Freeing the voices in my head

Posts tagged ‘Danger’

Weird and Wondering

Interaction with the other people in her life was like living in a horror movie.  She knew something very bad was going to happen every hour, day and night.  She wouldn’t be able to stop it, help or escape, and she would be traumatized for the rest of her life.

 

Good morning, world.  The above paragraph has been rattling around in my head.  I think it might be a good beginning for a story, a dark story, but the words and idea don’t want to advance any further.

 

Does it grab the reader? What comes next? Want to write the next paragraph or two or twenty? Go ahead and comment! heh…

 

Well, writing it out and posting it will hopeflly make it stop looping in my head. Have a lovely Sunday! 🙂

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High Peaks Summer

We ate our way up the mountain. Grabbed what we could as we walked and crammed it into our mouths. We didn’t worry about rinsing off any dirt, bird poop, or germs; it had rained last night and the sun hadn’t yet burned off the morning dew. The lush purple goodies were ripe and sweet and irresistible.
Fourteen girls, the current residents of Cabins Six and Seven, on the last summer of childhood before high school, make up, cars and boys, no, we didn’t care. We were still invincible, still innocent, and we were conquering the world. Or least some of it.
Echo Camp for Girls on Raquette Lake in the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York offered a full summer program. Six weeks of swimming, boating, archery, horseback riding, hiking and camping. Arts and crafts, talent shows, and for the older girls, a dance night with the boys from the camp across the lake.
So many choices, so much to do and see and learn, every day structured except for Sundays and yet we didn’t feel restricted or restrained. Our parents paid for all of it, but we could choose; not interested in learning how to survive when your canoe capsizes, well then, use that extra hour to go down to the stables for more time with your favorite horse.
I had made a choice that summer, that last summer, to miss the final dance and go on the week long hiking trip. I wasn’t interested in the boys from the other camp because I had a boyfriend at home. We had shared our first kiss on the last day of eighth grade, the last day of junior high. I was true blue to him, so I chose to climb mountains.
Not just any mountains; these were the Adirondacks and we were climbing five of the highest peaks in the state. We would join an exclusive group of adults who had hiked up these mountains. It was a big deal back then to be part of the High Peak Club.
We started the journey by crossing the broad expanse of Raquette Lake in the camp’s two big motorboats. At the public dock, we piled into three canoes. Our lone camp counselor was Patty from Cabin Six, my counselor and at eighteen, four years older than us and our hero and mentor. We paddled our way to the first stop, put on our backpacks and hoisted upside down canoes on our shoulders to hike into the deep forest.
We dumped everything at the campsite near the first mountain and Patty led us up the trailhead. It was our first challenge – hike the smallest of the High Peaks before we ran out of energy and sunlight. We almost made it.
We reached the summit of Phelps Mountain and marveled at the gorgeous view, nibbled gorp (trail mix), and signed our names in the hiker’s book. Patty found it in a small wooden box nailed to a tree. The little notebook was filled with signatures and had room for many more. Phelps wasn’t a popular hike for day-trippers – it wasn’t steep, but the trail was a find-your-own-way-up once you reached the midway point. Day hikers wanted easily marked and cleared trails. Intrepid adventurers, like us, just scrambled through brush, scraggly trees and around boulders until we reached the top.
After signing my name, I glanced at the opposite page. A familiar name caught my eyes. “Hey, I know this boy! He’s one of Sean’s friends.” I probably blushed saying my steady’s name; Love was brand-new for me and one of the few things I was shy about learning.
Patty leaned over and pointed out the group name at the top. “Boy Scouts. They were here last week.” I smiled, feeling a warm connection to this boy I barely knew, we had climbed the same mountain, this Randy Eldred and I, what a coincidence.
The beginning glory of the sunset spread out before us, so close and breath-taking, was our nudge to return to camp. We scampered down the mountain, laughing and screaming, mere steps ahead of the dark, and landed in breathless heaps at the bottom of the trail. Patty grinned at us, a serene goddess of fitness, barely sweating, and sweetly said, “Time to make camp.”
We groaned and stumbled forward to pitch tents, build a fire and cook over it, but a glorious smell hit us when we entered our clearing. A cheerful fire blazed in the pit, the tents were pitched and an actual dinner had been set up on picnic tables. Patty informed us that this was our first reward. There would be different ones each time we conquered a high peak.
“But how?” someone asked. Our counselor pointed at the line of trees. “There’s a road and public campground right over there. The Skipper sent the kitchen staff here to set us up for the first night. After this, though, we’ll be on our own, so enjoy it!”
The next day, and for the rest of the week, we shouldered our canoes and packs, trekking through dense forest and tiny creeks, to reach open water. It was always a relief to get in the canoe and glide across a lake to the next mountain. Paddling was easier than walking, at least for the first hour or so.
We followed a stream up Mount Marcy, the tallest peak in New York. It wasn’t the toughest mountain and it took forever to reach the summit. Once there, we received our geography and history lesson. The owner of Echo Camp, the Skipper, made sure her girls learned about the land. Marcy was a long boring hike, made fun only because Patty let us play in the stream. That became a tiny trickle near the summit and disappeared into the bare ground. Patty pointed to the spot and proclaimed, “Girls, this is where the mighty Mohawk River begins.” She turned us around. “And from here, you can see across five different states.”
I was impressed, but too tired to hang onto the feeling. This tallest peak was, for me, a disappointment and all I could think about was that long boring hike back down to camp. Lonnie, my best buddy that summer, suddenly said, “Well, I don’t know about five states, but I do see thunderclouds.” We all turned the other way and squealed at the black masses of clouds heading toward us. Patty shouted, “Go, follow the creek, but do NOT walk in it. Go, girls, fast as you can!”
Some of us had grown up in this area, played with family at Lake George, camped here before, but others were city girls and didn’t understand. I grabbed Lonnie’s hand and hurried her along. My New York City girlfriend gasped, “The stream is easier to run through.”
“No! If it starts to rain, it’ll flood and be too fast, too dangerous,” I said.
She stared at me and the ankle-deep creek. “Trust me. We have to get down before it overflows.” I lost track of the group, tugging Lonnie along with me, crashing into boulders and trees, frantically praying the storm would pass us by or hold off for just one hour.
Thunder rolled and rumbled. From one step to the next, it was suddenly very dark. Another slam of sound from the clouds and the rain hit. It slashed down through the trees with enough force to drench us in minutes. Lonnie started crying. I held onto her and remembered my woods-lore: keep the creek on my left and keep moving downstream. The sight of flashlights and the sounds of voices shouting for us almost made me join Lonnie in crying.
We had made it and were greeted by two park rangers. The girls didn’t know it then, but Patty’s route was being watched, we weren’t really as “on our own” as she made us believe. The rangers led us back to camp and showed us how keep a fire burning in a downpour (tucked halfway under a roof made of green pine branches). It got smoky under there, but it warmed us. They stayed for dinner, flirting with Patty among giggling girls. We were no longer cold, wet and scared. We had conquered another High Peak, so where was our reward?
We received it the next morning. Instead of breaking camp, we hiked to a road and climbed into a bus. Our ride took us to Wright Mountain. It was a pretty hike, with no surprises. The best part was the bus ride back and forth, giving us a chance to rest our legs and arms.
We canoed across Lake Placid the next day, easing up to a scrap of land at the base of Whiteface Mountain. We faced a wall of dirt, rocks and scrawny trees jutting out from the cliff. It wasn’t a sheer cliff and it wasn’t a rock cliff, but it wasn’t a normal hike, either. We would be doing actual climbing, like scrambling out of a ravine or climbing a tree that happened to be growing alongside a hill of dirt. But that wasn’t just a hill, that was a mountain and it would take hours to claw our way to the top.
Patty gave us a choice: We could get in the canoes and paddle to the other side of Whiteface and the easy trail or we could conquer this Peak from here, taking the expert way up. I wonder now if when our parents signed all those forms that they were told exactly what their daughters would face that summer?
We climbed. The dirt was firm enough to hold us and soft enough to shove fingers and feet into with the help of tree roots and rocks. We paused on ledges and turned to gaze out at the beautiful lake far below. We pretended to be mountain goats and jumped to the next ledge before sticking our hands into holes and climbing again.
The last few feet of the climb was the real challenge. There the cliff was sheer and hauling our tired bodies up to the overhang took everything we had. I scrabbled my fingers over the lip and found a surprise. There was soft grass under my hands. I scooted up the rest of the way and rolled onto freshly mowed turf, a manicured and maintained lawn. We all reached the top, helping each other over that cliff edge.  Our group stood up and broke into gales of laughter at the sight before us.
Tourists. Families in clean t-shirts, shorts and flip-flops, drinking soda from cans and staring at fifteen muddy, bedraggled apparitions who had just appeared out of nowhere. Civilization in the form of a gift shop and ski lodge, the parking lot full of cars, the chair ski lift giving summer visitors rides here on the summit of Whiteface Mountain.
Our reward was a picnic lunch catered by Echo Camp’s kitchen staff and a ride down the mountain in another bus, sneering at the hikers walking the easy trail up the mountain that was next to the road. We did have to hike around the base of Whiteface to reach our canoes, but we were full of energy again because we had climbed a CLIFF!
It rained all night and cleared up in time for our hike up Mount Algonquin. The second tallest peak in the park was a beautiful trek with a delightful perk. This was our last mountain, our last day, and it was the best one of all.
On either side of the trail, in full rich ripe glory, we saw blueberries. The trees were few, the bushes were all. There would be no wandering off the trail here; the entire mountain was covered in blueberry bushes. We swiped handfuls of them in passing, the plump berries bursting with sweet juice, filling more than our tummies. Sun-warmed berries, chirping birds and a bright blue sky. We were young, strong, healthy, and we had done more in one week than most people achieve in a lifetime.
This was Summer.
My last perfect summer, it turned out. The summer I strive to remember when I feel I can’t cope with one more day of adult life. I did something that summer, something no one else in my family could lay claim to: I climbed five of the High Peaks of the Adirondacks. The chubby, half-blind, asthmatic child had been strong and brave, helpful and knowledgeable.
I sometimes wish I could freeze Time to that moment, that Summer, when the filthy, wet, muddy and tired girls of Cabins Six and Seven stepped off the boats and returned to Echo Camp to the cheers and hugs of the younger kids. We felt like conquering heroes, we WERE heroes, and it was glorious! 😀

 

Vignettes

I love words and vignette is a favorite of mine.  “A short, graceful literary sketch.”  “A brief, appealing scene, as in a movie.”  I don’t know how graceful or appealing my blogs are; they usually aren’t short or brief, that’s for sure!  To me, a vignette is a glimpse or an anecdote of  mine or someone’s Life, a quick story told on the fly, usually at the dinner table, almost always resulting in laughter.

I’m outnumbered here, gender-wise, and men don’t tell stories the way women do.  A woman will go into great detail, she’ll add sub-plots and side-way tangents; she will regal you with rich observations that would fill a book.  A man will say three to five sentences and be done.

But, oh, my men have the most interesting stories, um, tidbit tales!  My brother hasn’t been able to write down his Woodstock adventures (he’s in a great deal of pain, barely managed by his pain meds).  We’re hoping he can get that Dragon program and just speak into his computer and have it type it for him!   The only parts of the Woodstock story I remember are that he smoked that funny stuff, camped out, played in the mud, and got the station wagon stuck in the mud.  Someday, I’ll get him to tell me the whole story again.

When they had the Woodstock reunion in the 90s, I was the manager of a Pizza Hut, just off the New York State Thruway.  We were mobbed and so not ready for it.  We had people five deep at the counter, starving, filthy campers, eagerly pressing forward, watching the ovens, hoping I was cutting their pizza to be boxed.  Amidst the chaos was one … woman.  Yes, I’m being polite.  She insisted that no meat, meat substance or meat oil touch her pizza.

We tried.  My main cook made her pizza on a clean board and used fresh gloves to place the garlic sauce (no tomato marinara sauce for her, no sirree, it might have meat products in it!  Gack!) and cheese on the dough.  She was right up front, and could see everything.  Before he placed her pizza in the oven, she saw the other cook grabbing cheese from the bin…”Wait!  That’s the cheese you ALL use?  It’s tainted with meat substance!”  Oh, god…

We apologized and Ted trotted to the walk-in, pulled out a new bag of cheese, and used it for her new pizza.  Good, pizza now in oven.  I was lifting pizzas out as fast as I could to keep the ovens from backing up and burning them.  The slightest pause meant disaster.  I grabbed her pizza, slid it out of the pan onto the cutting board… “Wait!  That board just had a sausage pizza on it!”  Oh, god (and the twenty people behind her groaned, too)…

I apologized and Ted made her another new pizza.  I swiftly dealt with a few more pizzas, making sure a clean cutting board was at hand for the vegan lady.  Her pizza rolled to the front, I expertly slipped it onto the clean board and sliced down… “Wait!  That’s MY pizza and you just used THAT slicer on a pepperoni pizza!”   Oh, god (and the thirty people behind her didn’t just groan.  They bitched, they told her to give up, they looked at her with murder in their eyes…but, wonder of wonders, they did NOT blame me and my crew!)…

We apologized, again, and started over.  Now, we had a backed up oven, pizzas burning, rhythm disrupted.  Hurry to box her pizza and cash her out, whirl back around and zip, zip, slice and box three more pizzas.  I turned to cash those people out and noticed the crowd was watching the front door.  When it shut on vegan lady’s exiting behind, the mob cheered, applauded, and thanked me and my crew for our patience!

We had a bunch of extra mistake pizzas and breadsticks.  I had my waitresses pass out slices to everyone and comped all sodas as my thank you to the crowd.  Ah, the Woodstock legacy of “Peace and Brotherly Love” blossomed again for the rest of the night!

Heh, see what I mean?  I’m sure my brother’s story is longer than the tiny bit I recall, but it took a whole page for me to tell my Woodstock reunion story!  🙂

Some of the funniest, oddest, best stories I’ve heard from my menfolk aren’t stories at all.  They are mere vignettes, a few sentences at most.  I have to pull more details out like a cat giving birth to an elephant…yeah, improbable at best, impossible most of the time!

For example:  Hubby’s ship went through a corner of the Bermuda Triangle.  I was fascinated and wanted to hear if anything weird happened.  His response?  “Well, it got foggy and the radio wouldn’t work for a few minutes, but everything cleared up on the other side.”

That’s IT?!  Really?!  Can you elaborate at all?  Nope, that really was it, delivered in a bored nothing-unusual-today tone of voice.  GACKKK!!!

Or this one, from my oldest son:  Walks in the house all sweaty, without his car (a 1967 Mustang, runs good, maybe, sorta, kinda…)…  I asked, “Where’s your car?”  Brian said, “Oh, the drive shaft for the tranny fell out.  I had to push it over to Midas.  I got a ride home with Matt.”  And heads for the shower.  “Wait!  What?” I frantically call out, instantly on the alert, knowing that the Midas shop he uses is at one of the busiest intersections in our part of Tucson, AZ.

He paused, returned to the kitchen and got a soda.  “I’m really hot, tired, and sweaty, Mom.”

“Please?”

So, here’s the REST of the story…  He was at the intersection of Ina and Thornydale, in the far left lane, got to the light and started through.  In the MIDDLE of the intersection, in the middle of his turn, in the middle of rush hour traffic, the Mustang drops her tranny (transmission), and comes to a dead stop.  With cars whizzing by in all directions, my son got out and single-handedly pushed that ton or so of car across a gazillion lanes of traffic, up a slight hill and into the parking lot of Midas.  He received assistance only at the end, when a mechanic saw him and came over.

Think on it:  a 1967 Mustang, weighs a lot, probably almost a thousand pounds because it’s made of METAL not fiberglass, no power anything — brakes or STEERING.  One guy pushing AND steering it…oh, good lord, my mind seized up.  Eh, Brian assured me, once he got her moving, it wasn’t so hard…and off he goes to the shower.  GACKK!!!

Then there’s the tale of the pallet of ammo that didn’t exist and the one bullet, “What bullet?”…but that’s a real tale to tell and not a vignette, so…

Later, my lovies!  heh heh… 😀

 

Terror Alert: RED!

No, not “terrorist,” no one is attacking the USA.  It’s just Life attacking me and the people I love.  What is the most terrifying thing that can happen?  Well, if you’re a parent, it’s anything regarding your child.  Doesn’t matter how old they are, when something bad approaches or happens to your kid, you feel it – that heart-wrenching, gut-twisting, knee-buckling sensation: Terror.  At the same time, because you are the parent, you are not allowed to collapse screaming on the floor (which is what part of you wants to do).  Nope, you must act strong, calm, and deal with the situation.

About two weeks ago, we got a phone call late in the afternoon from our daughter’s ex-boyfriend.  She had been in a lot of pain in June from a pinched nerve in her shoulder that numbed her right hand and left her with fumbling fingers — yes, you can have pain and numbness at the same time; it’s happened to me.  She did go to a clinic, but not a chiropractor.  She has no insurance and little income because she only has a part time job.  By July 4th, she was better, but her hand was still kind of numb and tingly.

For the next two weeks, unknown to us, she battled a painful infection.  She did go to Urgent Care and took the antibiotic and pain meds they gave her.  The next day, she tried to call her friend for help.  By the time he could get to her, she was incoherent and having seizures.

We have a number of wonderful angels in our lives, most of them are our adult children’s friends.  Her ex-boyfriend has been through so much with her and she can trust him with some frightening issues, so she called him.  Then, he (thank you, son), called us.  When he got her to the hospital, two more angels went into action: our “other” son and his partner – paramedics.  They called us, too.  And then, the one angel I am most grateful for: the sweet wife of our “other” son, who works at the hospital, called.

Now, fed regulations protect private patient info so the hospital couldn’t tell me anything over the phone, but from the little info our friends gave us and the tone of their voices, we knew a parent had to go be with our girl.  When you hear that one piece of info – “They’re sending her to the ICU.” – you jump in the car and drive.

Now, we got lucky in a few ways and unlucky in others.  The bad part was her dad HAD to leave for South America the next day for work and would be gone for an unknown length of time.  There was no money for a plane ticket and no way to get one at 9 pm, plus, no one to pick me up at the airport and no money for a rental car.  We live in the middle of Texas (bum-f@ck Houston), daughter is in Arizona – it’s a 15 to 17 hour drive.  And I suck at long drives…and dealing with authority figures like doctors…

But…I’m retired and could go to her.  Our younger son is here with us, still getting all his papers together for his job, so he isn’t working yet, and we could do the drive together in a really good car.  Hubby has a good friend who took the dogs, the cats were left with a huge bowl of food…and we all headed out to our assignments.

Once in Arizona, in the hospital, I learned more – they will tell a parent things in person, thank goodness, maybe, sorta…It is terrifying to hear your child (I don’t care if she’s an adult, she’s still my baby!) was “Code Yellow” – which is just a step below “critical.”  Terrifying to learn she continued having seizures and stopped breathing at one point, terrifying to see her hooked up to a breathing tube and in a chemically-induced coma…looking like she’s 12 yrs old…and weighing under 100 pounds when she’s 5’6″ and should have at least 20 more pounds on her.

We can joke about it now (ah, morbid humor  it’s the only thing that keeps us sane), but it took a four-point restraint and two burly staff to hold her down to keep tests done before they doped her.  The boys related how the ER staff was talking about the 90 pound girl throwing all the men around the room.  Our paramedic boys also told off the people who were speculating with disrespect regarding our girl’s behavior because she’s “our sister-friend.”

Ah, validation when the test results came back clean – no drugs or alcohol, but very low potassium level, electrolytes, nutrition values, etc.  Perhaps a reaction to the antibiotic or previous pain meds?  No one knew for sure, but she did, indeed, have a nasty raging infection in her body.

It took a few days before they allowed her to awaken.  And, of course, we all wanted to know what had happened, what she could tell us.  But her first words were “What the hell happened?”    She doesn’t know, either.  She took the proper doses of meds and went to bed, then woke up unable to control her body and fingers and frantically tried calling her friend.

We may never know what happened.  I believe it was a combination of everything.  I have seen a low potassium episode before – my mom was found wandering around her yard late one night in her pjs, yelling for my dad – who had been dead for six months.  She was confused and didn’t know me or my brother (this was way before she slipped into dementia).  She fought the paramedics, then flirted with them (75 yrs old and still feisty!).  An infusion of potassium and voila!  All better.

Our girl is also allergic to penicillin and some of its derivatives.  It’s possible the antibiotic – one she had never taken before – is another one she is allergic to; she did have trouble breathing.

Then, there was the infection and the fact that she hadn’t been eating much for almost two months…

Well, I took care of her once they released her, feeding her, fussing over her, and left her with lots of proper food, juices, and a clean apartment (!).  I’m back in Texas now, but I’m still gonna worry, that’s a given, that never ends.

Is the terror over?  Can I lower the alert from red to green?  Nope, never.  Maybe yellow?  No, I’m Mom – the terror alert remains at Orange, a constant gnawing bug I hide deep inside and try to ignore.

So please remember – if you have a friend who is a parent, no matter what age their child is, don’t ever call them late at night.  Because before she/he sees who is calling, the Terror Alert jumps to Red: “My child is in trouble!”

Hey, it’s a parent thing…  🙂

 

Loving A Man In Uniform

I married a Merchant Marine.  They are the sailors on merchant vessels  – tankers, freighters, dredges, cruise ships (not the “public crew,” the real crew; yeah, cruise ships have two crews – they’re nothing like the “Love Boat” TV show.), fishing vessels – they aren’t military, but they do go through basic training and such.  They are also the unsung heroes in wartime.  A lot of merchant marines died in WWII, but not many people know that.

And, yes, some of them wear uniforms, not too fancy or distinguished, just enough to help the public understand these men (and some women) have a specific job or career.  Hubby had to wear uniforms at SUNY Maritime College and for some of the shipping companies he worked for.  Mmm, dress whites – definitely sexy, so fitted, so neat, so authoritative (is that even a word?).  In the early years, he wore khakis (blah) or blacks (yum).  No insignia or badges, but just enough of a “look” to give people pause.

When he’d step off a plane, heading for baggage claim, and walk toward me, I could see people moving aside for him.  Of course, part of that is his walk; he walks with presence, like a leader.  He’s an officer, worked his way up from Third Mate to Master (Captain for landlubbers).  Many merchant sailors have that presence; one of my favorite memories is going to a game at Shea Stadium surrounded by six buff cadets, all on the soccer team, solid, strong, handsome, dressed in everyday clothing, but no one – and this is the heart of New York City (ok, sorta south of it, but still…), no one messed with us.

Hubby’s graduating class got to have their Winter Ball on the top floor of the World Trade Center.  The restaurant would be opening soon (this was 1978) and the guys from Maritime were a dry run for the staff.  It was gorgeous, fun, amazing – we could look out over the whole city…We had a blast.

When the planes hit those Towers, we were heartbroken and so furious.  Not only for all those murdered people, but for the destruction of a place that had given us a beautiful memory.  In the days that followed 9/11, we felt helpless, too.  Our oldest son was in Army boot camp at Fort Knox, under lockdown, possibly being primed to finish his tank training and go to war or strike back or whatever the President decided to do.  We didn’t know, parents received no info.  God, that was frightening, not knowing what was going to happen to our son.

My husband was on his three months off.  Merchant schedules can be weird.  His was three months on ship, one to three months home (the home part changed on the whim of the shipping industry).  He got on the phone to his company, requesting to be sent on whatever mission the tankers were doing regarding the disaster.  Understand this: merchant vessels, for the most part, are unarmed.  If there’s a weapon onboard, it is locked in the Captain’s safe and only the Captain has access or training to use it.

His company ran tankers: oil, crude, and dry cargo, too, of grain, wheat, etc.  The Middle East was and is NOT a safe place to visit for any reason, and hubby’s company was having trouble finding volunteers to crew the ships heading into that region.  They were part of the President’s Humanitarian mission: sending grain tankers to Afghanistan, Pakistan, those areas.  (We later found out that air-dropped food from the USA was left to rot because it was from us infidels.  sigh…but they apparently didn’t turn up their noses at grain brought by sea.)

So, off hubby goes to take a grain tanker to Afghanistan.  I got to stay home and worry about TWO of my menfolk.  Oh, joy…NOT!  But you man up and smile through the tears and insist you are proud of them and, and well, yeah, out in public, I was fine.  In the dark, alone, ah, well, they finally came home safe, thank god.

It’s what you do when you love a person in the military or the merchant marines.  You buck up, you present calm and hope and love, and you rarely ever indulge in any negative emotion, because what your loved one is going through is worse.  You quietly ignore rages and silences, offer hugs or private space, you dance around certain topics, and never ask “How was your day at the office, dear?” because that’s such a ridiculous question for these particular people.

They are different, changed.  Our normal everyday woes and lives are so meaningless compared to what they are doing.  Come on, really, is your day at an office so bad compared to someone who is facing Death every minute?  In our marriage, the main problem for me is that hubby IS a Master, a Captain, has been since he was thirty.  And he forgets that I am NOT a deckie or swabbie.  He’s used to giving orders without explanation and expects to be obeyed without question.  There’s a rough edge to him, and I have to grit my teeth and try to remember for both of us that I’m his wife, not his crew.  Chin up, mouth shut, smile, woman, smile!

This is long (for a blog, I guess), but I want to leave you with a funny story.  When Hubby took that tanker to Afghanistan, he was told (and told me to reassure me) that he would have a military escort of two or three destroyers.  What he didn’t tell me, until after he was home, was that the destroyers were needed elsewhere.  That’s right, dangerous waters, dangerous political climate, danger all around, and no escort.

Tankers are way too big to go into port or dock.  They sit at anchor a few miles out and other boats come to them to offload cargo.  Want a point of reference?  Rent the movie “Periscope Down” (I think that’s the title) with Kelsey Grammar as a submarine captain.  At one point in the movie, they hide the sub under a super-tanker.  The tanker in the movie was the sister ship of my hubby’s tanker.  Yep, big, REALLY BIG!  I think the call sign was BFV Alaska.  I don’t know what the letters really stand for; the guys translate the letters as “Big Fucking Vessel.”

So, no escort, but the Afghanis did send hubby some soldiers to guard his ship.  Six big brawny soldiers in uniform with rifles to guard the hatches because the crews on the small boats that were offloading the grain were not to enter the tanker for any reason, not even to use the head.  They could sit on deck for breaks and meals, but not enter the interior of the tanker.  Capt’n Eldred greeted them, but wasn’t very reassured when he discovered that, yes, the soldiers had rifles, however, they only had ONE BULLET.  Oy.

The laborers from the small boats did, indeed, have lunch on the deck of the tanker.  They built a bonfire, hauled some goats up, and proceeded to butcher and cook their lunch.  (Eww!)  Now, oops, they needed salt.  Capt’n Eldred said nope, none to spare, but, ah, maybe one of the other ships had some.  You see, we Americans weren’t the only ones trying to help.  Other countries were in on the Humanitarian effort.  The laborers putted over to a Greek vessel to ask for salt.  Unfortunately, no on spoke Greek and the Greeks didn’t speak, um, whatever.  And none of the Afghani laborers spoke English.

Via hand signals and nods, they finally received a bag of white grainy stuff from the Greeks.  They ate.  Shortly after that, they groaned and moaned, and since they couldn’t use the heads (bathrooms) on the tanker, they pooped on the deck or over the side (dangerous, easier to just poop on the deck.).

During the messy chaos, Capt’n Eldred finally got them off his ship, job finished, cargo gone, and his unhappy crew scrubbed the deck.  Hubby radioed the Greek ship.  He asked the Captain what happened.  Turns out, the Greek cook thought the laborers wanted laundry detergent and gave them a sack of powdered detergent.  Not salt, and no one thought to check if it was salt.

Yes, it’s funny, it’s also sad.  The language barrier made things crazy.  We think we’ve advanced so far, but we haven’t.  We’re still killing each other for stupid reasons.  We’re still putting our loved ones in danger.  Hug each other now, because the world is not a safe place.  Never has been, never will be, and if you believe differently, I hope you’re right and weird shit never happens to you and yours.

Ah, but we work through it, right?  Chin up, friends, and SMILE!  Because, hell, if we can’t laugh, then we really ARE in trouble!  🙂

Honor Guard

In 1943, 1944, 1945, the world was struggling through a Second World War.  My dad enlisted and at some point before he was sent to the Pacific Arena, he was honored with his first award.  He was one of the Top Ten Marksmen in the nation.  Cool, huh?  He was a Marine and reached the rank of Sergeant.  But he really wanted to be a pilot and fly a jet.  He couldn’t because he didn’t have 20/20 vision.  Ah, the irony – good enough to shoot anything on the ground, but not good enough to fly.

He was sent to a tiny island in the Pacific.  The trip over there involved being on a troop carrier.  Hundreds of Marines – the toughest bad asses ever – crammed together with Navy sailors.  Grunts and grounders, rookies really, with no idea what was about to hit them.  The sailors knew; they’d been out there, they had survived a few hits.

During the passage, the ship came under fire.  Being a troop carrier, they didn’t have the option of fighting back.  They had to run the gauntlet, let the better armed and fortified ships do battle.  Imagine the bowels of that ship, hundreds of young men (my dad barely out of his teens) crammed into crew quarters built for a handful; many of them had never been near the ocean and most of them were seasick.  There weren’t enough life jackets for all of them, and the Marines were under orders to keep their gear with them.

My dad asked a sailor what they should do if the ship got hit and started to sink.  He had to look up to ask  – that sailor was over six feet tall, built like a battleship, and seasoned; he had cold seawater for blood.  The guy shrugged and glanced at the heavy pack my dad was clutching.  “Ship sinks, you’ll sink.  Better ‘n burning.”

Ouch.  But I’ve lived with a Merchant Marine for 30 years, I know that tone my father heard in that sailor’s voice, I know what he meant – the ocean is a bitch, but she’ll kill you faster and less painfully than any human.  But for my dad, first time on the ocean, far away from home, that was a wake up call: Death’s right here, boy, stay alert!

They survived without taking any hits or damage and made it to the island.  It wasn’t a combat post, really, just a supply base with a few jets and jeeps, Quonset huts, those few hundred men – carved out in the middle of that island with a dirt road – trail, really – leading to a tiny village near the shoreline.  My dad had made a few friends.  His best friend was a pilot.  The day Mike took him up in a jet for a flyover…ah, my dad’s face lit up at a memory he cherished so that he couldn’t find words to describe it.

Dad often got the job of taking a jeep to the village to check for supplies dropped on the beach or to pick up fresh fish and local produce – the Marines couldn’t befriend the islanders, but they didn’t want to alienate them entirely.  One day, he was on his way back to base, fighting to keep the jeep straight on that muddy rutted track, when something  he didn’t remember what  ran across the road.  He jerked the wheel, the jeep hit something and went flying.  Dad remembers it flipped and he woke up beside it in the ditch.

As his blurred vision cleared, he saw something that made his blood freeze and his heart stutter.  He was surrounded by six Japanese soldiers, all of them staring silently at the unarmed Marine lying on the ground.  Dad slowly got to his feet, fighting off the vertigo, urging his body to stand tall and proud, stoic in the face of Death.

And then, something miraculous happened.  All six soldiers politely dropped their weapons at his feet, raised their hands, and surrendered to my dad.  No one spoke – why bother?  He didn’t speak Japanese and they didn’t speak English.  Dad picked up their weapons and glanced at his overturned jeep.  As one, the soldiers went to it and heaved it upright.  They stood in the road and waited while Dad got in and prayed the vehicle would start.  When it did (thank god for good old fashioned solid manufacturing!), he drove up onto the road to his waiting prisoners.  They marched back to base – six men ahead of the barely mobile jeep and its barely conscious driver.

Dad thought they surrendered because they were tired and hungry and scared.  Maybe they were deserters.  They were in ragged mismatched uniforms, muddy, far too thin, and young, so heartbreaking young.  He never found out what happened to them.  The MPs and his CO took over the second sentries spotted his little parade.  By the time Dad was out of the medic’s hands, the Japanese boys were gone.

These are the only war stories my dad ever told us.  I don’t know if he ever saw real combat; maybe I was deemed too young to hear the other stories – the ones that weren’t funny or weird.  I wonder about that because there was a hint of something, a brief sentence overheard…

“He stepped off the ramp and just sank.  We couldn’t help him; we were dying.”  What ramp?  Where?  My immediate thought brings heartrending images:  men in those boats, trying to hit the beach at Normandy and some of them drowning before they make it ashore because of their heavy gear, and others being shot in the water while struggling to swim…My dad barely able to watch that beach sequence in “Saving Private Ryan,” the tears running silently down his cheeks…Where WAS my dad?  What else did he see and do?  He never said.

Ask any WWII vet and they say, “It was the worst time of my life…and the best.”

I salute you all and thank you.  May we always remember and honor you, our guardians of freedom.  Semper fi!

 

Under The Bridge

When I wander into Memory Town, I usually get stuck at the bridge.   I used to have a bit of a phobia about bridges – I hated driving across them.  My too vivid imagination could see me steering the car through those inadequate guardrails to plunge down into the water below.  There are a number of phrases about bridges.

“Don’t burn your bridges.”  Huh, does that mean I can go back over the bridge if I don’t like what I find on the other side?  Okay, I know it means watch what you say (or do) because you can’t take it back and the other person might shut you out of their life.

“We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.”  Put off the bad until we’re ready for it or can’t avoid it any longer?  I’d like to cross it now and get the agony over with, thanks.

“It’s water under the bridge.”  Meaning let the Past go, move on, etc.  Ah, but this one, this is the one that gets me stuck.  I climb down and have to look under the bridge.

In real and memory terms, the water under a bridge is always dark, murky, full of debris and dangerous currents.  Ugly things live under there, lurking, waiting, ready to snatch at the unwary observer.  Stuff that should be dead and gone get caught in whirlpools swirling around the pylons of the bridge.    Garbage that sank to the bottom reaches twisted limbs up to grab a swimmer’s ankles and pull the victim down into the mud.  An undertow can pull you to the center and suck you down, trapped in the dark shadows beneath the bridge.  You can drown under the bridge, fighting to scramble back to the bright and clear waters on each side where you can see everyone else enjoying the sun sparkling on the river.

I’d like to join them, I try to stay with them, but the dark mess under the bridge still needs clearing out.  I keep hoping if I push the crap around, the murk will flow away and I’ll be free.  It’s a big job and no one out there in the sunshine wants to help me.  They don’t want to hear about what’s hidden under the bridge; they believe I should just leave it alone and walk away.  A few friends have tried to help, but I don’t want them trapped under there with me, so I gently push them away.  Somehow, I think my beloved will be strong enough to help without getting caught, but he won’t go anywhere near the bridge.  They all want me to forget, move on, walk away, and never, ever speak of what’s under there.

But I can’t because the water under the bridge is flowing through me every day.  I live there every moment, unable to break free.  How can I escape when no one wants to hear my shout for help?  When no one will listen as I try to clear the mess out?  They have tried, for about five minutes, just as I’m starting to reveal the darkest debris.  They wave it off, send up a platitude or two, and scurry back out into the sunshine, leaving me to drown.

I thought Love would be the thrown life preserver…but that’s no life saver, that was just another trap…  Someday, I’ll write my way clear, someday, when it’s all on paper, in print, they might read it.  Someday…I’ll just swim away.