The tidal Ipswich River was a play place for my father Sumner and his two brothers, Frank and Roger. One game the brothers played, as the tide turned, was to run down to end of the pier, jump, and grab for a moored dory’s swinging stern.

Pump elbows, piston knees, swim if you miss.

Frank and Sumner have jumped and grabbed; they inch over to the gunwales to free up the stern for Roger.

He misses.

He sinks, bobs up, sinks. They reach for him, but Roger’s arms and legs pinwheel as he dangles under a tree of hair.

Suddenly a grown-up is in the water, grabbing Roger’s arm. He heaves him onto the dock. Roger throws up water and starts to cry.

You a’right? the man drawls, squinting down at him. Roger nods and slicks back his hair. Frank and Sumner dog paddle to the dock and pull themselves up. The man walks away.

Red Hinckley!  whispers Sumner.

The n’er-do-well?  Roger hiccups.

Yeah! marvels Frank.

The brothers decide that since Roger hasn’t drowned they won’t tell their parents what happened.

Some years later, Louisa, their mother, looks up from the paper and says, Red Hinckley died. She tsk-tsks and peers over at Frank–the father, not the son.

He looks up from his reading and sighs. Too bad he never amounted to anything, always disappointed his poor mother. Just a N’er-do-well. 

The brothers are at the kitchen table doing homework. They look at each other. Sumner clears his throat after getting a nod from Roger and Frank.

Well, Dad, not exactly he begins; and, as Louisa and Frank’s mouths fall open, he recounts Red’s act of valor.

The effect of the story on their parents stuns the boys.

And you NEVER told us?

Well, Roger was okay, and…

But you never TOLD?

Dad, it ended all right. Roger wasn’t even scared. 

But what about Red Hinckley?

This question stops the boys’ protests mid-stride.

Er, what about Red?

Yes, you never thought about him, did you?  His good deed might have been the stick that altered the course of his life’s river. But you hid it. Instead of being the town’s N’er-do-well he could have been its hero. We would have greeted him with handshakes every time we saw him. Instead? We and the rest of town crossed to the other side of the street to avoid him. Just think what he might have become, but didn’t. All because of you three and your sin of omission.

My father told that story dozens of times when he thought we were not telling him something he needed to know: When he wanted the whole story of a late night date. When a teacher called to complain. When the car came back with a dent. Or, he told it BEFORE the date, or school, or an outing that was to happen. As a warning. Beware the sin; and, then, beware the sin of omission.

PATTY (Sumner’s Daughter) 3/19/13

Frank, Sumner, Rogersumner2

17 thoughts on “Sins of Omission: A Story of Brothers and Their Secret from Almost 100 Years Ago. (A 500-Word Piece from the Raymond Family Stories Series, by the 420-Character, 9-Liner Woman Who Writes for WWWW.)

  1. I so love family stories, especially the ones that get told and retold and might change a bit over the years. Or not. Do your sisters tell the same version? How about your own children? Can they tell it like you did? Do they tell it to their own children?


    1. Interestingly enough, Dad enjoyed this story so much HE’s the one who let it evolve. But I don’t find this surprising. I mean, as a 35, 45, 55-year old father he was telling a story that happened when he was probably 8-years old. Lots of old selves in that leaf litter. I’ll see how my sisters and brothers remember this story. I imagine the story is different, but not so different as a story about something that actually HAPPENED to myself and my siblings. I’ve told and re-told this story so often, it’s sort of become MINE. (I told it recently this week end at a family wedding* out West. It was Jack’s family and they all said, “good story.”) As for does the younger generation tell the story? I don’t know if they’re as concerned about sinning, I’m happy to say. 🙂
      *Why I was compelled to tell a sin story at a wedding amazes me even now. Hmmm.


  2. What a powerful message your family story carries. You almost let it tell itself… therein lies its straightforward effectiveness. Thank you.


    1. Ronnie,
      The original of this story was almost 900 words. My goal was to improve it by sizzling the fat out of it at 500 words, er degrees. It read easier and easier as I pulled out more and more “favorite” parts, parts that helped support me as I did the original draft, but in the end? Well, in the end I didn’t need them.


  3. Incredible story, Patty, and strong message. It stands well on its own but, to know the principals, as you do, adds a level of gravitas, making it so much more meaningful.
    Reminds me of Boo Radley. Though vastly different situations and people, a child is saved by a person who doesn’t want or care about the spotlight.


  4. Patty, The purpose of story is to elevate the human condition and affect the reader.
    You sure did accomplish that with this reader! Congratulations!!!!!


  5. I’m big on these sticks and how they can change the course of things. It helps me think one person can make a difference, that sort of thing. (At least I hope this is s,o and that it isn’t a wistful Pollyanna-type default setting that I’m set at to stave off thoughts of disaster.)


  6. Hi Sarah,
    I just grin when I picture my father telling us this story, but just out of sight of my memory is whatever Evil Thing one of us had been up to that prompted Dad to trot the story out–as if one of the seven of us could actually do ANYTHING evil.


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