Nino leaned over the side of the Stella and watched, fascinated, until the fish disappeared. “Good luck,” the midget observed to himself. “Porpoise mean lucky fishing.”
Leaving the wheel for a moment, Gino checked the navigational charts in the cabin behind him. In less than an hour the Stella should reach the Benito Island banks. He had tried them on the downward trip unsuccessfully, but this time might do it.
Aside from a hitch in the Navy, Gino had spent all his productive years on the boat. As a boy he had made several trips with his father during summer vacations. But his father’s increasing arthritic condition, aggravated by a life on the sea, forced Gino to quit school at 15 and join the crew of the Stella.
Gino was openly relieved to be freed of school drudgery. He hated struggling through math and science classes, but he actually dreaded English and the complexities of unraveling a language he seldom spoke at home. In school he felt crushed by the brightness of other students about him. His mind was not a superior one, and Gino realized his future did not lie in higher education. He rebelled inwardly, feeling and knowing that school was postponing the inevitable. Educated or not, he would wind up a fisherman.
It was largely the stubborn insistence of Mamma DeMarino that forced Gino to continue through his sophomore year. Her dream at that time was to see at least one of her children with a high school diploma, but even she had to give in reluctantly to the demand for support.
As such, Gino was only following the path of his neighborhood friends. Most of the young boys in San Diego’s Italian colony had long since deserted their schoolbooks for fishing gear. The average one had not finished junior high, some not even grammar school, but already many of them were earning what seemed to Gino incredible salaries.
Gino entered his new, full-time career with gusto. He wanted to learn every secret the ocean had waiting for the fisherman. He wanted to see his father’s pride as he grew in skill and knowledge. He wanted to hear his friends praise and envy him. And he wanted to make money. Exactly why, he didn’t know or care. But with enough money he could get himself and his parents luxuries and a better life. Perhaps that was reason enough to want and need money. And he would certainly never get it while in school.
Although controlling interest in the Stella del Mare lay with the Calpatria Cannery, management had always been in the hands of the DeMarino family. Gaetano DeMarino had been a capable skipper. But following his death in an auto accident while Gino was still overseas, the cannery had been hard put to find a suitable replacement. For two years the Stella suffered an unbroken string of long, poor trips during the lush war years when tuna seemed inexhaustible and the price was high. The Stella began to bear the reputation of a “hard luck” boat. It had gone into debt to the extent that the cannery seriously considered tying it up at the wharf and absorbing the loss through other boats.
Gino returned home after three years in the Navy. Physically he had changed little except for a slightly broken nose. It was Gino’s sole memento of the war, a souvenir of some dim, drunken brawl at a ship’s party. He was conscious of his broken nose only when the dank ocean air made breathing difficult.
Emotionally, however, Gino had undergone what was for him an uncomfortable awakening. His associations with thousands of other men had jolted him into realizing his educational and social poverty.
He felt drawn to the clusters of men who engaged in bull sessions aboard ship, but in trying to become a part of them Gino found he had little to contribute. Women, liquor, and fishing were his world. So long as the first two topics were under dissection he could join the others. Fishing, at least the type of fishing he knew, was seldom brought up. When world events or politics or scientific advancement or a dozen other topics found their way into the discussions, Gino floundered.
Socially it was as bad. Let the men brag of jobs they had waiting for them on the outside, of plans for getting rich after the war, and Gino would hesitate before admitting that he wanted only to go back to fishing. Who ever heard of a fisherman being anybody? Some of his buddies even felt sorry for him; somehow they thought he had more ambition than to be just another wop fisherman.
Gino had reacted in the only way he knew, the same as when he had quit school. He would make himself the best damn fisherman in the fleet. Then, with money, he would move into the fine American world that everyone prized.
And Gino found himself unexpectedly dissatisfied when he thought of his own return home to the fishing colony that stubbornly adhered to its traditional life while the rest of San Diego changed.
The cannery heads were more than willing to turn over management of the Stella del Mare to Gino. They quickly offered to sell him another interest in the boat and to guarantee him complete control over its operation. To them Gino spelled profit. The young man accepted eagerly. For the first time he now had a definite goal in his fishing. Added to that was a new responsibility that had been thrust upon him; he was male head of the DeMarino family and therefore responsible for its support.
By the time he was 25 Gino had had phenomenal luck as skipper of the Stella del Mare. More often than not the rugged young fisherman brought in a full load, usually in less than a month, never over seven weeks. The shriveled old men who sat near the wharf pilings and talked of early days of fishing, days before their sons had taken over with larger and still larger tuna boats, would nod and agree: Gino’s luck couldn’t keep up. But somehow it did until it became a maxim that if the Stella didn’t make a good trip, no other boat could.