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Memoirs of Mrs. Miller, Mom setting sail
Guest Columnist
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I’ve enjoyed the recent Coastal Courier story of the events surrounding Miller’s Pasture.
Unexplainable, there’s no personal knowledge ever written of Mrs. Miller and no one has stepped forward having made her acquaintance.
I was a young lad in the mid 1950s when Mother (the late Katherine Brodie of Walthourville) took me to meet her friend, Mrs. Miller.  
Mother drove slowly as we entered her fenced property in Allenhurst. We traveled down the long, straight driveway that was embellished by carefully planted oak trees from years past in something less then random order. Their symmetrical overhanging limbs were laden with Spanish moss that appeared to dance to their own rhythm of a southern breeze. At the end of the driveway, I saw a large, colonial, white-framed house surrounded by magnolia trees. It had nothing architecturally special, and as a matter of fact it resembled other homes in Allenhurst that fashioned partial and/or full wraparound porches and second stories.
We had traveled about two thirds of the way down the driveway when Mother turned left into a wooded area and then stopped the car next to a new mobile home.
She chuckled as she cautioned me not to speak until spoken to.
 “Katherine!” I heard someone yell. Suddenly a middle-aged woman stepped out of the front door.  
After about an hour of visiting and a second piece of home-made New York cheesecake. I was invited to accompany Mrs. Miller to Jesup the next day. She had ordered her favorite delicacy, Limburger cheese from a supermarket owner who shared her discriminating palate for imported and domestic cheeses.  
On schedule, she picked me up at the house. Mother couldn’t join us as she had a dentist appointment in Savannah.  During our trip. Mrs. Miller lectured on various types of rare cheeses and where to purchase them should I ever venture to New York City. She made cheese sound better than ice cream. It wasn’t until the trip home that she opened a package and suddenly her car filled with the most unbelievable pungent smell. I pondered how it was possible something edible could smell so bad. She broke a piece off and handed it to me as if it were part of a candy bar. I declined hoping not to offend her.
Several years or so went by and they visited us and we them. I say them because she was married to Joe Chrobak who had a young son named Christopher from a prior marriage.
Chrobak spent most of his time converting the grand-old mansion into a multi-apartment building for soldiers stationed at Camp Stewart, hence the reason they lived in a mobile home. Dad often remarked to Joe that he was a good carpenter and a fair plumber but was using antiquated electrical practices that could cause a major fire. His son Christopher graduated from Bradwell Institute as a “star student” in 1962. He bounced around a little bit then joined the Army and served several tours in Vietnam as a helicopter pilot. Possibly the last heir to the Miller estate, Christopher was killed at Fort Bragg during a training mission years past. I’m not sure if he had a family or any living children.
Mrs. Miller wished to be addressed using her maiden name in-lieu of any married names.  She wasn’t wealthy at that time, just like the rest of us, property poor and getting by on wit and circumstance.
Time went by including harmonious events between the two families but unfolding in the background was a relationship that still remains a phenomenal mystery today. I was in the backyard when I recognized Mrs. Miller driving up.
“Bobby, where’s your mother?” she asked, laughing as she parked next to mother who was bending over an azalea bush picking off dead blooms.
I could hear the two cheerfully greeting each other as they often did but then they became quiet and minutes later mother’s voice rose in a suspicious tone then she burst out laughing.  
“But Dorothy, you never told me you had a sailboat!” Mother said, while appearing to hold back laughing any harder, “and you want me to do what?”
Moments later Dad drove up on his tractor, and Mother and Mrs. Miller waved him over to join them. Then I heard dad say, “Well let’s go in the house and we’ll talk about this.”
Minutes later, I joined them.  
Mrs. Miller was asking mother to go to New York to help her sail her boat to Sunbury, a trip that would take about eight days.
Dad knew all the right questions to ask because his sister was married to Capt.Tom Fox who commanded a 110-ft. yacht out of the Bahamas for the owner and founder of Tappan Ranges.  
“Are you a Coast Guard certified captain?” he said, as if he was seriously considering my mother’s involvement.
A week passed and preparations were under way for Mother to accompany Mrs. Miller via train to Penn Station in mid-town Manhattan, then up the Hudson River to the marina where her sailboat was moored. The following week, the ladies boarded the Silver Liner out of Savannah with little knowledge that they were off on a mystic journey of a lifetime.
Mother attended Temple University in Philadelphia prior to marrying Dad.  Nautically, she didn’t know the difference between a scallywag and a mizzen mast. I’m not sure of Mrs. Millers’' alumni; I believe it was a New York College with formidable Coast Guard training that included maritime sailing and navigating the high seas. She indeed held a captain’s license for 50-ft. sailing vessels.  
Mother’s account of their moxie escapades goes as follows: During the train ride north, Mrs. Miller gave mother the finer points on rigging, deck fittings, general nautical classifications and sailboat hardware. They arrived on schedule in New York and set sail two days later.   
The sailboat was a custom, single-mast schooner with sails and booms fore and aft of the main mast. It appeared to be about 40 feet long with a 10-ft. beam and equipped with a deep, movable keel fin to prevent capsizing during high crosswinds and at speeds greater then seven knots per hour.
With the Statue of Liberty well astern of them and under full sail, it wasn’t long before mother became amused with the speed and agility of the boat.  
Mrs. Miller directed her on “helm-to-compass techniques” including how to use the infamous head (toilet).  Every four hours, Mrs. Miller would take a sextant reading, carefully marking down their achieved course and current heading.
Mother looked over her cohort’s shoulder frequently as she marked the time and their location on a chart, then Mrs. Miller would connect the dots and hold up the chart in a humorous fashion as if showing off her art work.
They crossed the Inland-Water-Way and juggernaut over the international shipping lanes with plenty of euphoria aboard. Mrs. Miller proudly showed off her prized possession to her daring dear friend.
The evening dinner was not prepared by a French chef with a full galley and staff but instead from cans of assorted food from a well-stocked pantry. The girls had to hold the can between their knees while using a can opener because of the pounding from the heavy seas. It had been a long day and darkness grew as the seas continued to churn with thirty foot swells and breaking white caps.  Each minute change in course, the sails slapped under the new wind load making the gaff rig chatter against the mast and booms. It was music to the girls’ ears.
The night duties at the helm was best described as “hot bunking in the hammock, four hours at the helm and alternating four hours hot bunking,” albeit there was only one hammock in the main cabin. I noted Mother didn’t say salon and later I discovered why.
The next morning the early sun reflected off the phthalo blue ocean and the girls huddled around the sound of a crackling Coast Guard emergency weather broadcast. There was a tropical depression forming off the Florida Peninsula and Mrs. Miller became worried.
In those days, there was no radar except for military and no GPS or satellite weather images only datums of sight. The lofty captain checked her charts and then advised mother, “Katherine we can make a dash for the Grand Canyons of the Sargasso then onto Bermuda where we can wait out the pending storm or we could drop our sails and make a run for the inland waterway and put through the storm using the donkey engine. But either way it will cost us an additional week at sea.”
Two weeks passed and Dad had made many phone calls to the Cape Hatteras Coast Guard station regarding a continuous search for Mother and Mrs. Miller to no avail. We started to give up  hope  when, several days later, a deputy from the Liberty County Sheriff’s Department stopped at the house and advised Dad they had a message from the Coast Guard to the effect that Mrs. Miller’s boat was sighted coming up the Sunbury Channel under full sail.
Dad and I arrived at the coast just in time to see them in the far distance. The slick sailboat was beautiful as it listed to the direction of the wind, its white sails full and with the waves slightly breaking over the bow. It was a sight never seen on the Georgia coastline.
An hour later, the girls lowered their sails and we could hear the puts from their donkey engine. They pulled next to the dock as the crowd around us looked with amazement. Mrs. Miller and mother appeared tired and weathered. Their faces were red from the sun and the wind, and their hair was pulled back. They looked weak and had lost weight.  
A while later, after many embraces, Mrs. Miller motioned for me to come aboard.  The teak decks shined from many careful coats of shellac, the hatch was open and I went into the cabin. To my amazement, it looked like I stepped inside a giant football. The hull’s structural ribbing was exposed, including a partial galley and a single toilet. In the aft was the donkey engine and in the center was the raised keel projecting halfway to the underside of the deck above.
It was 1967 on a visit to Liberty County, Mother told me a short time ago, that Mrs. Miller called her advising she was on her way for a visit. Mrs. Miller crossed over the Camp Stewart railroad tracks on route 38 (now Highway 84) where her car coasted to a stop less than a half of a nautical mile from Mother’s house. The Lord had called her home.
I’m not sure what ever happened to her sailboat but I believe somewhere on the Georgia Coast a mast is projecting out of the marshy mud and at its base lay the last remnants of Mrs. Miller’s dream of a mid-Atlantic crossing to southern Europe with her dear friend from Liberty County.

Bobby Brodie
Bensalem, Pa.v
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