had some experience parallel to his because I played a small part in his deception, as did everyone who came to visit Grandmother. Grandfather had to enlist us or keep us away. If we wanted to see Grandmother, we had to go along with the gag: we had to act as if we were on board the boat, either as passengers or part of the crew. I was a willing participant, but I can’t say that I was one of the best. I threw myself into the game completely, but I tried too hard to win it. It pains me to admit this, but I ­realize now that I worked so hard at my small part in the Rarotonga ­voyage because I wanted to be the star. I knew—and this was no illusion—that Grandfather, taking the long view of age and wisdom, considered me awfully young and very wet behind the ears, so I seized the Rarotongan opportunity to show him what I could do. I conducted some research, made notes, and studied charts, and when I visited Grandmother for the first time after we were underway I prattled on and on to her about the topics I’d prepared, supposedly the things I’d seen and experienced in the early stages of the voyage, and I almost destroyed the illusion. The things I claimed to have seen were too fantastic for anyone to believe, and there were far too many of them. In ten minutes or so, I gave her an account that wouldn’t have fit in a hundred pages of Two Years Before the Mast (from which I had stolen quite a lot of it, to tell the truth). At some point, I had to pause and catch my breath, and I looked over at Grandfather to see how I was doing. He looked appalled and panicky. When he saw that I was going to continue, I guess he felt that he had to intervene and tell me—somehow—not to let my imagination run away with me. He came over to me and put his hand on my shoulder. I immediately felt that I was eight again.
     “Whoa, now,” he said, in a joking voice. “Don’t tease your grandmother, Peter.”
     “Tease her?” I said. The voice that I said it in sounded like the voice of an eight-year-old. I cleared my throat.
     “You’re exaggerating a little,” he said. “You’ll be trying to convince her that you saw sea monsters next!” He laughed.
     “Sea monsters?” I said. I couldn’t imagine what would make him think that I might suggest such a childish thing. Nor could I imagine why my voice insisted on squeaking the way it did.
     “Sure!” he said, patting me on the head. “Or mermaids!” he added.
     “What?” I said. I started squirming. I was itching all over. My body seemed to be getting smaller.
     Grandfather chuckled, and to my enormous surprise Grandmother chuckled, too.
     “I’m a little tired, now, Peter,” she said. “Why don’t you go have a snack?”
     “Oh—uh—sure,” I said. “I’ll—” The little boy who had replaced me was going to say that he would go down to the kitchen for some milk and cookies, but Grandfather jumped in ahead of him.
     “—go to the galley,” he said.
     “Right,” I said. “Sure. I’m off to the galley. Um—see you later, Grandma.”
     “Bye, Peter,” she said. “See you soon.”
     I left the room a shaken man. I had to go into the back yard and smoke a Lucky before I felt that I was myself again.
     From then on, I was more or less forbidden to talk to Grandmother about the progress of the trip or nautical topics. I say “more or less” because Grandfather never actually told me not to. He just explained that I would be on safer ground if I talked about the weather, books I’d been reading, things like that, asked Grandmother how she felt, and avoided all discussion of the voyage.
     “Let her talk to you,” he said. “Then you’ll know what to say.”
     “Sure,” I said. “Okay. Fine. I was just trying to—”
     “I know,” he said, very gently, and he looked at me with his smart gray eyes, and I knew that, in fact, he did.
     “Sorry,” I said.
     He said nothing.
     My efforts in the cause of my grandmother’s deception may have been a failure, but planning them, creating them, imagining how well Grandmother would receive them had been great fun for me, especially at night, when I was lying in bed, waiting to fall asleep, and that’s why I’m quite sure that when Grandfather was lying in bed dreaming up entries for his fictitious logbook, he must have found himself smiling.

[to be continued]

Have you missed an episode or two or several?

The serialization of The Personal History, Adventures, Experiences & Observations of Peter Leroy is supported by its readers. I sometimes earn affiliate fees when you click through the affiliate links in a post. EK
The illustration in the banner that opens each episode is from an illustration by Stewart Rouse that first appeared on the cover of the August 1931 issue of Modern Mechanics and Inventions.
The Personal History, Adventures, Experiences & Observations of Peter Leroy
The Personal History, Adventures, Experiences & Observations of Peter Leroy
The entire Personal History, Adventures, Experiences & Observations of Peter Leroy, read by the author. "A masterpiece of American humor." Los Angeles Times