The Hunt!

By

Linda Delaney

 

The sun was shining brightly in Santa Barbara. The wind was a soft, and gentle one. The temperature was in the mid sixties. It was a perfect California day! Then, suddenly, the Siren blared loudly! Hands covered ears. Hundreds of voices started to scream and shout! And everyone was running in different directions!! Total Chaos! The masters of the chaos would be proud!

Harriman Nelson stood to one side and watched the entire scene with a benevolent smile. Karen, his wife stood next to him, and behind them stood Chip and Matty Morton, and Lee Crane, with Caitlin Davis. All of them were smiling at the scene below. Several hundred children were running about the lawns of the Nelson Institute of Marine Research like mice in a training maze.

It was the Institute's Fourth Annual Easter Egg Hunt! Never one to stint on an affair for the children, Nelson had lifted all stops and had had planted hundreds of plastic eggs with prizes, and candy in them all over the grounds, waiting for young hands to retrieve them. In addition, there were several hundred more eggs with tickets for larger prizes.

The Senior staff of the boat watched the scene below with a combination of amusement and parental concern. Their offspring were not the only Seaview youngsters participating. Many of the men from the boat, as well as many of the Institute staff had brought their children, nieces and nephews to the Hunt. The Admiral, Lee and Angie had seen to it that the list of invited youngsters included the children from all of the local children’s services, as well as the women and children’s centers, charitable groups, schools, and the like. There wasn’t any child that they could reach in the Santa Barbara area that wasn’t present on the lawn today!

The Admiral had started the event when his son, Sean was two. It had begun as a simple egg hunt for the children of the Senior staff, and the crew of the boat. It had expanded greatly in the last two years with the urging of Harriman’s wife, Karen and his sister, Edith. Lee Crane and Chip Morton had added their whole-hearted support to the project and had enlisted the aid of the COB, Francis Sharkey for this years very large event. A pushover when it came to any child, Sharkey had managed to pull several of the boat’s Senior ratings into the planning as well.

 

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Approaching it as if it were a military objective, Sharkey had the eggs planted, the gifts sorted and arranged, and the Easter Bunny’s appearance set and scheduled in a manner that even impressed the boat’s Exec, Chip Morton. Armed with a megaphone and stopwatch, he had put the boat’s crew through several ‘practice Hunts’, in order to gauge the time it would take to find all of the eggs. The practice runs had all of the Institute, the ship’s officers, and anyone else that witnessed them in absolute hysteria as the Chief ordered the men to ‘Hurry up! Find those eggs, and make it snappy, you knotheads!’

Clicking his stopwatch, Sharkey shook his head in disgust. Alright, you guys, now put ‘em all back!! And, I want them all in the right places." He had gone into the Admiral’s office and sat down, disgusted.

Nelson was still having a difficult time not laughing in Sharkey’s face at what he had just witnessed. Suppressing his mirth he asked Sharkey in low, controlled voice, "Yes, Francis, what is it?"

"Well, sir, I just hate to tell you this, but I don’t know if this whole Hunt is going to be very successful.’’

"Oh really, and why is that, Chief?’

"Admiral, it took those knotheads almost an hour to find all the eggs that we hid. And I made them do it three times!"

Snorting with laughter, now loosing his last vestiges of control, "Francis, the poor men are not two to ten year old children! The children will do fine!" He was laughing hard, and Sharkey looked puzzled. Grabbing hold of the shreds of dignity that he had left, he said to the COB, "Sharkey, its ok. Just as long as the eggs are hidden, and the Easter Bunny shows up on time, and is available all day to the children, it will be fine! Just make sure that we have some candy and goodies aside in case some of the younger ones don’t find too much. We don’t want any of the children disappointed!" Sharkey stood up and shaking his head, left Nelson’s office. Nelson pushed the intercom buzzer for Angie, his secretary.

"Yes, sir?" questioned a sweet, feminine voice.

"Angie, make sure that I send Sharkey a good bottle of Scotch as a reward for all of his hard work on this Egg Hunt! Poor man is working himself into a state!" There was light laughter on the other end of the intercom, and a reply. "Yes, sir. We’ve been watching his hard work! A bottle of Glen Livet, sir?"

"Yes, Angie. Very good! And would you please ring Mrs. Nelson for me? I believe that she’s in her office…"

 

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Easter Sunday morning was a beautiful one, and as the Nelson/Davis family headed to church, accompanied by the Cranes and Morton's, they knew that the afternoon would be a spectacular and fun one for the children. Sharkey had called Nelson early on and told him that all was ready. There had been a ‘minor’ problem, but it had been resolved and all was waiting for the 1400 start to the event. After the church services, at the Mission Santa Barbara, the Seaview’s Senior staff had gone for brunch , at Ballard’s Store Restaurant , a place that the Nelson’s favored for their rare Sunday outings together. The Cranes and Morton's had been guests here before and the families all agreed that the restaurant accommodated all of the needs of the growing families. The older children were deep in plans concerning themselves and the younger ones in the Egg Hunt, Alex Morton and Sean following R.C. Crane’s lead, and plans. As the children huddled together, the adults enjoyed the company of one another, in a relaxed, and easy atmosphere, where for a few hours they could all just be a family with no cares and no worries, save the ones related to family concerns!

Nelson was telling once again the story of Sharkey’s disgust with the speed of the crew to find the Eggs and how he had blasted Riley for taking a piece of the carefully counted candy. Chip’s comment was enlightening to the group, " So that’s why Riley was put on extra duty next week by the Chief! He wouldn’t tell me the reason, only that Stu ‘deserved it’!" They all laughed again, and then the Admiral looked at his watch. Gently touching his wife’s arm, he announced, with humor, "Well, it looks like we had all better get back to the Institute, or Francis will have us all on report!"

As the adults rose and the children saw their parents getting ready to leave, the level of excitement in the younger ones rose three notches.

"Poppa!" Sean Nelson called, "Poppa, is it time for the Egg Hunt?"

Nelson smiled at his son, as the boy came around the table to take his hand. "Almost, Sean." He riffled the little boys red curls.

"Well, then we had better hurry up!! R.C. and Alex said that there will be a lot of children there!"

"Yes, there will be. We’ve invited a lot of people to bring their children and the men on the boat and the Institute families will be there as well."

"Poppa, R.C. and Alex said that a lot of the children that will be there are poor children. Is that true too?"

Nelson sat down on his chair, and took Sean into his lap. "Yes, Sean, it is. We are all very lucky, here. R.C. and Alex and Drew and Katherine Elizabeth, and us… we have our families, and our homes, and the place that we work, and we don’t want or need anything. There are a lot of children that are not as lucky as all of you are. So your Mom and I, and Lee and Chip, and your Aunt Edith decided to invite a lot of the children to the Egg Hunt. For some of them, it will be the only Easter that they have!"

The little boy looked hard at his father, his bright blue eyes locking into the older, blue ones. "Poppa, R.C. said that Uncle Lee told him it’s the ‘right thing’ to do. ‘Cause we already have so much!"

"R.C’s right, Sean. We do have so much!" Karen Nelson had quietly come to stand behind her husband and laid a hand lightly on Harriman’s back, and her other on her son’s shoulder. Nelson looked up at her, and down at the earnest face of his son, and his heart tugged just a moment. Yes, I have so much! Karen…Sean…! What gifts!’

He ran his hand over his son’s riotous curls a second time, and gave him a hug. "Not only do we have so much, as your Mom has said, but we also have a responsibility to share it, Sean. This is one of the ways we can… Do you understand?"

Sean Pearce Nelson gave his parents a look that was wiser than his years. "Yes, Poppa. We share with other people and children because we have a lot and we want to…" He then grinned at them. "Can we go now? Everyone is waiting for us!"

Indeed when Nelson looked up, he saw that the entire party had left the restaurant and were waiting outside. He smiled at his wife and son, and stood, taking Sean’s hand and placing his arm lightly around his wife’s waist. The three of them left the restaurant and went to the waiting group.

 

UV

 

Francis Sharkey mumbled to himself about Easter and bunnies and Egg Hunt. ‘Ski, Pat and Riley would all be pulling extra duty for the next three weeks if he had anything to say about it! It was hot in that blasted costume. The basted headpiece didn’t allow him to see much and he had to be guided around the lawn. He had decided that he wouldn’t speak to the children. Hand motions would have to do. After all, he was Chief of the Boat! Actually, some of the children, who knew him, particularly the children of the Senior Staff, would recognize his voice, and he didn’t want to spoil the illusion. He hated the idea of the costume, but the children’s illusions were important.

Some of the younger children ran from the Easter Bunny. Three and four year olds often ran from larger than life figures, in funny costumes, but by and large, Sharkey was a huge success. They were delighted to have the larger than life bunny, guided by Kowalski and Patterson wearing pastel yellow shirts and green slacks, with "Bunny Helper" plastered on the front and back of the shirts.

Shrieks of delight were permeating the air and even Alex, Drew and Sean were squealing delightedly as the bunny handed them bags of candy, and they had their pictures taken. Patterson arranged for all of the Children of the Senior Staff to pose for a picture with the Bunny. He had the ten year old R.C. hold two-year old Katherine Elizabeth, at the Rabbit’s right side, Sean sat on the Rabbit’s right knee, four year old Drew on his left knee and Alex stood on his left side. The children were laughing and smiling, and it was a beautiful memory of that Easter Sunday.

As the Egg Hunt came to a meandering close, it came time for the children to claim their prizes from the special eggs. There were at least a hundred Easter Baskets, with candy and toys, at least a hundred large chocolate bunnies and several hundred smaller, stuffed bunny rabbits. But the prize that all of the children were dreaming of was the Grand Prize. And grand it was. There was a Six foot tall stuffed Bunny Rabbit, holding a basket that was at least three foot tall stuffed with every possible type of Chocolate delight that a local candy company could come up with. In addition there was a two hundred and fifty dollar savings bond in the basket for the lucky boy or girl that had the ticket!

There were several long lines of children and parents waiting patiently, for the Senior Staff of the Nelson Institute to distribute the prizes from the tickets found in the prize eggs. Each of the Seaview’s Officers had taken the responsibility to help distributing the gifts. Nelson had planned to see that all of the children would also have an extra treat, by putting tickets in all of the eggs for the extra prizes. Every child would have something special.

The children of the Staff waited to be last in the line, for even at their various ages, they knew they needed to wait ‘til the others were taken care of. Sean Nelson was excited, and really didn’t want to wait, however. He held a special ticket. If the little boy was correct, he held the ticket for the Grand Prize! He had found the egg hidden under a bush near the center of the lawn. At the time he didn’t think too much of it, because, like all the other children, he was more interested in gathering the candy and eggs hidden about. Later when he took the time to open the egg, he was delighted and thrilled with his discovery. He wanted to tell everyone, but he had held his tongue, and waited, and watched. He had taken his accumulated treasures and sat on a small rise, watching the children and their parents in the line. Soon R.C. Crane had joined him, and then Alex and Drew Morton. The four children were sitting together, when a small girl caught Sean’s eye. She was standing with other children in the line. She had to be close to his own age of six, with a mousy brown hair, and wearing a plain and faded dress. The dress was clean, as was the little girl, but Sean saw the dress had been repaired many times. He looked at the egg he held in his hand, and looked again at the little girl. He leaned over to R.C. "I’ll be right back, R.C.!" and he got up and went over to the girl. Shyly he touched her shoulder, and the she turned to look at him. He said a few words, and handed her the egg. Then he turned and ran back to the little group, and plopped down with them. They all continued to watch the many children claim their prizes, and the little girl made her way to the table.

There was a flurry of activity when she handed her egg to Chip Morton. He took the ticket within and called the Admiral, Karen and Lee to the table. Several of the boat’s crewmen took the Grand prize from its perch and brought it over to where the little girl was. There were pictures taken and then the men, and Nelson accompanied the little girl to her mother. The woman was standing with three other children, all younger than the six year old. Nelson said a few words to her and the crewmen carried the prize to head of the hill, and disappeared over it followed by the woman and the children.

With the awarding of the prize, the people began to disperse. About an hour later, when every one had left, save the Seaview’s Officers and families, Nelson caught Lee Crane in a serious discussion with his son. When the Admiral approached them, Lee looked up and nodded to the boy. He ran to join the rest of the children and Lee asked the older man, "Have you talked to Sean since this broke up?"

"No, Lee I haven’t. Is something wrong?"

"No, sir. Not wrong, if what Robert told me, is true. Something is very right! Robert said…"

Nelson’s look of concern changed rapidly. It became one of pride. As Lee finished his story, the Admiral went in search of his wife and son. Sean was with Karen as she was supervising the men who were collapsing tables and cleaning up the remains of the day.

He moved toward his family and as he arrived at their side, bent down and gently took Sean into his arms. Karen looked at him, startled. Harriman Nelson was not prone to public displays. He hugged his son warmly, clasping him close.

"I am proud of you, Sean."

"I didn’t do anything, Poppa."

"Oh, yes, you did! You did something wonderful! Karen, you saw the little girl that won the Grand Prize?.."

"Yes, Rachel her name was. Rachel Adams."

"Sean gave her the egg that had the ticket. Sean found the egg. He gave it to her!"

"Sean..?"

"Yes, Momma. I found the egg. But when I saw that little girl, and her dress, I knew that I didn’t need the prize, and I thought that she might like it. So I gave it to her…Was that Okay, Poppa?"

"Yes, Sean…that was very ok! Very much ok indeed!"

 

UV

 

A number of years later, a woman sat in her car at the gates of the Nelson Institute. She handed her identification to the guard, who checked it over, and then passed her through. She drove to the building she had been told to go to, and parked. She walked up the stairs, and into the lobby of the Main Building. At the reception desk, she paused, and after a few words was given a badge and directed down the hall. She came to an Office door and went in. The Secretary looked up…a few more words, and she was directed to the office door, and ushered in. The tall, redheaded officer turned to meet her. She extended her hand in greeting…

"Captain Sean Nelson, I’m Dr. Rachel Adams, and I have something here that belongs to you. I wanted to say Thank you!"

She held out a faded plastic Easter egg…

 

 

 

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