The Times and Tides of Ocean City, Maryland
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The Cup
by Fritz Pielert
It was a cold winter afternoon as I was walking along the beach near the bay. The wind was blowing hard northeast. The sky was gray as ash and the bay was chop full of white caps. As the waves hit the shore the sand would give way to the constant pounding as it has since the beginning of time.

Often during storms such as the one that was tearing at the Sinepuxent, the waves would uncover things that were buried long ago in a time when things were simple. I had found a whole workshop full of treasures that it seemed only of value to me. An old sparkplug from a model T Ford, old bottles that once contained whiskey that may have been smuggled on to the mainland during the twenties in boxes to be shipped to the speak easy that lay well hid among the cottages that dotted the new town of Ocean City.

I also have a collection of old tools that I either picked up at local auctions or were given to me. Then there are the tools that belonged to special people in my life. One is an old hand saw, the teeth worn down from the many times that it had been sharpened. It was my father's saw that he had handed down from his grandfather. I often used it for cutting fine cuts on moldings. It often seemed to take a life of its own as it cut smooth and straight through the toughest oak; yet when cutting through the soft woods, it was gentle and would wisp as sawdust would fall from its teeth always leaving as fine a cut as any electric saw. Sitting next to the old saw was a small block plane that was given to me by an old carpenter that taught me how to work with wood. He has long since passed away but the lessons he taught rush back to me when I us its sharp blade to trim a door or to smooth an edge. Also sitting on the shelves was an old one-gallon coffeepot. It was black and blue porcelain with a handle on the side and a looping handle on the top so you could hang it on an open fire. I was told it came from a local firehouse and was used to make coffee for the firemen at the fires they fought in the cold nights that fires seem most likely to happen.

As I walked back in the biting wind, I saw a small white chip of shell lying in front of me in the sand. I don't know why it drew my attention as there were many shells in the same area but this one beckoned me to root it from the sand. I reached down and scooped the sand away. Much to my surprise it was not a shell at all. The place where this dig was to take place was once marsh and was packed tight over the many years that had passed. I reached into my pocket for my old Case knife to use to cut away time and cover to see an old cup of sorts. It was heavy. Made of thick white ceramic and my hand could hardly go around it. I washed it off in the icy water; as it was covered in old marsh mud long turned to hard clay, almost slate. I put it in my pocket for a safe trip home.

It was almost dinnertime when I got home and the smell of fresh coffee filled the house. I hung my coat and took the cup from my pocket and put it in the sink and gave it a good wash. My wife saw it and said, "Well, what did you bring back now?" "Oh, just an old cup I found on the beach." "Well, don't leave it in the house. I have enough to clean and we have our fill of old stuff in here already." I just smiled and filled the cup with hot coffee, cream, and sugar and sat it on the table. I pulled up the chair and Sharon sat down with me.

As I put the cup to my lips a strange feeling came to me. Not bad or a sick type of thing but warm and familiar tug full of emotion. It was like turning back the hands of time. A flood of memories came rushing into my head like a storm surge in a hurricane.

A long time ago, when I was about thirteen years old, all the kids that I played with would always talk about Mr. Mack. So, I asked Doc, a friend I always confided in, to take me to meet the now famous Mack. We walked up the shell road toward the fish docks and between the net houses at the end of the dock stood a small shanty, all white, no bigger then the net house next to it. It was old and the window had an old burlap bag for curtains.

Doc knocked on the door and yelled, "Hey Mack, you there?" And I heard the sound of footsteps and the knob on the door turned and standing in the door was an old man near seventy I would guess. "Just havin my dinner boys. Are ya hungry?" Doc answered, "Not that stuff you eat." I looked on the table that was next to the old stove that had an old cast iron frying pan atop it. "Mack this is Fritz." Mr. Mack stretched out an old weathered hand that totally wrapped around mine almost twice. He smelled of suntan oil and he wore a stained white T-shirt that had holes on the broad shoulders. When I looked down he was bare foot and his feet looked thin and long. His pants were worn and tied at the waste with a piece of nylon rope. All this happened in a second but it seemed minutes and then he said, "Fritz it sure is good to meet ya. I've seen ya a playin on the beach".

Just as he said his welcomes Doc had to go. Mrs. Effie called and said, "Doc you come on now. We got to go to the hotel. I got beds to make and rooms to clean boy." Doc leaped to his feet and before I could say bye he was gone. Mack yelled to him " Don't ya want your pay?" Then it was just Mack and me. I asked what he was having for dinner. " Well I got some fresh Sea Bass and a half dozen eggs and some milk to wash it down with, want some?" " No" I said, "I just had my lunch." Then I saw the strangest thing. In a cup Mack broke open the six eggs and was beating the life out of them. And then hardly without missing a beat he put the huge white cup to his old chapped lips and swallowed them down. I almost choked for him. He looked at me and said, " Did ya think I was a goin ta cook um?" " I said well most folks do." Then with an understanding smile he told me that he hasn't had a cooked egg in years because of his stomach was ailin.

As he was tending the bass that were boiling on the stove I had a chance to look his place over. The walls were all old shiplap siding varnished to a soft and warm cinnamon. A small cot was at the far end of the room. A small bathroom with a standup shower, toilet, and sink was in the other corner and next to the door was a small end table and lamp combination. There was about a dozen books at the foot of the table. I asked "Mack what does Doc do for you to earn pay?" And he said, " Well it's a long story .The folks round here don't have a lot Fritz and they don't think much of free hand outs. So I kinda help that situation along by just slippin them a little change to pick up the slack for candy and such and we just call it their pay to make it honest." Mack turned and sat down in the old rocker that sat next to the lamp and he reached up with his thin muscular arm and turned on the lamp and ate his fish while I just looked at him. For a moment the silence was so quiet it almost sounded like a ringing in your ear.

As Mack finished off the last piece of fish, I caught the smell of fresh strong coffee perking on the two-burner ship's stove that sat on a small table next to the rocker. Mack got up and turned to the stove and when he turned around guess what he had in his hand? A large ceramic white cup filled with fresh hot coffee the same one I had in my hand almost twenty-five years later. Mack was an almost mystical man. He passed away and left me with a lot of spirit filled memories. But that's another story


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