Salt in Our Blood: The Memoir of a Fisherman's Wife II
Bill Long 3/25/09
Honoring Ben's Memory
But the second half of the memoir isn't just a tribute to grief or an attempt to honor the memory of Ben Eder. It also is a clear-eyed narration of the ways that people were merciful and insensitive in the months following the accident. The state of Oregon's medical examiner, for example, had no desire to move the matter along, to issue a death certificate for Ben, so that the families of the other men who were lost might, too, get their certificates and thus be able to collect needed insurance proceeds. The lawyer for her "own" insurance company (and she repeatedly puts the word "own" in quotation marks, as if to highlight the irony), Nick McDermott, came in for some of her most pointed verbal barbs. She wrote, in a Nov. 20, 2002 entry, addressed to a principal at the insurance company:
"Even before we could hold our son's memorial service (just a week after his death), your company's lawyer, Nick McDermott was faxing pages and pages of detailed demands for information regarding the vessel, our business and crew. While we should ahve been fully engaged in grieving for and honoroing our son and the men of the Nesika, we were frantically gathering information and had to hire an attorney to protect ourselves (i.e., against their "own" insurer)," p. 411.
"As late as February 27, 2002, Nick McDermott, the lawyer for your company, in a face-to-face interview he demanded with my husband, told us the purpose of the interview was still to determine whether the hull claim would be allowed," Ibid.
The claim was allowed and the families were paid by the insurance policy. On a personal note, their experience reminded me of a case I once had when I was an attorney in private practice, where opposing counsel in an underlying case (I was handling an appeal) questioned for months whether a death had really occurred, when witnesses saw a plane plunge into Crater Lake and no bodies emerge.
Conclusion--A Few Words on Ben Eder
Michele writes so well because she feels so deeply, and she thinks so clearly. Through her description she has left us an unforgettable picture of Ben Eder, who was 21 when he lost his life. Ben was precociously curious about life, and wanted to combine his academic learning with deeply experienced life through travel and "learning by hand." Ben graduated near the top of his class from Newport High School in 1998 and then attended Reed College for two years. Either the pressures of Reed (I taught there for six years in the 1980s and was somewhat responsble for putting these pressures on students) or a desire to explore the world led to his transfer to the University of Oregon and a semester "sabbatical" to see South America in 2000-01. Dispatches from South America breathe a spirit of joyful discovery, of freedom, of unbridled enthusiasm for everything human and natural. Typical of his energy and enthusiasm is a letter he sent them from Bolivia on May 9, 2001:
"I have gone back to my old ways after you guys left (hope the trip home went well). I took a 23 hour bus ride to Calama, then went the net morning to San Pedro de Atacama. Soon after my arrival in the beautiful little oasis in the middle of the driest desert on earth, I rented a bike and made it out to the giant sand dune overlooking the surreal valley of the moon to watch the sunset," p. 101.
Can you imagine a person more in love with his life in the world? One of Michele's last entries about Ben described a video sent to her and Bob by Ben's scuba instructor at Reed College. There is a "great shot of Ben coming out of the water." Then she continues:
"He is looking directly into the camer and his eyes sparkle. Ben's body is strong in the wet suit, and his shoulders and arms ripple as he pulls himself up the side of the boat and climbs in. The footage so embodied what Ben was about; the twinkle, the smile, the warmth, and his strength," p. 411.
Michele Eder has given us a gift, but not the type of gift she originally intended to provide.
As authors we always try to develop ways to "control" our material, to reduce the chaos of disordered events in life to the managed care of a thesis or a series of chapters. But often the book "gets away from us," as the gods of the world chuckle at our attempts to confine the unpredictable whoosh of events to a simple ordered narrative. When we truly realize how much grace there is in a book's getting away from us, in letting life and events lead us in our authorial creativity, we begin to understand the joy and discipline of writing in a special way. Michele Eder has certainly demonstrated this in her book. It should find its way into the hearts of any who love the sea but who love more the stories of attachment and grief, of love and loss, that characterize all of our lives.