Chapter 16:

"We Will Just Sail Away"


Josephine Beale was a pretty, slender girl with soft, dark blonde hair, an enthusiastic smile and inquisitive blue-grey eyes when Townsend Brown first came to her attention during her junior year at Lash High School in Zanesville. “I’d see him around town,” she recounted. "It was rumored that he was quite a scientist, some kind of genius, like the second coming of Einstein or something. He had is own laboratory, and it was supposed to be even better equipped than the chemistry lab in my school.” And she knew that this young man was future heir to one of the town’s more prominent families. Beyond that, Josephine knew of Townsend Brown only what she heard from her gossipy girlfriends.

Josephine had first caught Townsend’s eye while performing in a school play, which he attended at the invitation of a younger friend, Wilbur, who was a classmate of Josephine’s. For whatever reason, Wilbur thought that his older friend Townsend and his classmate Josephine might find each other interesting.

Josephine didn’t know what to make of it when her girlfriends began telling her that Townsend Brown had been asking about her. As enticing as the rumor of Townsend Brown’s interest may have been, there was also something very unsettling about it: Everyone in town knew who he was and seemed to take great delight in gossiping about his activities.

Josephine had heard all kinds of stories: That he owned his own cruiser — a refitted pilot boat called “The Viking” — out on Buckeye Lake, where he spent long hours either working on the boat, or sailing one of the four racing sailboats his family kept at the snooty Yacht Club on the lake's north shore. There were even more rumors about Townsend’s friend, the devilishly handsome Paul Grey, who had earned a reputation as the town’s Lothario. The gossip mill ground on with stories: Paul Grey getting stopped by the police for being intoxicated, Paul Grey throwing wild parties out at the lake. Her girlfriends giggled whenever they mentioned Paul Grey and Townsend Brown. And now that same gossip mill was starting to focus on Josephine Beale, and that made Josephine vaguely uncomfortable.

She tried to toss it all of as school-girl gossip, but nevertheless devised a contingency plan: If the rumors were true, if indeed Townsend Brown had been asking “is Josephine Beale seeing anyone in particular?” then surely she would run into him sooner or later, perhaps as she was walking home from school. In the meantime, she rehearsed how she would politely rebuff him by saying, in her most ladylike manner, “well, thank your Mr. Brown, but I’m just not dating this year…”

But the imagined encounter never quite happened. Each day, Josephine would find herself walking home slowly. When a big car would turn down the road, she remembered that the Brown family had several big cars, all handled by neatly uniformed drivers. But none of the passing cars ever stopped. By the time Josephine reached her front steps she had decided that her thoughts of talking to Townsend Brown then, or ever, were a flight of her own fancy. He was not going to come sweeping down to charm her out of her boring small town existence. It surprised her that she had become so preoccupied with such a silly, romantic notion.

* * *

Josephine’s father was Clifford Beale, a prosperous and well-regarded local physician who occasionally indulged his avocational interest in woodcraft by taking on carpentry projects. As the Beale family prepared for dinner one night, Dr. Beale began describing an inquiry he’d had that day about a carpentry project.

"I had an interesting visitor today" Dr. Beale started. "That young man Townsend Brown came to ask what I would charge to build a custom curio cabinet for his mother’s birthday. He mentioned that he had seen you at school."

Feigning disinterest, Josephine turned slowly to listen to her Father. He watched her carefully for a moment; It seemed she was holding her breath, waiting for him to continue. "He asked about you,” Dr. Beale said. “Well, more precisely, he asked my permission to call on you."

There was a moment of stunned silence and then the words just burst out her her: “Poppa, are you serious? He came here? What did he say? Oh Poppa! You don't know what everyone is saying about him! I can't believe that he would have the nerve to come straight to you like this!”

Dr. Beale seemed pleasantly amused by his daughter’s startled reaction. Had someone finally shown up in his daughter’s life who might shake her out of her otherwise carefully ordered existence?

“Don't be so quick to believe what others say,” Dr. Beale said, lighting his pipe. "This fellow seems nice enough. He made quite an effort to ask my permission in the most proper way. He stressed that you could select a chaperone if you wanted to." He took a slow draw on his pipe, and as the sweet smell of his own special blend filled the air, he smiled knowingly at his daughter and added, “But I don’t think that will be necessary.”

* * *

Their first date was a picnic on the shore of Buckeye Lake, west of Zanesville. In a fitting prelude to their future together, Townsend managed showed up late, having found it difficult to pull himself away from whatever had engaged his attention that morning in his laboratory. Josephine acted indifferent when her suitor finally came calling in the family’s snazzy, chauffeur-driven Packard. Keeping her waiting, she figured, was just another expression of this young man’s playboy persona, and she was certainly not going to give him the satisfaction of thinking that she had been even slightly phased by his tardiness.

Their second date, in the spring of 1927, was the more memorable of their early encounters. It began with Townsend showing Josephine around his private laboratory, which she found impressive even if she understood little of what he was showing her. After another chauffeured drive out to the Buckeye Lake Yacht Club, he took her sailing on his gaff-ringged, cat-boat day-sailor, the “TomCat.” Josephine tried to tease him about the name, but Townsned just laughed and swore that was the name of the boat when he’d bought it.

It was a perfect day for sailing, Josephine recalled later, warm and clear with a light zephyr chasing over the water. She was new to sailing, but took naturally to the trim wooden boat; Townsend showed her the ropes, and even gave her a turn at the tiller.

“See that area over there, the ripples on the water?” Townsend said. “There’s more wind over there, try to steer toward it.” And when she did, they little boat picked up the fresh breeze and accelerated over the surface of the water.

Between the visit to the lab in the morning and the time they spent on the lake that afternoon, Josephine began to get a sense of the unique world that Townsend Brown inhabited within his own fertile imagination. “We talked about everything that day,” Josephine would later tell Linda. “And I kept watching him and noticing how wonderful and blue his eyes were. He was very handsome and so tanned and when he smiled at me I just lit up inside…”

“My previous impressions of him just melted away that day. He was nothing like that other fellow I’d seen him with. He was quiet and sweet and kind of shy. He talked of things that were so far away from Zanesville! He told me how beautiful California was, and how much fun it was on the St. Johns River in Florida.”

After his experience with Millikan and the others in California, Townsend was still gun-shy about discussing his own ideas with anybody. But with Josephine, he was beginning to sense that he’d found the one person he could trust with his innermost secrets. Since he had first asked Dr. Beale if he might call on her, he’d watched her, apprehensively, from a distance, fully expecting some sign of dismissal, contempt or betrayal — a snide remark to a girlfriend, some silly rumor that might start circulating about that crazy Townsend Brown — but nothing she ever said or did revealed any urge to divulge any of the confidences he had shared with her.

After another maneuver, with their course once again set for the farthest shores of the lake, Townsend began to tell Josephine about some of the unusual dreams he’d been having, and about the strange ideas that came to him in his sleep that he was then inspired to investigate in his laboratory.

“He didn’t have any one there to just listen to him, so that was my role from the first,” Josephine told Linda. “I didn’t understand half of what he was trying to explain to me. In fact, I think it took a couple of weeks before the importance of what he was telling me to began to sink in. I just knew that it was the most important information that I probably would ever hear, and here was a man who was going to need me — probably for the rest of his life. And that was pretty heady stuff."

Indeed, their personal chemistry was beginning bubble as the little sail boat skimmed across the surface of Buckeye Lake. Josephine tried to lighten the mood just a bit.

“OK, Mr. Smarty,” Josephine teased. “If you could travel through time, what do you think you will find in the future? Will there be more wars? What will become of Mankind in the future?” And the young dreamer with the tiller in one hand and the mainsheet in the other knew it was time to share a vision he had seen in his dreams.

“We will just sail away,” he said, his hand steady on the tiller, his gaze steady beyond the bowsprit.

“What do you mean,” she asked.

“Someday, men will travel in space, just as easily as we are sailing now,” he smiled. Great ships will silently push away from the Earth just as easily as this sail boat pushed away from the dock.”

Josephine sat in silence for a lingering moment, listening to the gentle sound of the water lapping against the planks. She closed her eyes and tried to imagine their little boat sailing across the void of space. Somehow, she knew she was hearing something strange, fantastic… and true.

She opened her eyes and smiled and said softly, “Mr. Brown, you are different, aren’t you?”

Townsend studied her face with a puzzled look. Was this criticism, or a back-handed compliment?

Josephine smiled.

After another knowing moment, Townsend smiled back.. That was pretty much it for me,” she recalled. “I was a gone goose!”

When they got back to the yacht club, Townsend took Josephine home, and left her on the doorstep without so much as a kiss on her cheek.

“That night, I couldn’t sleep,” Josephine recounted. “So I knew what I was going through!”

"Yes,” Linda thought to herself, as she listened to her mother that morning as the sun rose over Ashlawn. She was thinking about her own experience earlier that night with Morgan, and she knew exactly what her mother was talking about.


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