merchant mariner families

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

March 26, 2013

gollum, the mariner's wife

me and all of my awesomeness
      Certainly when Beady's gone, life in our house is a little different, that much I will concede.  Armpit, leg, and facial hair are unattended for a time, the dogs are a little more sullen as their litter mate has left, Downton Abbey viewing increases, and the heat is maintained at a comfortable 68 degrees.  Yet, to listen to Beady, you'd think I turn into a creature from The Hobbit as soon as his plane takes off from Logan.  That somehow when I step through the door of our beautiful home, all sense of civility leaves me and I spend the rest of his absence living in a tree with wide feral eyes and only my long toenails 
 to keep me situated there.
1.  Yes, I hate taking out the garbage, but guess what?  I take out the garbage.  However, because I've mentioned my loathing of said chore on more than one occasion, the first thing he asks when he comes home is, "So how many bags of trash did you take out yesterday?  Two, three, twenty?"  He not only imagines heaps of trash spilling out of the kitchen into the dining room, but that somehow I'd be completely okay living under those smelly, unsanitary circumstances and the ONLY thing that would induce me to move out of that merry existence is the announcement of his return.  As if I stage an episode of Hoarders and call the 1-800-GOT-JUNK guys to come and clean me out because it's just too far gone and I need to make "nicey" for the old man's return. 

2.  He insists that I eat Doritos nearly all the time.  While my Dorito intake certainly increases a smidge in his absence, particularly the day after he leaves, I'm not solely responsible for keeping the company in business, as he's so fond of believing.  I'm at about 1 bag (family size) per 70 day absence.  Is that so unreasonable?   

3.  He also thinks I perpetually sleep on a pile of clean clothes, simply picking off what I want or need as time passes, but eventually putting them all away upon his return.  Technically, I don't sleep on them.  We have a king size bed, so they live on Beady's side until I need them, extremely convenient and efficient.  I'm all about efficiency; why put them away when I'll most certainly be using them in a matter of days?  Although I do put them away on occasion, when I have company over as people seem to be offended by said efficiency.       

4.  The heat, the heat, the blessed heat.  When Beady's gone, the thermostat stays around 68 degrees throughout the winter until bedtime, when I turn it down to 60 or 62, so I can sleep. Because my husband runs a constant crock pot temperature of 3,892 degrees Fahrenheit, fighting always ensues about where to set the thermostat.  This time home he actually accused me of keeping the heat at a steady 95 degrees while he's gone.  "I know you do that, I just know it!"  Boy was he worked up, which I wanted to tell him was increasing his body's core temp, but it was simply too funny to stop.  When I asked him what on earth would compel me to jack the heat up to such an uncomfortable temperature, he seemed befuddled, as if I'd asked him to hold my xylophone.  Thinking perhaps his silence indicated an understanding of my logic, I was surprised to hear his retort, made under obvious duress as he was currently sweating, intermittently tugging at his collar to cool down, and making huge, frantic arm gestures to emphasize his crazy point. "THREE REASONS!" he barked.  "To keep the house like a sauna, to irritate me, and actually melt the snow off of the roof and the surrounding area of the house so you don't have to shovel!"  So now I'm lazy, too.  By the way, the actual temp in the house at this particular moment was 65 degrees.

5.  And now for more office and the bedroom are located on the same floor of the house, so Beady imagines I live exclusively in these two rooms for the duration of his absence.  He feels it allows me to "get away with" not cleaning the rest of the house for 70 days.  I know.  You're thinking he's being totally unreasonable, right?  Exactly.  This is completely insane as there's no pantry full of Doritos up here, no refrigerator, and he won't let me install a liquor cabinet in my office.  Duh!         

    Let me reassure you, since you might be considering never venturing back to this blog about the pig Beady lives with, the picture my husband holds in his head is far from the truth, yet a common mariner trait.  I've found over the years, that many mariners upon their return feel so unnecessary, not needed.  Why?  Because those who remain at home are so independent, so used to getting the job done and living a full and interesting life at the same time sans mariner.  It's sometimes difficult to modify that way of living upon his or her return and allow them in, hence their feelings of uselessness.  So these are the stories Beady creates when he takes the garbage out, cleans up, folds laundry, or simply considers my life without him.  Even Big Daddy Mitchell had his stories, insisting my mother was incapable of parking the cars in the garage or even gassing them up; he just never entertained the idea of how she got to work each day, every day, when he was gone.  
    So every mariner's story is different, yet the same theme runs through all of them...that longing to feel needed.  It's why I've handed over more than a few responsibilities to Beady when he returns, and why I've endured his ridiculously exaggerated picture of my life without him.  I do need him, in so many ways, and enjoy and appreciate his demonstrations of love in every little thing he does for me when he's here.  From having the oil changed in the car down to picking up a jacket I left on the living room chair, it all matters as he matters.
    And probably the biggest lesson I've learned over the years about Beady's "need to feel needed" is to simply be grateful that he's a huge fan of The Hobbit franchise, otherwise I'd probably still be single.      

Copyright 2013 Callie's Mariner

March 19, 2013

the question

    So there you are, happy to have your mariner home!  You've finally adjusted to the homecoming, perhaps it's been a day, a week, who knows?  Then you make your first public appearance, so happy, all is right with the world.  You walk into the get together, you're greeted by friends, family, etc...hugs all around.  Yay!  Then there's a pause and someone asks your mariner, "SO, WHEN ARE YOU GOING BACK TO SEA?"  Killjoy.  I mean it's literally the first question they ask. 
    Does this happen to you?  Does it happen so much you'd like to wear a t-shirt stating the answer in all forms?  Or how about the question you get over and over when your mariner's gone"So, when's he coming back?"  Again, first question, as if that's the essence of your being, the purpose of your existence.
    Let me insert a little disclaimer here before I go on.  I realize that people genuinely care about Beady and want to know about his comings and goings and I also understand that friends and family worry about me from time to time being alone, so it's only natural they'd want to know when Beady's returning.  And both of us really appreciate that, truly we do(Okay, that's the end of the disclaimer.)  But just imagine, pretty please for a moment, having that question posed to you on a loop.  It's what everyone leads with, everyone.  
    Beady has been famous over the years, at least with me, in his varied responses.  'When are you headed back to sea?' has been answered by him enthusiastically with...
     "On Mars." 
     "Never, I'm retired."
     "I like the Wizard of Oz." (Just like that kid from 'A Christmas Story')
     "In an hour."
     "Are those real?"
     "My wife is super crazy."
     "I have diarrhea."
     "When are you going back to work?"

      All to no avail, I might add, even when he tells the simple truth.  When it really begins to grate on us is answering those questions over and over for the same people every time we see them again, people who for some rude reason don't listen the first three times you told them, "When were you going back again?"  "When's Beady coming home again?" It's maddening.  I used to work with a woman who would ask me the latter question every single day, I'm not joking.  The only change-up she ever graced me with was when Beady came home, then it was, "When's Beady going back to sea?"  I answered her with a smile at times, others through gritted least I got the weekends off.  What I came to realize, though it didn't lessen the irritation, was that she asked simply to make conversation.  Apparently, there was nothing of value in my person to warrant her engaging me in a more interesting dialogue.  That was all she saw me as, some guy's wife who goes to sea.  Listen, I've been kicked out of bars, I've got a lot more going on than just being someone's wife!

Salty doesn't like questions either.
    I guess the reason these kind of questions bother us so much is that in this type of lifestyle, you tend to live in the now, you have to otherwise you miss out on some really great stuff.  So someone asking Beady when he's going back is like hanging a giant albatross around his neck, reminding us both about his eventual departure even though it may be in a couple of months.  We don't want to think about it, believe me, we do enough thinking about it when he's about to leave, when he leaves, and when he's gone.  We've got it covered.  
     And as for my question, specifically "When's he coming back?"  Here comes Bad Wife again...sometimes, I don't want to think about it.  Sometimes, I want to forget I have a husband who's not home beside me, where he's supposed to be.  Sometimes, 70 days goes by much faster when I don't have to think about Beady every single moment of my life.  And there you have it, another window into my horrible soul.  Mwuah, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha!!!!!!
     It's a toughy, but something that I don't see changing any time soon, unless I actually did get a t-shirt with all possible answers to those questions, or maybe if I started weeping uncontrollably when they asked?  Or perhaps I could ask them not to ask that question anymore when they ask it!  Get it?  But that probably wouldn't work either because in the time it took me to explain it to them, I could've answered their original question and left.  
    All kidding aside, yes, it infuritates me on occasion and I know Beady hates it, but...I'm guessing we'd probably ask the same type of questions if we were living on the other side of the fence.  People are people.  However, I would absolutely love some advice on those types of questions, in the small hope that I could change the game, so to speak.  Please, gimme whatcha got, I'm always willing to try out new material!  And in the interim, I'll leave you with a new mariner friend's response to that lovely, lovely question.  

Them:  So,when do you go back to sea?

Dave:   At the end of the month...
        I try not to think about it, but  
        thanks for bringing it up.      

You see?  Even honesty doesn't work! 

Copyright 2013 Callie's Mariner

March 12, 2013

the original merchant mariner

   So to be equitable, I decided to let up on Beady and turn the focus toward my father, whom you may remember is also a merchant mariner.  And since I'll be writing about him frequently in upcoming posts, I figured you'd like a little introduction to the man, the legend, Big Daddy Mitchell.
   Now there are two truths I must establish before going any further.  First, I refer to my father as Daddy.  Yes, I'm nearly forty.  Yes, I'm a foot taller than him.  Yes, it was extremely difficult to write that first post about him, Love At First Sight, without using the word daddy once, hence the need for my honesty if you are to hear about him on a regular basis.  And yes, it's a little embarrassing, so I've decided when I turn fifty or so that I'll continue to call him Daddy, but with a southern accent.  It seems more refined, more ladylike, and for some reason those gentlewomen get away with it well into their eighties and nineties.
  The next truth is that my father is technically my step-father.  My biological father left before I turned one never to be seen or heard from again, although I do have half of his ashes in a cigar box down in the living room...but that's another dysfunctional story. 

   Daddy is unique.  I know, I know, every girl thinks her father is one of a kind, but mine really is.  Imagine if Spiderman and Jerry Stiller (as either Frank Costanza or Arthur Spooner) had a child; yup, that's my father...awesome.  Lightening quick reflexes, able to scale heights three and four times his size, yet tremendously concerned with the amount of toilet paper guests and family use in his home.  "Three squares of paper is all you're allowed!" he once exclaimed to a boyfriend of mine approximately ten minutes into his visit.  

   I've actually picked up some ragingly mental habits from him, so much so that my mother often accuses him of being my biological father.  For instance, I still tremble when anything but water goes down the garbage disposal and often berate my husband for using it.  We simply weren't allowed to use the one in our house, I think it was that part of Daddy that likes to keep things pristine, no chips in the disposal blade, "Let's not tax the poor thing."  And imagine Christmas morning, the house is festive, music playing in the background, friends and family laughing as gift giving is about to commence.  "STOP!" he demands.  "We can't start without this!"  And down plops the giant, ugly, plastic, green (at least it's green) garbage can from the garage, dead center in the living room, obstructing nearly everyone's view of everyone else.  "Put all of your discarded wrapping paper in here!That's really how he speaks, as if we've all come for a Wrapping Paper Removal and Elimination in-service on December the 25th.  Now as a kid, I hated it, but as an adult, I still get a little tense and flushed when the paper starts to accumulate on the holiday floor.
   And I can't tell you how many weird looks and comments I've received from people I'm having dinner or lunch with if spaghetti is involved.  It's gotten so I don't even order that item in public anymore.  Daddy was Mr. Manners, elbows off the table, don't speak unless you're spoken to, no laughing at dinner, put your napkin in your lap, don't talk with your mouth full, the list goes on.  Well, one of his rules was that spaghetti was to be eaten with a fork and spoon, "Don't you dare cut that up, young lady!  It's rude!  What will you EVER do if your boyfriend or husband's family serves you spaghetti?"  Now don't get me wrong, I was glad to have absorbed a pretty good set of table manners, but I'm definitely not glad that I feel the need to appeal to friends, family, and even my husband for permission to cut up pasta because that's what I do now and that's why I get the weird looks and comments.  "Do you mind if I cut up this spaghetti before I eat it?"  Imagine that question on a first or second date?  Probably wouldn't be a third.  
   Okay, but why Spiderman, you ask?  Here's why... summer, family dinner, picnic table on the patio about 10' from the sliding glass door.  Daddy was in the kitchen getting the last of the meal together and something moved him to come rushing outside.  Perhaps he forgot the meat on the grill needed to be turned, or maybe he was afraid I was cutting my spaghetti up, I just don't know why he started running.  But what I do remember is him flying through the screen door, just bolting right through it as if it had been wide open.  Then all in one instant, he did a Linda Blair full body 180 mid air, landed on his feet like a cat, caught the door, and put it back on its sliders all in one fast forward moment.  I have no idea how he got in front of the screen to catch it and the screen never hit the ground, it was undamaged.  Spiderman had not a scratch on him and my mother laughed for 15 minutes straight breaking the first Big Daddy Mitchell rule 'Thou Shalt Not Laugh at the Dinner Table.'
    And one more story,'s one of my favorites!  Christmas time, the first and last year he ever tried to help decorate the tree.  Apparently, he and I were arguing like teenage girls, except I was one at the time, so it was completely okay for me.  My mother insists that was the spark which propelled her into action, or rather my father's insistence on arguing with a non-adult.  She had reached her limit just as we put the last bulb on and were ready to light it up.  My father stepped off the hearth, still going at it like a champ with me and as my mother moved toward the outlet, she suddenly changed direction and put her hand in the tree.  I'm not sure how it happened, but the next thing I saw was a 7' fully decorated Christmas pine gracefully flying through the air straight at my father and what followed next was a holiday impossibility.  As the tree dropped it's altitude and looked perilously close to knocking him out, my father seemed to make a jerky motion, almost like a spasm, and a single hand appeared out of nowhere, stopping the tree dead in its tracks.  Big Daddy Mitchell caught it, one handed, not a piece of tinsel came off that puppy.  My mother left the house for an hour, completely disgusted.  I'm pretty sure she'd wanted to shed some blood.   
    Now I'm not certain where my father got all of this ...Maine Maritime Academy, his mother, long stretches at sea?  Perhaps it's a
mash up of all of them.  What I do know is that no matter his strange brand of "uniqueness" he gave me two of the most important things in this life that I needed to get by.  The first came when he told me he would marry my mother.  As he said the words, I was five years old at the time, he handed me a large, green, empty and full of possibilities binder.  My mantra to this day is 'There isn't a problem that can't be solved by an excel spreadsheet and a sturdy binder.'  Seriously, I have a binder for everything.  It was my first bribe, my very first addiction, and it's given me a great sense of organization. 

   The second thing he gave me, and I just know you'll agree became the most important, was the fact that even though some daddies leave their daughters never to be seen or heard from again until they end up in a cigar box...cremated...on a coffee the living room of this very house, that there are other daddies who leave their daughters, but always come back for them.  I can't imagine what my emotional life would've been like otherwise and didn't it work out so well that I had to learn to trust a man who was gone for half of the year, every year?  Was it Spidey Sense that brought him into my life?  Who knows.  But that, my friends, is why I'm not a serial killer of absent dads today.  You can thank Big Daddy Mitchell or his father, Jerry Stiller.     

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Copyright 2013 Callie's Mariner

March 05, 2013


  The Phillips Family        MCCOLLESTER/GETTY
    You see that woman on the right?  Lavender shirt, glasses, the one with the 'Yeah, I know my husband just spent 96 hours on a lifeboat as a hostage, but I'm keeping it together' look?  Well, I added her to my short list of heroes a while back and by short, I mean three including her.

       Holly Mitchell~Mommy Extraordinaire      
  Robin Patterson~Power & Attitude Lady 

      and the newest member...      

 Andrea Phillips~SuperWoman,
or as she's commonly referred to,
"That Pirate Guy's Wife"  

        In the early days of April 2009 a story broke about a merchant vessel, the Maersk Alabama, being taken over by pirates off the coast of Africa.  I thought instantly of Beady, who was out to sea at the time, and said a silent prayer of thanks as he no longer shipped in that area, was safe and sound, and headed to Hawaii.  My second thought was for the families of each and every one of those merchant mariners still on the ship.  I couldn't imagine what they were going through and so wished I could do something, anything for them.  Later on in the crisis, I was relieved, but horrified at the same time, to learn most of the crew was safe, yet the captain had been taken from the ship and was in a lifeboat headed God knows where with the pirates.  I watched the news religiously from then on, hoping for resolution, but really only searching for Andrea.  My heart went out to her and the glimpses I caught of her on camera or in photos from the media only served to reinforce that sentiment.  She looked like EveryWoman, perhaps a really great friend, someone's mother, a sister, and I watched in amazement as she continued to carry herself with strength and dignity.  How was she doing it?  Why didn't she lose her mind?  Why wasn't she curled up in a ball with a bottle of Jack Daniels in the corner rocking back and forth because I don't think any of us would've held it against her had she chosen to do exactly that.  My admiration for her continued to grow as the days passed and eventually, we all learned that Captain Phillips had been rescued.  The wait was over, he was coming home.
     In the following months, more and more details about the event emerged and we learned all about the heroes involved and their actions during that incredibly stressful time.  There was the Maersk Alabama crew, men who spent a considerable amount of time stalling, confounding, and even hunting the pirates down on their ship.  Who does stuff like that anymore?  Then there was the Navy and those well-disciplined Seals who successfully ended the stand off by shooting from a moving platform at a moving target.  Yes, both areas were moving...hello?  Does anyone else think that's amazing?  And, of course, Captain Phillips, who sat in a lifeboat for 96 hours wondering at times if he'd make it home ever again.  I would be mental after an experience like that, I can't believe he could even talk after they pulled him out of the lifeboat.       
      But to me, someone was overlooked, and after speaking at length with her I get the sense that's completely okay in her book.  Andrea has put a face on the life of maritime families.  There are so many of us who live this way quietly, no fanfare, no fuss, we just do what we have to do.  It's our life, not so different from others, it's just that our mariners are gone for half the year, every year, but we adjust and it almost becomes the norm.   So what follows is a glimpse into the life of Andrea Phillips, merchant mariner spouse, not an account of what happened on the Maersk Alabama.  Andrea generously shared how she navigates this kind of life while trying to make it as normal as possible for her children.  She talks about her career, her hobbies, girl time, how Beady's Law has popped up continuously in her life and she also described those five intense days at home when Richard was gone and she was powerless to help him. 

                    Thank you, Andrea!

Copyright 2013 Callie's Mariner