merchant mariner families

...a highly unusual, sometimes maddening,
but mostly comical way of life.

January 29, 2013

lena & the tiger cookies

        I'm sexist, I'll admit it.  But I try really, really hard to think like a tough, I Am Woman Hear Me Roar, Gloria Steinem type of gal 99% of the time.  That other 1%, it just happens (like using the word gal in a sentence about feminism), I can't help it.  Such was the case when Beady started working on a new ship several years back called the MV Jean Anne.  The thought never occurred to me that there would be any women on the ship with him, it just never crossed my sexist mind.  I mean, I knew there were women in the shipping industry, but because it's clearly dominated by men (for now), I didn't even think twice about who Beady would be working with.  And so it went until we showed up at a friend's party.    
    I always get a kick out of listening to Beady talk to his non-mariner friends about work, more specifically the men.  They listen intently as he begins, then slowly move closer to him, completely absorbing each and every word as if he'd unlocked the meaning of life--which he hasn't by the way in case you were wondering.  I can't even get him to courtesy flush amidst his toilet regimen, so the meaning of life is a stretch.  I know, I should be grateful he even flushes the toilet at all.  I am.
    What seems to be happening with these guys is a kind of romanticism of his life out there, as if he gets paid to simply be.  Surrounded by a beautiful and dangerous ocean on all sides, solitude, sailing by the stars, nightly strolls about the deck in which to ponder the world, this life, and love.  Aaahhh........... I'm sure it's very appealing, an escape from the drudgery of everyday life.  It even seems enticing to me, and who knows, maybe that's what does happen--but then there's the flushing thing and I can only see Beady as 'Master and Commander' of the bathroom.
     Well, it so happened one of these conversations was taking place at the party and I was gearing up to be entertained again as "New Guy" joined the discussion.  He asked the generic questions, how long have you been shipping, where do you sail, how many crew, etc.  After about five minutes of light interrogation, his eyes began to soften with that same longing I'd seen in others.  However, his next question was this, "So, do you sail with any women?"  He looked at me, winked, and we all laughed until Beady answered yes.  High fives, Atta Boys!, and clapping ensued, no one noticed I wasn't laughing anymore.  Beady proceeded to tell them there were actually two women on board and that they were sisters, Lena and Marta.  Can you guess what happened next?  Yup, starved dogs with meat.  "Oh my God, Beady!  Are they on the Swedish Bikini Team?"  "Are they twins?"  "Do they tuck you in at night?"  "Do they speak English?"  "How tall are they?"  "Hot?  Come on, they're really hot, right?"  This went on for about 5 more repulsive minutes until Beady finally looked over at me and said, "Honey, I think you'd really like Lena, she's reading the last Harry Potter, too."  In one horrifying instant all of the femininity, the mysteriousness, the sex appeal I had was ripped away!  And I stood, 10 years old again with pancake size glasses, clutching said Harry Potter book while Lena the Glamazon posed next to me in a Miller Lite Bikini.             I said the first thing that came to my mind because I'm sexist--"Oh, she can read?  That's great, Honey."  I walked away as they burst into laughter and headed for a refill of booze, attempting an air of nonchalance for the rest of the evening.   We didn't speak about it again because I wanted to be a "cool" wife, I didn't want to nag him, ask a million questions about the sisters, after all, they're professionals, co-workers.  And I was certain that bikinis weren't standard issue uniforms for the crew. 
     Life continued on in this manner for the next few years, I only had to endure one question quarterly from a few of his friends, "How are the Swedes?" I can't write what I replied.  Well, it so happened I was returning from an extremely long day at work, followed by a two-hour (instead of one) drive home in a snowstorm.  Beady was out to sea, so when I walked through the door, it was dark and cold, even the dogs stayed in bed instead of running to greet me.  I was exhausted, but hungry, so I looked through the freezer, picked the quickest looking microwave meal, and was reading the instructions when the phone rang.  It was Beady, he was in port and had some time to talk before the longshoremen got back from break.  He filled me in on his week, how things had been running, how the crew was doing, the usual, then he mentioned he'd just finished up dinner.  Because I'm a glutton for punishment, I asked him what he had and looked sadly at my frozen dinner while he described his latest food orgy.  By this time, I was starving and knew Lean Cuisine just wasn't going to cut it, so I started searching through the cupboards when he said, "Oh, yeah...and I had Tiger Cookies for dessert."  
     "Tiger Cookies?  I've never heard of those, are they new?"     
     "No, they've been around for a while.  They're my favorite, love 'em."
     "Excuse me, your favorite?" I replied, "I've never heard you speak about Tiger Cookies ever, Dessert King.  Not once.  When have you ever had them?"
     "Oh, I get them out here all the time on the ship.  It's kind of a special thing, you know, making our favorites to keep us happy."
     "Well that makes sense, that's really nice of the Steward...must be a little morale booster.  What's his name again?"
      "Oh, the Steward doesn't do it, it's the know?  We've talked about her before."     
       And I was right back there, except this time I stayed in my smelly scrubs, with my matted down hair, clutching a half-eaten box of stale Cheez-Its while Lena, the Sports Illustrated model, glided in, bikini-clad, furry Ugg Boots, and a tray of perfectly baked confections.  "Would you like to try my Tiger Cookies?"  Her accent was Scottish, why?  
       "Honey, remember I told you she was reading Harry Potter, too?  That's the one I'm talking about."  As if I'd forgotten her name, as if any of his friends would ever let me forget her name!  
       "Yeah, okay, um...why have I never heard of these Tiger Cookies before?  You've never had them at home."  
       "Well...Lena makes them the best."  Super.  Cut to Beady's funeral, there I am, catatonic, barely holding on when a mysterious women makes her way toward the open casket.  She's carrying something--I move closer to see what it could be.  She's beautiful; full, heartbroken tears roll down her face majestically as she gently lowers a small brown package into the coffin.  
        "There you go, Beady," her brogue calming, soothing.  "Can't leave without your Tiger always loved them so."  And she was gone, leaving me to ponder just who that man in the wooden box was.       
        I shared this scene with Beady.  He didn't laugh.  "What's the problem?" Irritation moving through his tone.  
        "Okay, here's the deal.  It makes me crazy to think another woman is cooking special things for you, okay?!  That's my thing, especially since you're extremely food-motivatedI can't have some other woman giving you treats for free, that will totally undo all of the hard work I've put in over the years training you."  Sexist. 
        "Very funny, but I love you anyway."  And there it was, what I didn't realize I wanted to hear even though I'd never make those cookies like Lena, or lasagna quite the way his mother does, or some sort of cheese/pimento dip thingy that looks like orange cellulite--a company up in Bangor produces it, I didn't really have a chance there either.
        "Thank you," I replied genuinely "I love you, too..."                 
        I still give Beady a hard time about the Tiger Cookies, I'll never stop, and over the years, I've learned that Lena isn't Swedish as so many of my husband's friends had hoped for.  Surprise!  Nor is she Scottish; that was a bitter pill for me to swallow.  She loves her family very much, continues to like Harry Potter, and, most importantly, takes good care of not only my husband, but the rest of the crew, with her food and her smiles.  And yes, she's gorgeous, a fact my husband politely left out of 'The Cookie Chronicles', but that's neither here nor there as my grandmother, and perhaps just in my mind, Gloria Steinem would say.        

   And you can click here to read Callie's interview with Lena!  

                                   Copyright 2013 Callie's Mariner

January 24, 2013

love at first sight

    I married my Mariner when I was just on the edge of 33, so you can well imagine there was a lot of down time, pre-hubby, in which to date.  Yes, there were many, in fact enough to fill a modest paperback, yet only a handful made it to my parent’s house for a visit.  Whenever I was close to considering the possibilities of a future mate, a trip home to Maine always proved enlightening!  
                   Mom=Subtle, Dad=Freight Train     
    The first to cross the border into Maine was Arizona, about whom my mother gently stated, “You could do so much better, honey,” even though he was well on his way to becoming a doctor.  My father remained unusually quiet, perhaps thinking if he didn’t get to know him, he’d never come back.  Then there was Philly, a guy that ruined it for nearly everyone who was to come after, as he seemed to leave the most lasting affect on my family, specifically my father.  Texas followed in his wake--exciting, but too young and very wrapped up in his own mother.  And last, but certainly not least, Mr. California, who’s only redeeming quality in my mother’s eyes, was his son.        
     But let’s go back to Philly.  To be fair, he was the first adult I brought home; poised, confident, and very much at ease with us.  Add to that a killer sense of humor, mind-blowing intelligence, and a serious knack for thoughtfulness, the other guys never stood a chance.  We all loved him; Dad talked incessantly of baseball with him, Mom laughed at all of his jokes, my grandmother flirted shamelessly, and I enjoyed that visit like no other before, or after, for a very long time.  However, Philly and I soon found that we were much better friends than anything else, as sometimes happens, and went our separate ways, a severe blow to my father.  He was inconsolable for years, as I and other candidates for matrimony were to soon learn.
     Dad had been so smitten with him; Philly became a sort of dating barometer when I brought potential mates home.  We’d walk into the house, sit for half an hour or so, and let my significant other (at the time) get to know the family and vice versa. Without fail, having reached his threshold, my father would turn to me and ask, “So, how’s Philly?  Have you heard from him?  What’s he doing now?”  Then he would go into a lengthy monologue (at least until “my man” figured out a way to extricate himself from the conversation) about Philly’s last visit, where they went, how Philly combed his hair, that he was hilarious, intelligent, what Philly’s aspirations were, etc.  Looking back, he was always correct in his estimation of these guys, but I was seriously disappointed, and more than a little uncomfortable, having to explain to each of them just who Philly was and to reassure them, to the point of nausea, that he was no longer in my life.  Thanks, Dad?  It actually got so bad, that I started doing it and would work myself up before a visit wondering, ‘Is this guy Philly approved?’   
     Such was the pattern until I brought my Mariner (Beady) home to meet my other Mariner (Dad).  Now you’d think I’d be less nervous to bring home a mariner considering my father’s career had been the same and he loved to reminisce about the old days with anyone who had a clue as to what he was talking about.  (This had been the only thing lacking in his relationship with Philly.)  Yet, I was even more anxious, as I felt Beady was going to a job interview I’d gotten him by putting in a good word with the boss!  Not only would he be scrutinized as son-in-law material, my dad was going to be evaluating him as a mariner.  Had I somehow sabotaged Beady, right at our beginning?  Had I made it even harder to measure up? 
    Their first meeting was my 30th birthday party.  My parents made a big deal about it, invited the whole family, and asked if I would bring Beady.  I reluctantly agreed and spent the whole car ride trying to keep breakfast inside of my body.  As it turned out, my nerves were wasted since Dad remained in the kitchen for most of the festivities, cooking, cleaning, and baking.  Of course, he met Beady, spoke to him for a little while, but returned quickly to his duties as host and started up the grill.  My mother actually spent more time with Beady that day and instantly liked him; I think she mostly appreciated the change she saw in me simply being in his presence-calmer, less edited, more myself than I had been with any other man. 
      Well, the time came for us to leave.  It was uneventful, no questions were asked about Philly, but it did nothing to alleviate my fears.  I knew my father hadn’t had enough one on one time and began to dread the next visit up to Maine because I had really started to like Beady and didn’t want there to be any unnecessary discomfort for him with my family—necessary discomfort comes after the wedding, right?            
       Time passed quickly, as it always does when you’re dreading an event; pap-smears, teeth cleaning, shopping for bras…  Beady and I grew closer, then it was time to head up to Maine again for a thorough “going-over”, but this time I was prepared to fight.  No longer would my father parade the memory of Philly about!  I really cared about this guy and it was my life, no one else’s.  We entered the house and were greeted warmly, though this proved nothing, every visit began the same.  Small talk ensued and I found myself tensed for a verbal attack with each question that came out of my father’s mouth.  I won’t bore you with the details of the conversation, since mariner talk has always been the equivalent of watching paint dry to me and I never retain anything that is said.  However, I will tell you that the conversation was just that, a conversation.  There were no painful pauses on my father’s part, no moves to draw my mother and me into their ship-speak, and the clock moved diligently on, 15 minutes, 30 minutes, an hour!  I began to visibly relax, my toes uncurled, shoulders dropped, and I stopped clutching my wine glass as if it were the last bits of water on the earth.  As I moved at the cheeseboard (yes, I move at food) Dad looked my way and opened his mouth to speak.  I froze, cursing myself for not remaining vigilant, and cursing my dad for bringing Philly right back into the house.  But as quickly as he looked at me, he looked away again and asked Beady, “Would you like to see my sextant?”  “Sure!” was the response and they left abruptly, leaving my mother and I in a mist, haze, whatever of confusion. 
     A sextant is a tool mariners use to “shoot the stars”, to guide ships around the world.  Back in my father’s day of shipping, before computers, mariners actually used and maintained their own sextants.  And as with anything my father owned, this beautiful piece of nautical equipment looked as new as the day he purchased it.  I was never allowed to touch it, I’m not sure if my mother ever had the privilege, but today we watched as he carefully moved it down from a high shelf, in its bright red box, and laid it on the dining room table.  His eyes lit up with pride and sheer joy from finally being able to share a piece of his past with someone who would understand.  The lid came up and Beady reached cautiously for the instrument.  I nearly yelled at him to keep his hands off it, anticipating a hand slap from my father, but he never flinched—he just let Beady “have his way” with it.  What the…?
     Many moments went by as they spoke of its use, its manufacturer, its age and my mother and I remained still, afraid to even speak as if it would break the spell that had been cast over my father.  This went on for only a few more minutes when my father quietly returned the sextant to its home and replaced it on the shelf.  Then he refreshed everyone’s drink and we continued on with our visit that weekend much in the same spirit of Philly’s day.
      My parents love my husband; it seemed an easy fit for both of them.  They certainly love him each in their own way, and sometimes more than they love me, I think.  After the “Sextant Episode” there was never any talk of Philly on my father’s end, as if to bring him up in front of Beady would somehow be a betrayal.  But he has asked me, only a few times, over the years how Philly was doing.  I tell him and watch how his eyes crinkle up at the sides as he smiles and feel a bit of pity for him because I know; you never really get over your first love.                             

                        Copyright 2013 Callie's Mariner

January 03, 2013

beady's law

   When a good friend of mine’s husband left for sea, nearly every single light bulb in the house went out that evening.  A minor inconvenience, easily remedied, but it seemed as if the universe was sending her a message, perhaps putting her on notice!  “I know he’s gone…I’ve just been waiting for him to leave…get ready!”  (Cue loud clap of thunder, bolt of lightning, and eerie, shadowy figure laughter.)  Sound familiar? 
   You all know it; you’ve all experienced it, that phenomena swirling about your mariner, enveloping them in a shield of security and comfort?  The one that also goes back to sea with them and leaves you in the lurch?  It’s what I refer to as Beady’s Law.   (Beady is my mariner.) 
   When Beady is home, it’s just as fine as a Disney movie.  The birds are chirping, the forest animals feed from the palm of our hands, healthy living abounds, the weather is beautiful--you get my meaning?  But then the moment arrives for him to head back to sea, and as I drop him at the airport and turn the wheel towards home, an alarming sound issues from the car engine.  ‘Not now!’ I demand, ‘He’s only just left!’  ‘Yes, now’ replies Fate with a snicker, ‘Isn’t this the life YOU chose?’   
   This incident is simply one in the hundreds that have occurred in my nearly eight years of being married to a mariner and over ten of being the child of one.  You’d think I’d be used to it by now, that I’d anticipate it, perhaps even laugh at the irony because, after all, the car ran fine when he was home.  It was in perfect condition for my “Golden Boy.”  But I’m not used to it, I never anticipate it, and I’m far from amused when it’s actually happening.  So I grit my teeth and deal with it, as we all do.  I take care of it, as we all do.  And I nod my head in resignation, knowing full well my mariner has taken that shield of security and comfort with him out to sea and that now, I’m on my own.  Beady’s Law is in effect!  
   It’s the strangest thing, isn’t it?  The children become as sick as they’ve ever been, the furnace goes out in the dead of winter, beloved animals have to be put to sleep, the ceiling starts leaking, skunks surround the house in a most ominous fashion, weirdos knock at your door, mice invade the cupboards, and you contract the worst case of pneumonia doctors have ever seen!  And to top it off, the inevitable layer that comes with having a mariner in your life, you can’t seem to get any sympathy or validation from your non-mariner friends, as they invariably give you the nuttiest looks and comments.  “You knew this was what life would be like when you married him, right?”  Or “I guess you shouldn’t have gotten involved with a merchant mariner.”  And my personal favorite, “Well, you’d better get used to it.”  This last one is almost always from a woman who can’t go a night without her husband and has a meltdown if she has to take the car for an oil change due to some scheduling mishap with hubby!  But I digress…  
   What is this phenomena?  Why does it happen?  Is it all just a series of tests meant to make us better people?  If that’s the case, can I opt out on a few of the examinations?
  Witness just how powerful Beady’s law can be!  Before my husband and I met each other, he was involved with another woman, living with her, very much in love.  When he left for sea, crappy things happened, as can occur sometimes, and they ended the relationship.  It was necessary for him to move out, but what could he do, he was a thousand miles away at work? 


   His family actually moved him out of the apartment!  So not only did he NOT have to schlepp all of his stuff out of the place, he didn’t even have to deal with her and all the messy junk that comes with physically breaking ties with someone you love very much.  His family broke up with her, not him!  They threw their backs out lifting a ridiculously gigantic television, not him!  They moved “The World’s Largest Couch and Matching Sofa” from there to storage, not him!  Who does that happen to?  A mariner, that’s who.
   Do I sound bitter?  Maybe.  How about frustrated?  It’s a strong possibility.  But I’m fairly certain the emotion that surfaces most of the time, the one I’ve seen on the face of my friend as she related the story of the hateful light bulbs, is jealousy.  SURPRISE!!  Yup, I’m actually jealous of my husband, more often than not, when the door to the seventh level of hell opens.  Jealous that he can be totally removed from the problem.  That he can simply focus on work to the exclusion of everything else.  And extremely jealous of the fact that he has a wife to take care of these issues as they arise.  (I’ve often asked for a wife for Christmas, my birthday, anniversaries, etc.  Unfortunately, my request has never been granted.)
   Now rationally, I know I shouldn’t envy a man who is 6 feet tall, probably the hairiest individual I’ve ever known, and who has to leave his home, his family, his life for months at a time in order to bring home the bacon---but I just can’t help it.  As far as I’m concerned, when the kitchen window is leaking for the umpteenth time and torrential rains are expected for the next 6 days, I think he’s the luckiest person on the planet!
   In any event, it IS always funny looking back at these dramas, wondering how I ever managed in some of the situations, and really thinking about the life I chose and what’s to come.  I’ve been a vet, a mechanic, a carpenter, electrician, plumber (you should all consider getting your own toilet snake, mine’s a six-footer), fixer of all leaks, and physician.  And I know as the years go on, I’ll become many more things in my life as a mariner’s wife, fairness will never be a part of it, maybe that’s the lesson I need to learn.  Aha!
   So Beady’s Law is a big part of my life now and though it can seem cruel and extremely unfair at times, I wouldn’t have it any other way.  For I’m sure you can understand when I say, that I’d much rather my mariner took that shield of comfort and security with him out to sea each time so he can return safely home to me EVERY time, even if I’ll probably have to hear him say, “But the car was running just fine last time I was home.”                         

                                  Copyright 2013 Callie's Mariner