Burton on the Bay

 Vol. 10, No. 31

August 1-7, 2002

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Shady Side Blesses Its Fleet — With My Blessing
On the Restless Wave, Watermen Could Use a Prayer

As my grandmother Clara Mahala Clark Burton used to lecture me, a little prayer never hurt anyone. I guess that’s what a blessing of any fleet is all about. Why not a prayer for those who at some time or other might be in peril on the restless wave?

So, it’s heartening — in these times when mention of God and prayer is questioned by some — to learn that on Saturday, August 10, the Blessing of the Fleet Festival will return after an absence of 28 years at Parrish Creek in Shady Side.

From what I hear, this year’s blessing of the fleet will be as big if not bigger than any since the last Parrish Creek watermen’s fleet was blessed in ’74. So to put Grandma’s views on prayer in a different perspective, I guess a big blessing of the fleet never hurt anyone — and I’m told that prayer will have a prominent role in the Shady Side ceremonies.

So will the Pledge of Allegiance, which will be led by Sea Scouts, who I am confident will choose to leave in those two so controversial words “under God.” Methinks just about everyone — if not everyone — who stands on the shores of Parrish Creek would prefer it that way.

Certainly those in the workboats, the commercial watermen of Shady Side in the mid-Bay, would insist the two words be included. Considering commercial fishing is the most dangerous occupation in the world, those who ply their trade on the water realize there are times when a little intervention by the Almighty can come in mighty handy.

Quite the Event
We’ll get into that in a moment, but let’s first review what’s on tap at the Blessing of the Fleet Festival that plays from 11am to 5:30pm at Shady Side’s Discovery Village. The highlight among spectators will of course be the procession of the Anne Arundel Watermen’s Association fleet under a 200-foot arc of water, a rainbow spanning Parrish Creek, which is claimed to be the busiest watermen’s tributary on the Western Shore of Maryland.

It will be led by the Sea Scouts at oar, who will lift their oars in proper observance of the occasion as they pass under the arc. Following not far behind will be the Miss Cindy, skippered by Capt. James Gross Jr., a fourth-generation waterman who previously was at the wheel of Puddin’.

The remainder of the fleet — a couple of dozen more craft whose captains are third-, second- or first-generation watermen — will be all spiffed up for the nautical parade. Of course there will be visiting watermen and their vessels, all appreciating that a bit of prayer is appropriate for those who sail on the sea — or on the Chesapeake or any other waters.

There will be much else as tradition returns to Parrish Creek, things like food, live music, exhibits, crafts, demonstrations and special events all on an eight-acre peninsula within view of the Chesapeake, why even the Chesapeake Bay Bridge at a distance. It’s all free, though on-site parking costs $5.

The schedule is a lively one from its opening. At noon, there will be the flag raising ceremony; at 1:00, church choirs will add solemnity; at 2:00, it’s Good Deale Bluegrass; 3:00, the blessing of the fleet; 4:00, a boat-docking contest. Then more bluegrass until the close.

Join in, see the nets and other working gear of watermen, Boy Scout events, why even a blacksmith, and look over the boats that bring to market the crabs, oysters, clams and finfish that represent the bounty of Chesapeake Bay. All proceeds will benefit Anne Arundel County Watermen’s Association, participating churches and Shady Side Peninsula Association.

Capt. James Gross deserves recognition for the revival of the blessing, seeing it was he who brought it to the attention of the citizenry that a once-great tradition had fallen by the wayside. What better site than Discovery Village, dedicated to preserving the beauty, heritage and ecosystem of the Chesapeake.

Discovery Village is involved in Bay restoration, research and education. With Department of Natural Resource’s assistance, it is creating a new marshland and unique eco-islands for wildlife. This peninsula is also the base station for Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s oyster restoration project and home port for CBFs research vessel the R/V Patricia Campbell.

If one doesn’t mind a bit of prayer or reference to the Almighty, what better way to spend a Saturday than to learn more about the Chesapeake and those who ply their trade on its waters?

God’s Back in My Pledge
Which brings up a subject I’ve been chomping on the bit to write about since a California judge questioned whether it was appropriate that in the tumultuous Joe McCarthy era our Pledge of Allegiance was modified to add two words, “under God” between “our nation” and “indivisible.”

Grandma Burton was certainly no religious zealot. She missed many church services because in the Great Depression farm chores were paramount if the New England dirt farm was to produce enough income to provide for the family and keep the tax man at bay. She saw in this writer as a young boy someone who needed direction in the appreciation of the Almighty. Thus her not infrequent mention that prayer never hurt anyone.

My religious beliefs remain very personal though respectful. But I must confess that when the Pledge was modified at a time when I was an anti-establishment disciple (due in great part to claimed McCarthyism involvement in the change), I objected, but privately.

For years, I recited the Pledge, but simply chose to skip the two new words, as I suggest those objectors of today might well consider. As time passed — and so did Grandma — my thoughts dwelt on her words “a little prayer never hurt anyone.” Practically without realizing it, I found myself including the addition whenever I pledged my allegiance.

Argue all you want about separation of church and/or God and state, but methinks in the political correctness of today things have gone beyond keeping the state out of the church and/or God. The goal seems to be to keep church/God out of government, which is an altogether different matter.

I recall that in my World War II Navy days, sailors were taught only one flag could be flown above that with the stars and bars, and that was the banner of the church. I also recall that the government paid our chaplains, provided us places of worship and time off to do so. No one ever objected.

The Navy Hymn was printed at government expense and distributed to sailors. It could be memorized or not, the decision was personal. And there were no ACLU objections.

Following World War II and the Korean War, as we were gearing up in Vietnam, there became other add-on versions of the hymn pertaining to others who served and to God. Among them was one referring to my outfit, the SeaBees:

Lord, stand beside the men who build,
And give them courage, strength and skill.
O grant them peace of heart and mind.
And comfort loved ones left behind.
Lord, hear our prayers for all SeaBees,
Where’er they be on land or sea.
— R.J. Dietrich, 1960

A little prayer never hurt anyone. Enough said …

Copyright 2002
Bay Weekly