Dr. Ebling was a retired pediatrician with a sense of humor. Practical jokes were his forte. I could not mention him, even in passing, without sharing a few.
We ran out of food during the first summer cruise that I sailed on with the Sea Scouts. Our ship's cook had convinced himself that he could feed us for nine days for just five dollars each. Dr. Ebling stepped up and offered to feed us out of his own pocket after we ran out of provisions on the third day. For the remaining six, he and his wife fed us peanut butter sandwiches breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Surprisingly, it had no effect on me. I have never lost my love of peanut butter. Incidentally, I volunteered and was appointed ship's cook thereafter. But, that's another story.
Dr. Ebling could improvise a practical joke on the spur of the moment. During a visit to Chrisfield, Maryland, the entire yacht club fleet moored alongside a long dock used by local fishermen to offload their catch of the day into a warehouse nearby. Three of us had become trapped in the ship's dingy under the dock by other members of the crew wielding buckets of ice water. When we refused to come out, three of their number borrowed a dingy with a small outboard motor from one of the yacht club members and came after us. However, we had given them the slip and stationed ourselves on the dock and gave them a good dowsing of ice water when they appears. Half swamped and drenched, they rowed to the center of the harbor to escape us. One of them leaped overboard to swim back causing the dingy to swamp.
Although filled with water, the airtanks fastened under the seats kept it afloat with two boys still sitting inside. Everyone was concerned that the outboard motor would not flood with sea water and began yelling instructions. One voice rose above the rest. It was Dr. Ebling instructing the boys to unclamp the motor and carry it over their heads to the dock. Everyone fell silent and looked at him. We all knew that the water was at least twenty feet deep. When we looked back towards the dingy, we saw one of the boys holding the motor over his head and about to step over the side.
We dove for the motor. It took us about a half hour to locate it in the murky waters, and another two hours to disassemble, clean, and reassemble it. Dr. Edling stood by all the while, sipping on a can of Eslinger's beer (he loved the trivia questions they printed on the cans) offering advice that everyone politely ignored.
On another trip to Cambridge, I contracted tonsillitis and Dr. Ebling sent me off to the pharmacy with a script. It was a mile and a half walk there. The pharmacist looked at me strangely when I presented the script to him. He handed it back saying, “I think someone is pulling your leg, son.”
The prescription instructed him to “dunk this reporbate's head in a jar of castor oil.”
I read the replacement script carefully before making the trek back to the pharmacy.
I was sitting at the clubhouse bar atop the terraces at Sue Island with Dr. Ebling one Saturday afternoon. We were eating crab cake sandwiches with chips. He had a beer and I had a Coke. When a new yacht club member joined us. The new member became curious about a large brandy snifter filled with currency in large denominations sitting on the back bar. It was placed there by one of the wives for a charity she was promoting. However, Dr. Ebling's explanation was something different.
“See that island out there,” he said pointing in the direction of Miller Island.
“Yeah,” the new member responded.
“It's a desolate place,” Dr. Ebling continued. “Just a sand spit barely above the high water mark and swamp.”
“So,” Dr. Ebling explained, “anyone who can spend the night there wins all that money.”
The new member seemed interested. “What's the catch?”
“So what's the bet?”
“Just put a hundred in the snifter and spend the night there.”
“That's all there is to it?”
I was familiar with the good doctor's impromptu jokes and knew enough to keep my attention on my sandwich if I wanted to see how it played out. The bartender was similarly inclined.
After mulling over Dr. Ebling's story, the new member seemed to suspect that something wasn't quite right. “It can't be that hard,” he muttered, almost to himself.
“Nope,” Dr. Ebling agreed.
“Why haven't you done it?”
“Too old,” Dr. Ebling replied softly, examining his sandwich as though one bite might be better than another. “Don't need the money.”
“All a fella needs is some repellant,” the new member speculated. “Maybe a mosquito net. They can't be that bad,” he added, “can they?”
Dr. Ebling shook his head. “They ran this same thing a few years back,” Dr. Ebling told him. “I'm surprised nobody remembers it.”
The new member perked up. “Somebody won it?”
“Yep,” Dr. Ebling replied without missing a beat.
“How'd he do it?”
“Well, the rules say you have to beach your boat on the island,” Dr. Ebling explained. “No problem there. The bottom is sand and the water's deep enough for a cruiser to nudge right up to it.”
The new member nodded his understanding.
The doctor looked around conspiratorially and leaned close to the new member. He looked around, too, and leaned towards the doctor.
“Then he hung a lantern on the stern. Drew all the mosquitoes to it while he slept peacefully on the bow,” Dr. Ebling concluded with a nod and turned back to his lunch.
The new member thanked him with a smile and left after giving the bartender five twenties to put into the snifter.
I hung around that evening after the other scouts went home. Dr. Ebling offered to drop me on his way so that I could stay for the show.
We watched the new member motor to the island that evening, and saw him beach his cruiser on the island.
“He's going to be stuck there in about an hour when the tide goes out,” I observed.
Dr. Ebling nodded and opened another Esslinger's.
We saw the lantern burning brightly at his stern until the mosquitoes arrived. It then disappeared in a dark haze, and we went home.
The bartender told me the next weekend, that the man got his boat off the island at about two the next morning when the tide returned.
Dr. Ebling died when I was still a young adult leader of that Sea Scout Ship, while I was still in Law School. His funeral was well attended by friends and family as well as many Sea Scouts.