Brice Stump: Skipjack book allows public reconnection

Capt. Stan Daniels is just about to get his hands on the dredge when George Mister Jr., yells to Brad Mason, right, to help him, Jeff Faber, center, and Kevin Bullis Jr. save the slipping dredge. A cluttered deck, tight working quarters and a team that was “give out,” made for a dangerous scenario.

As fast as it came, so has it left, Christmas 2017.

Yet there are still decorated trees with colored lights, greens on the mantel and candles remaining in the windows. Christmas in some homes lingers with plenty of homemade cookies to be eaten, holiday music yet to enjoy and quiet, slow evenings in front of a fire to savor.

During the busy shopping days leading to Christmas, I have been out and about, meeting folks. As many readers may know, I have been at Barbs’ Gift and Hallmark Store in Salisbury for several Saturdays, autographing copies of my “Working Skipjacks of Deal Island” book.

In the weeks before Christmas I had also been busy filling orders that needed to be mailed.

During my recent interview with Charlie Paparella, for his weekly Travel’s With Charlie segment on WBOC-TV, he asked me about my reasons for creating the skipjack book. There were two things that I said to him about the motivation behind the project.

One, that it was simply “fate” or my “destiny” to have produced the first definitive pictorial book on several skipjacks and, second, that it was my Christmas gift to the people of the Eastern Shore.

What I did not know, until the writing of this column this week, was just how important this book would become in my life.

I was able to do this book because I had the time to tackle it following my retirement from The Daily Times in March 2015. I was with the paper for 36 years as a consistent award-winning photographer and writer. I took considerable pride in my photographs, my stories and in the last 8 years at the paper, my weekly column.

While I had known for years that folks enjoyed my feature stories, it was the columns that endeared me to so many readers.

In the months after leaving the paper, I have had so many people tell me how much they missed the column. Certainly, I was and am appreciative of so many kind words. Yet it took the book to really impress on me the depth of interest readers had for my words.  

By Christmas 2016 I had no idea that a skipjack book was in my immediate future.

Then, by Jan. 2, 2017, I was on Deal Island taking pictures. Within a few weeks it began to dawn on me that there was something very peculiar and striking about the project. Not only were things going surprisingly well, they were going really well and without a single problem.

As the months passed, things continued to be almost perfect, so much so that I began to wonder what in the world was going on.

By August 2016 the book was finished. Looking back, there wasn’t a single problem in getting the thousands of photos I needed to produce the book. Having two perfect photo days is remarkable, as any photographer will tell you. Eight months of a winning streak is impossible, incredible, and unbelievable, but it happened. I remain convinced that this project was destiny, pure and simple.

Then, one day earlier this month, “the book” began to open my eyes.

I was in the Deal Island Post Office mailing books and talking to the postmaster when an older woman came in and was waiting her turn. The postmaster was telling her about the book, she hadn’t seen it, and I went to the car to get a copy for her to look at.

No, she said, she certainly didn’t know the book was out. While paying my bill, the lady at the far counter was looking at the cover and asked me was I Brice Stump. “Sure am,” I said.

And then, the dear lady walked up to me, wrapped her arms around my waist, buried her face deep in my jacket and cried. A minute passed, then another. Then another.

I hugged her, too, not knowing why she was holding me tight and crying.

She looked up at me and said, “You’re the one who wrote those columns.” Then she cried some more.

It seems that a few years ago she was going through some serious problems in her life, and my columns, she said, brought comfort to her.

At a recent book signing, a lady stood in line waiting for me to sign her book, and as she got closer I thought I saw a thin glistening trail of a tear on her cheek.

Then I knew why. Those columns, she said, meant so much to her.

All these years I appreciated people for reading my column. But I never knew just what they meant to so many readers. I am a little person in a big picture, and I had no idea just how important I would be in some hearts. It is a humbling experience indeed to have people share their thoughts from the heart. I know it has changed my life.

At a recent book-related event in a church, a lady came up to my pew, leaned over and whispered, “You don’t know how much I miss your writings.” Standing there, she started to cry. It was all I could do to keep from crying as well.

“The book” has brought me closer to people who have made me appreciate life and love. When people share kind words with me, I really, truly, know now where these words are coming from.

I have met a lot of special people on this project, from skipjack crewmen to customers sharing tales with me about their families maritime backgrounds on the Chesapeake Bay.

Within recent months the skipjack book was bought by a number of folks, initially Deal Islanders, but now by many people. Even people who don’t know anything about skipjacks are buying this book.

They say they are grateful that this special book was done. I feel grateful that this book has made me appreciate so many wonderful people.

It really was destiny.

I have also met people who have made me laugh. A man came in to buy a book and asked that I inscribe a small note. The book was his wife’s Christmas gift.

“What is your wife’s tie-in to skipjacks?” I asked.

“There isn’t any,” he said, laughing. “But I know I’m going to love it.”

Brice Stump will be at Barb’s Hallmark Store, in the Twilley Shopping Centre in Salisbury, again this Saturday from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m., autographing books for those who didn’t get one for Christmas.


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