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Mom, I Think I Can Explain What Happened

October 30, 2012
Elizabeth and Bernard

Elizabeth & Bernard Plummer, 1937

It never should have happened.

Most of you don’t know me. Many of you may disagree with the results of my research and that is OK. A few do agree and that is appreciated but not necessary. Those of you who have stuck with me through my ramblings, I appreciate your time. If you are reading this, I will let you know ahead of time that this post is more personal and less technical in case you want to pass by it. I need to tell this story in honor of my mother, Elizabeth Simonson, so that maybe it will help her soul rest in peace. I have made just a couple of assumptions to fill in missing facts, but for the most part it is exactly as it happened.

You might be interested to know that if I connect the dots backwards in my life, my search for this source of uncertainty in our world began the first time I sensed my mother crying, which may have been while I was still in the womb, I do not know.  She cried a lot as I was growing up.

I grew up in a small town in Maine. My parents were born in the 1920’s. As it so happened in their teenage lives, the world was filled with uncertainty, much of it created by humans on top of what nature throws at us.  My dad was of Dutch heritage which I traced back to New Amsterdam, N.Y., now known as New York City.  He entered World War II at age 18, was stationed at Hickam Field, Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7th 1941 and also was stationed for a few years in Foggia, Italy with a B-24 Liberator Bomber Group, the 456th.  He experienced much uncertainty over those 4 years.

crew pic 2

Clair Simonson, Second from Right, Bottom Row. My Father, Elizabeth’s Husband
456th Bomb Group, B-24 Liberator, WWII

Around 1952, when my mother was in her twenties, she joined the Marine Corps with the first wave of women from Maine.  But this story is about what happened before then.  In 1943 my mother was 16 years old. She had an older brother Bernard, who was 18 and an even older brother John who had just entered World War II as a radioman on a B-17 Flying Fortress.  My mother, Elizabeth was very close to her 18 year-old brother Bernard, in fact she loved him as much as any sister could ever love their brother. Bernard was the President of his graduating high school class at Maine Central Institute (MCI) in central Maine.  He graduated near the top of his class academically and had a full scholarship to attend Colgate University, a small Ivy League school in Hamilton, NY in the Fall, which, coincidentally is not far from my target destination for Hurricane Sandy. Bernard’s parents, John and Mary Plummer, were very proud people with deep colonial roots going back to the original settlers in Plymouth, Massachusetts.  In 1943, the war was slowly turning for the Allies, although still very tough on all nations. The Plummer family in Pittsfield, Maine was brimming with pride, they were witnessing their children growing and maturing to adulthood, serving their country and helping with society. Bernard loved science and that is what he would be studying in the Fall at Colgate University.

great moose pond

Aurora over Great Moose Pond, Hartland, Maine

During the Summers, Bernard and Elizabeth, like myself 25 years later, spent all of their time at the family camp on Great Moose Pond in Hartland, Maine. Moose Pond is a beautiful, crystal clear Maine lake brimming with bass, white perch, hornpout  pickerel, sunfish and all kinds of abundance of life that kids love to catch.  Bernard, like all of us, was a great swimmer and loved to be in the water  Many times in the Summer we would swim across the lake where it was a bit more narrow, which was no problem at all. Bernard’s father bought him a sailboat at an early age and he had mastered that.  He could sail circles around all of his friends and even won organized races.

Sunday, May 16, 1943 began as a very beautiful day in Hartland, Maine. My memories of May in Maine as a child were that life was blossoming everywhere and full of lilacs and flowers and green grass and all of a sudden the world was alive again after the long, harsh winters. The Plummer family was enjoying time on the lake with lots of friends and celebrating the graduation of another child from High School. Bernard and a close friend, Ralph Mills, decided to take the sailboat out that afternoon as the wind was picking up due to some clouds building at the “head” or West end of the lake.

Waterspout on Maine Lake

Bernard and Ralph launched the sailboat and began tacking upwind towards Harmony, a small town at the head of the lake. They were surprised at how quickly the wind had picked up, but as two 18 year-old boys they were very much enjoying the speed it all created and since Bernard had been sailing for ten years he welcomed the challenge. He was milking the wind for everything it had, the surf created from the bow skimming through the water was hitting them with a cold spray.  Although when their trip started it was sunny, the clouds had quickly built and were now throwing gusts at the boat. Still not a problem, Bernard knew that boat like it was a part of him.  He could sense the wind and the waves as they pulsed through him as he dashed around a small island at the middle of the lake where he knew there should be some respite from the wind.

As the sailboat rounded the island, what happened next took both boys completely by surprise. There just to their right was a waterspout racing down the lake which had been hidden completely from their view by the island. The vacuum brane disturbance had suddenly nucleated into our three dimensions of spacetime and was the source of the extreme weather that had seemingly popped up from nowhere.  Bernard tried to quickly turn from the waterspout’s path but it was too late.  The waterspout caught the boat broadside lifting it out of the water, breaking the sail and throwing both boys into the ice cold water as well as injuring Bernard.  It all happened so fast that both boys were completely in shock.

The boat had been lifted and thrown 75 feet away from them and was partially submerged in the water.  The boys were in shock, Bernard was injured, although he did not yet know it yet and the water was fifty degrees with a biting edge to it.  They decided to swim for shore, which, although probably the wrong decision, should not have been a problem for either since it was just half the width of the lake and no more than a 10 minute swim.

Kennebec Journal, May 16, 1943

But as they began swimming Bernard knew something was wrong, his shoulder, numb from the accident, was not working.  He had an injury from the waterspout that was shooting excruciating pain down his side and was preventing him from swimming very well at all.  Although he was a better swimmer than the younger Ralph, and actually the best in his class due to years of swimming on the lake, he was struggling to keep up with Ralph and the shock of the injury was slowly taking over his body.  Ralph slowed down to try and help his friend but found himself struggling with the cold water himself, since they still had their heavy, water-logged clothing on and shoes.  After 10 minutes of struggling in the water, Bernard told his friend to go on and that he would try to make it on his own.  Bernard struggled for a few more minutes, not believing that his world could close in on him so fast. He thought of his parents, sister and brother and slipped beneath the waves.

Kennebec Journal, May 17, 1943

Ralph made it to shore that afternoon, in complete shock and hypothermic from twenty to thirty minutes struggling in the icy water. He searched the lake and yelled but Bernard was nowhere to be seen.  Exhausted and shaking, he made his way to the nearest camp screaming for help. The families and authorities raced to the lake and spent until midnight or later calling out to Bernard and searching with many private and public boats.  Bernard spent that night in the lake. They began the search the next morning  and after grappling for a few hours recovered his body.  His sister, my mother, and his parents hugged his body and would not let go. The entire town of Pittsfield mourned the loss of one of their young.

mom3My mother never got over the loss of her brother and would start crying many times as I was growing up, seemingly without explanation to me, but I was just a child, so what did I know.  I think I subconsciously spent much of my childhood trying to please my mother and make her happy, which many times was hard to do.  My mother instilled in me a love of science and pushed me to be my best. She bought me Robert Goddard books, we watched Carl Sagan together and she bought me rockets and watched me fly them.

My mom passed away 5 years ago.  I just want to let her know there is nothing on this Earth that would have kept her brother from making it back to her and the family and that the cause was not from this Earth. For the sake of my mother and others, I pray my research helps point us in the right direction, make a little more sense of this world and finally brings her lasting peace.


Copyright 2012 Stewart D. Simonson
All Rights Reserved

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

From → Inspiration

One Comment
  1. Thank you for sharing this story…it was very captivating. My father lost a brother in a similar fashion. They were only boys though and it was 6 months after the loss of their mother from cancer. I believe it still effects him til this day. They lived at the swimming hole and to lose not only a sibling, but the very lively hood of ones days as well can be very devastating.

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