Flags over oatmeal

YOU'VE seen this gentleman on the TV who whales into a bowl of breakfast cereal and says, ``It's too good to wait 'til morning!'' I disbelieve him, for I haven't seen any breakfast cereal in recent years that has resisted dephlogistication well enough to last the night. It was a long time ago that I asked the grocer for the kind you cook, and he said, ``Well, I guess you could cook any of them if you had a mind to.'' May I share a last memory of oatmeal that we ate in the evening and saved some for breakfast?

During the war I had a few happy assignments on the Maine, an 80-foot diesel patrol boat used by the Maine Department of Sea & Shore Fisheries. From Kittery to Eastport she looked for short lobsters and off-season clams, kept the fishermen honest, and did errands for islanders during predicaments. Then the war struck, and the patrol area belonging to the Maine became something of a combat zone and the US Navy took over.

The Navy absorbed the Coast Guard, and all at once there was a big question if Maine had any right to keep a boat in its own waters. Sumner Sewall was governor at the time. He talked to some of the admirals and convinced them Maine had just as much right to keep a navy as the United States did. The Maine stayed in service, and not a few of her skirmishes were with the US Navy.

Well, one day a minesweeper manned by hearty jacktars from Minnesota and Nevada came upon the Maine cavorting jauntily with the turn of the Fundy tide, and nobody knew just what to do about it. The Maine was intercepted, an explanation asked for, and then the radios squawked. The incident ended with Governor Sewall telling the admirals to get their boys off his back.

The master of the Maine during the war was chief floating marine warden Clarence Meservey of Brooklin, Maine, who knew every harbor, cove, inlet, and eel rut in 2,500 miles of Down East tidewater, and whose Scots inclinations were not above pulling the leg of established authority. He used to whip out his Maine driver's license when a boarding party of sailors demanded his papers, which seems a mite downright until you learn that several times the sailors didn't know the difference. If they did, he simply excused himself and brought out his state certificate.

The Maine ``went two,'' and doubling as cook and engineer was Clayton Simmons of Friendship, who refused entirely, completely, and absolutely to cook any so-and-so oatmeal for Captain Meservey. Clayton hated oatmeal. He could cook all right, and every meal aboard the Maine was a Babylonian banquet, so Captain Meservey was happy to overlook this mutinous attitude, and they got along fine. Every afternoon before Clayton got involved with supper, Captain Meservey would call him to take the wheel, and Captain Meservey would descend to the galley to start his pot of porridge.

By the time of World War II, proper all-night oatmeal was gone from our domestic grocery stores, but it was still available in Maritime Canada, where Scots still speak Gaelic, even.

So when the captain needed more oatmeal, he'd schedule an inspection of a sardine factory at Lubec and make a run down that way with the Maine to enforce the laws made and provided and get a peck of oatmeal in St. Andrew. On the return trip (to the west'ard!) Cook Clayton would grouse about tripping over the stuff in his galley. I mean oatmeal - not rolled oats - and I mean the kind that cooks and cooks the way it used to. The captain also kept thick farm cream and rich Barbados molasses in inventory - two things all true believers take with oatmeal.

The war was at this stage, then, when I made my first voyage with Captain Meservey and Mr. Simmons. The captain welcomed me on deck and said, ``You play cribbage?''

``World's champ!'' I said, modestly. He said, ``We'll see.''

That afternoon we were well off Frenchman Bay when Captain Meservey called Clayton to take the wheel. He had his pot of oatmeal mulling along before he returned, and shortly he brought the Maine into a cove and tied her to a vacant spile on a fishing wharf.

Clayton soon served supper, and we were snug for the night. When Clayton cleared the table, the captain brought out the cribbage board, and we fought valiantly game after game - Clayton soon left us and rolled in. Clayton didn't like cribbage, either. Then Captain Meservey fitted a rubber band about the deck of cards and said, ``Now, just before bed I like to have a dish of oatmeal.''

We had a bowl apiece, and that was the last true oatmeal cereal I saw. It was too good to wait 'til morning, but Captain Meservey had left enough for breakfast. Thus World War II lives in memory.

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