merchant mariner families

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

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

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