My Sailor Comes Home From The Sea

John has been away for the last few days sailing across the English Channel with his eldest daughter and his brother, David. It is his second trip across the Channel this summer as he helped David sail his boat over to Guernsey when I went home to the US in July for a visit.

Even though I was back in Cornwall and could have gone with him when he left for the return last Thursday, I opted to stay home and get some down time before my sister Margaret arrives on Friday. Okay, I did have a coffee catch up with Tina after my run one morning and a lovely girls night out dinner with Jean and Helen, two local ladies from the village who are killer quiz players. Plus, I spent some time picking berries and making my very first blackberry jam which John loved, but I am still not too sure about so although I was pretty busy, I did keep a fairly relaxed schedule here on my own.

John came back late yesterday having jumped ship at a port close enough to catch the train to within five miles of home. It turns out he was only home for one night as we are driving to meet up with the boat in nearby Fowey in a little while where he will rejoin David along with his daughter to sail the boat on to Falmouth in the morning. I am once again passing on the sailing experience. It’s not that I don’t enjoy sailing because I do, but I dislike being in a small space with other people for most overnight experiences. This was definitely an issue during my time in the army and one I am glad I have some control over now.

I have such empathy for the 33 miners in Chile who are “2700 feet underground in a space the side of a large living room.” If it were me, I would be eating those antidepressants they’re sending down by the fistful and to top it all off some of those poor men have to lose weight to even fit through the two foot wide exit tunnel. Gracious! I cannot imagine the nightmares they must be having. I wonder what I would do to make it through the four months they say it might take to reach them. Can you imagine it … four months underground, limited contact with the outside world, and the stress of such a small space. I want to hear their stories when they reach the surface … don’t you.

The Dance Of Life

John lifted this image from a 1953 movie that his cousin Mary mentioned when she was here a few weeks ago. She is only in Will Any Gentleman for a few minutes, but you can’t miss the Cancan scene where Mary who was a professional dancer for more than twenty years is kicking up her heels. During her career, she danced with the Ballet Rambert, which is the UK’s oldest established dance company and still considered one of the world’s most renowned.

Take a look at the six women above and see if you can pick Mary out of the chorus line. (I’ll tell you which one is her at the end of this post) John found the movie online and ordered it almost as quickly as he heard Mary’s story when she was here for Christmas. We had a great time figuring out which one was Mary after it arrived. She would have been about 29 or 30 when this film was made and having just turned 87 we thought it might be a bit of a challenge to pick her out of the group based on how she looks now.

By slowing the movie down and viewing the scene frame by frame, it was very easy to see which woman is Mary. Despite the fact that her high kicking days are long past, Mary’s graceful movements as an 87 year old are still very similar to her much younger self.

It’s there in the angle of her head when she is listening to a conversation and you see it in the fluid rhythm of her hand gestures when she is telling a story. The lovely posture you see on her wedding day below is still very evident today.

David Levack & Mary Bench 1948

In addition to aging with grace and intelligence, Mary has not lost her taste for adventure as you can see by her decision to get close to the water’s edge on a blustery day when the sea at Trebarwith Strand was really rough.

I was a bit nervous thinking that as tiny as she is she might blow over, but John persuaded me not to hover and Mary was just fine.

I climbed up these rocks to catch the view of the ocean from a higher location and to my surprise …

I turned around to see John (no surprise there) coming up the rocks with Mary close behind him.

Remember what I said about adventure … she didn’t even need help going back down. My idea of what 87 looks like went through some major shifts during Mary’s visit.

This view waits for those who climb the path.

I saved this one for the last because of how absolutely beautiful Mary looks here. On Boxing Day, the day after Christmas, John and Mary went to Falmouth to go sailing with his brother David and his family. I stayed behind for some rest and missed all the fun, but John came home with some video so I could see how the day went and then created this still image of Mary from it. (The Cancan dancer second from the right is Mary, John’s adventurous, still stepping cousin.)

What Remains


1948 Bringing In The Milk

A young boy about 7 or 8 walks with his little brother as they follow the tall man into the garage to see what waits inside. Watching intently, he listens as his cousin seventeen years his senior explains patiently and carefully that the boat they’re standing in front of is a varnished, clinker built, sailing dinghy. The boy has never seen one this close before, but he knows from the excitement in his cousin’s voice that this is very special to him. He listens and tries to remember as this kind man takes time to explain the purpose and names of the riggings and fittings. His little brother fidgets beside him too young to absorb much of what is being said. Only 3, his brother won’t remember this day, but later he’ll help his older brother as they build the first of two dinghies when they are only 9 and 13. When they’re grown men, they’ll each buy their own sailboats, but still sail together at times, as they explore the Cornish coastline not too from the Bristol Channel where they first rowed the dinghy they built together as children.


Two Lads In The Dinghy Built In 1956


John Winchurch 1956

Mom Takes A Ride In The New Dinghy

Mom Takes A Ride In The New Dinghy With David

It’s this early childhood memory that John will recall 6o years later when he stands before about 30 or so of his cousin Michael’s family and friends as they gather together to share stories of this erudite man whose sense of humor generally made him the life and soul of any party. After his memorial service, they’ll all gather round to look at the photographs that various people will bring to share. Most will contain images of Michael, some from 50 years ago like the one below when he served as best man at the marriage of John Collins and his late wife.

Michael J. Bench - Best Man- 1959 (Far Left In Photo)

Michael J. Bench - Best Man - 1959 (Far Left In Photo)

After sharing his childhood memory of Michael, John will listen with great interest as John Collins, the groom above tells him how he met Michael when they were architecture students and how together with another friend they’d bought the dinghy that Michael had shown the boys in the garage all those years ago. John Collins will say he was interested to hear the dinghy mentioned during the memorial service and he how he can’t quite remember what happened to it. He’ll also add how it came to be in that particular garage when the three of them owned it jointly. Being students still, Michael was the only one with a place to store it and so it was there… tucked in the garage of Michael’s parents, Auntie Millie and Uncle Horace when John and his brother David visited the Bench family around 1948.

John And Cousin Mary, Remembering With Michael's Friends

John And Cousin Mary, Remembering With Michael's Friends

This picture probably more than any other reminds me of the day and how in the end what remains are the memories and stories we share. Michael was well loved and there were many conversations as we talked and talked lingering even as we moved towards our cars reluctant to have the day be at an end. Mary was not really interested in being photographed as so many of us are particularly as we get older, but this sweet photograph of her alone is one I just had to share because with her brother Michael’s recent death and the loss of their younger brother two years ago, in their circle of three, she is what remains now.

Mary Bench Levack

Mary Bench Levack