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My Most Embarrasing Moment

Memoir Story

My Most Embarrassing Moment

By James D. Cummins

In 1956 I was working as chief electrician on the Grace Lines steamship, SS Santa Juana. We stopped at the little Nicaraguan port called "San Juan del Sur". The small town sat right on the beach, with high cliffs behind it, so it couldn't expand beyond its single street. There was only a small pier for the launches, so the Santa Juana anchored in the little bay. The bay was so small I could see the whole harbor from the ship.

I could see a beautiful white sand beach around the bay and beyond the little town, with someone swimming there. The white sand of the beach and the blue of the water, disturbed in places by large boulders on shore and in the water, made a beautiful picture. The rocks, their shadows, the sloping depth of the beach, the clear blue sky above, all worked together to paint a varying canvas of blue and white that no artist could create.

Some of the crew who were off watch went ashore on the launch, then walked through town to the beach. It was close enough that I could recognize the crewmen from the ship. After I got off work I went ashore with one of the watch engineers and one of the sailors.

We went around to the beach, left our clothes on a large rock at the water's edge, and went in swimming. The other men in the crew, who had been there for a while, soon left to find a cervesa in town. That left only the three late-comers, who were enjoying the refreshing warm waters. Suddenly, I heard the engineer yell out, and I looked back at the beach just in time to see a man running away with our clothes. The man quickly disappeared into the brush along the shore. We rushed back to the beach, to discover our shoes still there, probably because the man ran away when he heard the engineer's yell.

We put on our shoes and looked around for the thief for a few minutes. But there were too many places for concealment, and too many paths to follow through the brush along the shore. I didn't think it was so bad losing my clothes, as I had only five dollars in my wallet, but there were many papers that would have to be replaced, especially my seaman's document and driver's license.

The engineer cautioned that there might be bandits waiting in the brush with machetes. We gave up the chase and started walking back through town to where the launch docked. It was Saturday, so the streets were full of campesinos who had come into town for their weekly shopping and amusements. The many bystanders stopped to look, and to laugh openly at the plight of these "Gringos estupidos". They all seemed to know that we had lost our clothes, and had to walk down the single main street in our bathing suits.

I thought of the Senior Day parade I ran away from in high-school. I was scheduled to be dressed up as "Lonesome Polecat", which would have exposed for all the town to see, the large brown birth mark covering my lower right leg. In those "Jim Crow" days, I kept my brown leg covered to avoid the hazing of my classmates, and the possible suspicions of ignorant "rednecks" that I wasn't pure white. I waited for that fateful day with a lot of anguish. I knew the time was fast approaching, but not the specific date.

Then one day it happened, and I watched for an opportunity to escape. I tried to just walk away casually, but the senior assigned to catch me was there immediately, and led me to the restroom where the victims were being prepared. Fortunately for me, there were more juniors than seniors that year. My captor had to go and get a second victim, leaving me standing alone for a minute. I casually walked out, went down to the basement, and strolled out the back door. I went to a gully that came up to the rear of the school yard. I plunged down the slope into the gully, and made my way down to the bay. From there I walked along the bay shore to another large gully that ran in-land for a mile or two. I followed the gully to its source and went home from there. I escaped the ignomity of being paraded through the streets of Eastshore then, but it seems you can't really escape your fate. It will catch up with you later when you least expect it.

I was even more embarrassed when we got to the launch, and the three pretty teenage missionary girls were waiting aboard for their parents. I was especially embarrassed because of the large brown birthmark, so I went toward the bow of the launch and sat down where they couldn't see my leg. They talked about it among themselves in Spanish, assuming I didn't understand the language, but it was clear they understood my embarrassment. Why was I surprised that they seemed to be sympathetic to my plight, in this, my most embarrassing moment?