merchant mariner families

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

July 27, 2017

waiting by the phone...

    Every week I speak with Beady when he’s in port. Every week. I rarely acknowledge how lucky I am to even have this luxury and sometimes even pout (yes, grown women can pout) when I only get to talk with him for a few minutes because he’s, get this, working. What a jerk! So I was fortunate to be reminded of my good luck last month when Beady and I were having a little difficulty speaking due to conflicting schedules and his heavier than normal workload on the ship. As we were making an appointment to talk, I was instantly reminded of what an endeavor it was to speak with Big Daddy Mitchell when I was a kid and he was sailing around the world. That stopped me dead in my ‘woe is me’ tracks.  

   You see, when I was little and my father was out to sea, communication was “An Event.”  To speak with him took weeks of planning and 1 or 2 days of actual waiting by the phone.  No e mail, no satellite phones, no cell phones, no texting…just snail mail; specifically, snail mail on his part as we could never write to his floating address.
  It would begin with a hopeful letter from Daddy. He was entering such and such a port in such and such a country and he had heard there was a phone just inside the small town he’d be able to use to call home. Now, with any luck, they’d be sailing into port on a weekend otherwise Mum was at work and I was at school and there would be no telephonic reunion, unless he called at 3am and I wasn’t woken up for those calls. Often we’d receive this all important letter weeks in advance only to be thwarted when Daddy would send a follow up letter indicating the port had been cancelled, he couldn’t get off the ship, or their stay would be too short. ‘Maybe at the next port,’ he’d write and we would wait patiently to hear of his next attempt at contact.
   If all matters eventually went well, my mother and I would spend the majority of a weekend inside the house waiting for the phone to ring. Difficult for a child during the summer, even more difficult for a single mother who uses her precious Saturday and Sunday time to run errands and prepare EVERYTHING before the work week begins again. However, the phone would ultimately ring and we’d take our turns catching up with Daddy and catching him up on life ashore. Sometimes the calls were cut short, sometimes the phone never rang, but in most cases there was plenty of time to speak with him and attempt to plan the next phone call weeks or months out.

As I think on that time and how inconvenient it was to our home schedule, I feel guilty knowing that for Big Daddy Mitchell, those phone calls were the world, as I imagine they were and are to every mariner. Their life goes on without them in some ways and the sting of that must have been lessened by each and every one of those phone calls.

 I imagine the same can be said for today as well. We have e mail, text, cell phones, and now Skype and Facetime. We are so lucky, so fortunate to have technology on our side and it must make life a little easier for those out to sea to stay connected, still woven into their lives ashore. Communication is vital to mariners; it’s a lifeline to emotional well-being. The ability to speak with loved ones, friends, and family while at sea ensures balance of mind, the strength to get through the ‘work week,’ and continuity of one’s own life despite the fact miles of ocean separate the mariner from it.
   When I was confronted with the ease of my reality today in communication with Beady and thought back to our George Lucas type productions for speaking on the phone with Daddy, what stopped me short was knowing there are still mariners out there who experience the same difficulties he had over 35 years ago. Even e mail is a luxury on some of the ships sailing around the world today, which boggles the mind. Surely the work output of a sailor is increased dramatically when he or she is given fairly consistent access to loved ones. Surely one’s sanity is well-kept when a chance to see or hear how their child’s day went at school is permitted. 
   So I am lucky, I am fortunate, but more importantly, Beady is all of those things and more. More lucky than Big Daddy Mitchell, more lucky than just 8 or so years ago when an e mail every few weeks and a random call from somewhere was his only way to speak to us. Now, he can regularly keep up with his family and know we’re all right, that we miss him, and we love him more than words can say. And knowing that makes me feel better about his being away and his ability to work with a more peaceful mind. 

So, no more pouting for me, I must try harder to be more grateful for ALL that we have.

                                              Copyright 2017 Callie's Mariner