Shelly Slythmore, born in 1900 in Pendleton, Oregon, had quite the life! When she was 12 years of age, she lived with her father on the Steel Bridge. When Shelly was in her mid 20s, she received her first Masters degree (in history) and used her knowledge to save the city of Portland from two dueling ghosts. Shelly was a noted historian, and held advanced degrees in botany, folklore, and even mathematics. In a time when women were expected to stay home and be good little wives, Shelly pursued knowledge and had many great and grand adventures.
Despite Shelly Slythmore and her life, full of adventure and learning, at age 65, there’s so many things she regretted. Shelly was never a popular person – especially in her high school and undergrad years. Shelly suffered from almost crippling social anxiety, so she often stayed home and studied instead of socializing. Why, there was that time her sophomore year of college. Shelly got invited to the big end of year dance. Shelly refused, saying she did not like the theme (Undersea adventure). She made an excuse about the theme being in poor taste – The Titanic had sank ten years prior, and The Great War had just ended – with so many casualties at sea. It was disrespectful! Shelly even lied to herself – stating (in her mind) the real reason for not liking the theme was that classmates in grade school always called her shelly shellfish. But the truth was simple: Shelly was terrified of dances. So instead of going out, all dressed up, Shelly stayed in and changed into her pajamas.
Another regret in Shelly Slythmore’s life – her involvement with the giant ghosts of the South Park Blocks. Sure, the city was in danger, but those two ghosts now entrapped in bronze – this was her idea. Maybe there was some other way. Maybe these ghosts would seek vengeance if they ever escaped! Oh the anxiety! Shelly made it a point to visit the giant statues of Abraham Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt at least once a week because of her trepidations. Shelly even talked to the statues. She’d asked the ghosts how they felt about being encompassed in bronze. Shelly often explained to the ghosts why she suggested the bronze encasing – that they would have destroyed the city. Mostly though, Shelly talked to the ghosts as they were close friends. She’d tell them about her day, about the news of the world, and whatever project she happened to be working on. She had colleagues a plenty, but not too many close friends, so the ghosts filled this void in Shelly’s life.
One spring day in 1965, Shelly walked to the statue of Abraham Lincoln. She started speaking to Abe, telling him about the civil rights movement. As Shelly mentioned Martin Luther King Jr’s march In Selma, she felt a tap on her shoulder. As she turned around, Shelly saw her colleague Doug Meathernly – a marine scientist, who was just offered a position Newport, Oregon. Oregon State University’s Marine Science Center had just opened and he had his pick of projects.
“Shelly Slythmore!” He Yelled.” Guess where I’m going right now?” he excitedly, even nerdily asked without giving Shelly a chance to respond… “On a submarine! Like, right now! It’s docked on the waterfront.”
“Really?” Shelly responded, almost monotone.
“Yep – a buddy of mine at the institute is taking me for a joy ride up and down the Willamette. I could probably get you on board if you’re interested.”
Shelly thought for a moment….she hated being spontaneous. Even more so, an enclosed space with people sounded like hell. Still…the idea seemed tempting and interesting.
“Oh what the hell, why not.” Shelly said excitedly, surprising both herself and Doug.
Ok, let’s go then!
The two walked the 9 or 10 blocks down to the bank of the river, and there it was….a tiny four man sub. The pair boarded the vessel, Shelly noticed the walls of the sub were goldfish in nature. Very peculiar – almost yellow in fact.
As the submarine departed, Shelly started panicking, but a sudden calm came over her as she looked through the window. She saw the most beautiful fish she’d ever seen! Was it red? Purple? No…it was blue….but kind of green. The fish had fins that spread for seven feet at least, and a smile on its face. The fish jetted off, and then another passed by….and another. Was there a school of large, peculiar looking, yet beautiful fish in the Willamette that no one knew about? And why were they in such a hurry? Where were they going?
Shelly saw the Steel Bridge up above her. She always got a warm feeling from “her bridge” as she called it.” She once tried to sneak back up into the machine house – but was arrested for trespassing. Shelly swore that one day she would visit her former home again, be it illegal or not.
Further down the Willamette, the green water turned to black, as the submarine dove down depths to where the sun could not reach. The vessel dove so deep, Shelly wondered why they didn’t hit the seabed. The Willamette was only about 40 feet deep, yet the sub kept diving further and further down.
Suddenly, a giant squid swam past the sub, and then a whale. Shelly watched in awe, as the two giant creatures began to….dance with each other. Music played…but from where? And what’s this light? There were spotlights coming from the sky. Shelly realized she was no longer on the sub, but on a dance floor. Shelly’s clothes were different….she wore a ball gown. And she felt younger….forty years younger at least!
A shy swordfish approached Shelly, walking on his tail fins, and reaching out with his pectoral fins as though they were arms.
“Would….would you like to dance?”
Shelly Slythmore and the fish danced to what sounded like Doris Day – only not Doris Day. The singer was a Tuna and Doris Day was…well…human. Shelly tried to rationalize what was going on, but realized she didn’t care. She had seen other things that couldn’t be explained (like the giant ghosts), and this dance was a lot of fun! Who knew one could dance with a swordfish at the bottom of the river? Heck, who knew a swordfish could even survive in freshwater? Aren’t they an Ocean dwelling fish? Don’t they need saltwater?
An hour or so later, the dance was over… Shelly felt wet. Drenched in fact. Her vision got blurry, and when she refocused… Shelly realized she was right in front of the statue of Abraham Lincoln. It was pouring down rain…and Shelly was soaked from head to toe. The whole submarine thing…that…that was that just a hallucination? A daydream? But it all felt so real.
As Shelly gathered her wits, she heard a voice….a deep, ethereal voice. It seemed to come from the statue of Abraham Lincoln.
“We forgive you.”
Shelly stopped….stymied. As she walked away, she looked down at her clothing, and realized she was still wearing the formal gown from the undersea dance. She fetched a compact from her handbag, and looked in the mirror. The face she saw was not her own….at least not anymore. She looked as though she were 25 again.
“Did…did the ghosts just give me a gift? Did they throw a dance for me…and did they restore my youth?
Where is Shelly Slythmore now?
None of Shelly Slythmore’s associates believed her of course, though they all treated her as a younger gal from then on (as opposed to the 65 year old lady they used to see). This did not surprise Shelly at all, her first experience with the ghosts taught her most people ignore things they can’t understand – especially if it can’t be explained. Her new found youth was something their brains could not handle, so they acted as though Shelly had always been young. Shelly also noticed that she wasn’t so anxious around other people. She still liked to stay home on a Friday night with a good book, but she also made time for people – for friends that were not encased in bronze.
Shelly told this story of the undersea dance to pretty much everyone she knew from that point forward, knowing they only thought of it as a tall tale. A grad student and intern who worked with Shelly met Paul McCartney that August – the only time The Beatles ever played Portland. He told Shelly’s story. A year later, Shelly heard Yellow Submarine for the first time. To this day Shelly wonders if her experience inspired the song.
Oh, yes, Shelly Slythmore is still around. And still young in fact. Shelly uses this gift of youth to its fullest, and finds herself in the clutches of adventure on a regular basis. But those are tales to tell another day.