Cuttyhunk Lighthouse, 1891, photo courtesy US Coast Guard

Cuttyhunk Lighthouse, 1891, photo courtesy US Coast Guard

In August, 1944,  the family of Cuttyhunk, Massachusetts Lighthouse Keeper Octave Ponsart planned a joint birthday and beach party to celebrate the birthday of Uncle Gene and cousin Connie.

Due to sugar rationing, Mrs. Ponsart spent weeks saving enough sugar to make birthday cakes for the special occasion, not even allowing her husband to put sugar in his coffee.

The country was engaged in war, so the island had become home to three military installations, and visitors from the mainland were rarely allowed. The restrictions made the upcoming party even more exciting for the family, as well as, the highlight of their summer.

Seamond Ponsart, the youngest daughter, could hardly contain her enthusiasm as the day neared. The perfect place on the island had been chosen – a little cove with its own beach where everyone could swim, then enjoy a clam and lobster bake afterwards on the shore. Uncle Gene and his family brought fresh corn and potatoes to add to the dinner, a feast quite rare during rationing times.

Mrs. Ponsart made two frosted cakes – one for each birthday person, fighting off intruding fingers as she protected her masterpieces. She shooed everyone out of the kitchen and hid the cakes in the pantry until it was time to take them to the beach.

Cuttyhunk Keeper Octave Ponsart (photo courtesy Seamond Ponsart Roberts)

Cuttyhunk Keeper Octave Ponsart (photo courtesy Seamond Ponsart Roberts)

Since it was so hot outside, dinner would be served at night, cooked over a fire pit on the beach. Uncle Gene had even brought marshmallows, a precious treat to add to the celebration. Finally, the food was ready and everyone sat down to enjoy their special meal. While eating, the partiers heard the sound of bombers flying over as they did each night at the same time heading for a deserted island five miles away. The planes would drop flares on the island which the next wave of bombers would use as targets for bombing practice.

All proceeded as usual as the beach-goers watched the flares being dropped over the other island. However, just as “Happy Birthday,” was being sung, bombs began falling on their beach! Sand was flying, and people were yelling as they scrambled toward the keeper’s house where Mr. Ponsart told them to hide in the cellar. Meanwhile, he ran to the crank telephone and called the Coast Guard, demanding the bombing be stopped.

Apparently, the second wave of planes had mistaken the fires of the birthday party for the flares. Thank God, no one on the beach was hurt, and the next day the families were amazed to see bombs stuck in the sand and craters in the ground, including one in Mrs. Ponsart’s pansy garden. Besides the fear, anger and shock of the incident, a few upset chickens, and sandy cakes (which someone had grabbed), no serious damage was done, and none of the structures had been hit.

The experience was definitely not the birthday party that had been planned.

This story made me think about another birthday – Christmas, which is the date we celebrate Jesus’s human birth, His birthday on earth. I wonder how many people will celebrate His party, knowing it is His they are celebrating. And I wonder what kind of party He would like us to have for Him?

“Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.” Luke 2:10-11

How do you intend to celebrate Jesus’s birthday?




*Thanks to Seamond Ponsart Roberts for the story in her book, Everyday Heroes, The True Story of a Lighthouse Family.