The Satisfied Life

 

 

VP-11

VP-11, Proud Pegasus

When I was in the Navy, I was stationed, among many other places, in Brunswick, Maine, and Barbers Point, Hawaii. At both duty stations, there were places overlooking the sea that I frequently visited to relax, take photos, and swim or scramble around the cliff faces. In Maine, that place was on Bailey Island at a place along the cliffs called The Giant’s Stairs. There was a granite outcropping shaped like a sofa where I used to sit. In Hawaii, I sat on the rocks at a favored spot at Yokohama Beach on the Windward side of Oahu.

fixedw_large_2x

Yokohama Beach, Windward coast,Oahu.

In both places, the salt breeze filled my head, the sea crashed against the cliffs and the shore, seagulls swooped and cried in the sky, ships sailed over the horizon, and airplanes

VP-6

VP-6, World Famous Blue Sharks

filled the sky with criss-crossing contrails. I fell in love with both spots and visit them as often as I am able. I would call them places that were, and still are, important aspects of my life.

 

AUG_7666 copy

The Giant’s Stars. The granite sofa is just outside of view to the left.

While sitting on the rocks and gazing out to sea, I often found myself in a reflective mood, thinking about work, home, family, my future. It’s funny, but I distinctly remember times at both places, as though I were sitting there now, when I wondered where I would be in thirty or forty years, what I would be doing, who I would be married to, if I would be happy, if I would be satisfied.

 

Satisfied. If I would be satisfied with my life.

VP-8

VP-8, Fighting Tigers

Yesterday, I found myself thinking about my life and what has given me the most satisfaction. It wasn’t a difficult question to answer. I was both an enlisted man and an officer in the Navy, and I still work for the Navy, now with the Civil Service. As an enlisted man, I maintained aircraft, mostly the P-3 Orion (for 20 of my 27 years on active duty), an anti-submarine warfare aircraft. As an officer, I directed the maintenance on aircraft. I guess most people would think earning a commission as an officer would have given me the most satisfaction. No, not really.

VP-4

VP-4, Skinny Dragons

What gave me the most satisfaction was “swinging wrenches,” performing the actual stairshands-on maintenance. I maintained the structure, flight controls, hydraulic systems, landing gear, patched her skin, painted her surfaces, and washed her bones. I replaced her windshields, tires and brakes, crawled inside her wings to fix fuel leaks, patched her fiberglass nose and stinger, stenciled my squadrons’ insignia on her vertical stabilizer, rigged her flight control cables, and removed and replaced her ailerons, flaps, and stabilizers. I left a lot of blood on the Orion; a lot of her blood is in me. I wrote about Orion once; you can read it here.

VX-1

VX-1, Pioneers

Someday, as I draw near my last breath, someone will ask what gave me the most satisfaction, and I will tell them:

I maintained the P-3 Orion. She was my life.

200px-VX20

VX-20, Jiffy Lube of the Fleet

Each A Vignette Of Life

In the forest, I walked with my head down,
It was easier, so, ‘neath my burden;
My boots were muddied and scuffed;
An eyelet rode free on frayed lace.

The winding path was hard-packed
From years of heavy, burdened travel;
Pebbles and stones ground-in and smoothed
By soles, and the wind and the rain.

The soil varied in color,
Brown, black, and gray, and tan;
Grass fringed the edge of the trail,
The way spectators watch a parade.

The breeze soughed in the trees,
And rain spattered off leaves;
A frog croaked some distance away,
And my boots squish-squished in the mud.

My eyes rarely saw other than earth,
‘less reflected in puddle of water;
Once, as I wandered in thought,
I glanced up for the blaze on a tree.

Life is made up of moments
Packaged in bits of time;
The world’s a window of frames,
Each a vignette of life.

“They grow up so fast”
“I missed the sunset”
“I don’t have time for you now”
“I’m almost through with this game”

“Oh, where have all the years gone?”

One day, I shed my burden,
My neck and my shoulders were sore;
I arched my back and stretched
All the muscles and joints of my body.

Eyes closed, I threw my head back,
Breathed deep and opened my eyes;
The sky deepest blue and puffed clouds,
Birds chirped in trees all around.

I shook off the burden that weighed on my soul,
The time thieves that robbed me of life:
The clicks and the swipes and the channel selects,
The beguiling seductress that sucks away time.

Life is made up of moments
Packaged in bits of time;
The world’s a window of frames,
Each a vignette of life.

Two Blogs to Visit

I’ve recently found two blogs I love. Carly Hood and April del Fierro write such wonderful prose and poetry that I look forward to waking up each day just to see if they’ve posted again.
Please join me in visiting their sites and starting the day off with a smile and a sigh.

Good Morning :-)

Ummmmmmm that’s good coffee

Illo06-anim-58a5fca55f9b58a3c90c6a4f (1)

Heavenly

Your head rests upon my shoulder.
The sun dips beneath the sea.

Emotion rises from a rich, deep well,
A soulful sob that catches in my throat;
My heart bursts with love that swells my chest;
Tears fill my eyes and a rapturous heat warms my face.

Ono, my angel, I want to tell you how I love you
But Heaven binds my tongue.

Home. All of Them

The house I wrote of yesterday stayed with me all day; I couldn’t get it out of my mind. I had intended a completely different point, about how we tear people down much easier than we build them up – people we disagree with, for example. We’ll stand in line to pick people apart for their flaws and shortcomings, their tastes, their politics, their looks. We generally stand by though and ignore people on the way up. We expect people to be self-sufficient and ‘make it’ on their own. Let them cross some shadowy line between tolerance and intolerance though, and it’s as if we suddenly view them as a threat to our stable world-view.  A few words into the Old, Old House though, I found my mind going in a different direction.

Willy, Sally, Marianne, Toni, Amersfoort Easter, 1965

Easter Sunday, Amersfoort 1966, Me, Sally, Marianne, Toni

I’m an Air Force Brat and career Navy Sailor, and have lived all over the world. I think that’s made me sentimental; I miss the houses I grew up in, the countries I lived in, and the people of different cultures I went to school with and later called shipmates. I found myself ranking how I feel about each house I called home, however short the time I lived there. Oddly enough, the house I called home for less than a year is the house I miss the most. I turned five years old there.

Driebergen Netherlands. Our 1st home in above the travel agency.

Our apartment in Driebergen today. My room was at the peak of the roof. The church is on the right. The candy shop is now a tour agency.

Soon after we arrived in Holland, we rented a small upstairs apartment from the owner of the candy shop on the ground floor. My room was in the attic; I pulled a rope to lower the stairs. From my bedroom window I looked out over Driebergen, Utrecht. It was in this tiny apartment that I became self-aware and began building memories. I have memories of living in Fairfield, California – where we moved from – but it was Driebergen where my mind began to mature and process impressions of the world around me. It was in Driebergen that I remember my first Christmas, attended Dutch kindergarten, made friends with other American boys my age, and learned that little boys shouldn’t mimic dad and cuss. I have memories of mom pulling a sled carrying my two younger sisters and me through the snow in the nearby park. We used to feed the ducks there too. I had my first sleepover in Driebergen. We lived next to a church with a tall bell tower. It had a really loud bell. Really loud. That may be, in fact, why we didn’t live in Driebergen long. From Driebergen , we moved to Amersfoort where we lived for two and a half years. That’s another story, though.

Volendam Netherlands 1967

1967. Volendam, Netherlands. L-R Sally, Me, Mom, Dad, Marianne, Toni. I look like such a geek.

My point, though, (I love to digress 🙂 is that no matter where we live, we build memories of the place that we retain  As a wonderful reader said in a comment “even when the house itself is gone, we always carry our childhood home with us.” We carry those memories for the rest  of our lives. A few years ago, I drove by the the house in Tampa, Florida that I lived in when I left for the Navy. I lived there the longest. That’s the house I call home. It’s where my parents lived out their lives. It’s where I went when I came home from the Navy on leave. It’s where I lived and learned and loved. I laughed there and I cried there. I worked through my teenage angst there and where a girl broke my heart for the first time. I buried my pet Cockatiel, Christopher Columbus, in the backyard. I learned discipline and responsibility in that house. I watched television with dad there. It’s the house where I told my mom how much I loved her for the first time. It’s the house where I tended my dad while he died and my mom recovered from a broken hip. It was in that house that my parents went from caring for me, to me caring  for them.

When I look back at all the homes I’ve lived in, I realize how much each one meant to me.

My First Haircut October 1960 Turkey

Adana, Turkey

I remember how much life occurred within their walls. I know that each home I lived in is a book that tells the story of the different periods of my life. I wish I could place each one on a shelf in my library, dog-ear the pages, wrinkle some pages with tears of happiness and sadness -sentimentality, look at the photographs, smell the pages, relive the moments. I wish I could live in each one again.

When you move out of a house, do you leave memories behind? Yeah, I think so. You may not visit the house for many years, but when you do, you remember things you had forgotten. Some will say that the memories are always there, somewhere in the back of your mind, waiting to be triggered by a sound, a sight, a smell. But I know the truth. I know that a house is a home and that it remembers. A home holds the memories of the lives that it sheltered, the hearts that ached and laughed within its arms. An empty, forgotten home yearns for light and laughter. An empty, forgotten home needs souls to shelter while they grow. Empty, forgotten homes are sad sights because we remember our own homes and why we loved them.

Writing is a powerful release of emotion. I strive to pour myself into the poetry and prose I write. I want to evoke feelings in others that I feel and felt myself. I want to convey my impressions of life to those who read so they find themselves dreaming my dreams, laughing with me, crying with me. When readers comment that I made them feel what I felt, I am so happy, I am thrilled to know their hearts laughed, cried, and broke with mine. Writing is powerful.

Writers too can fall for the emotions they themselves put on paper. If I successfully conveyed my impression of an old, old, forgotten house, I am grateful. I am grateful too that I have the capability to regret something I wrote because of the powerful emotion it evoked in me. Once written, you can’t unwrite it, you have to live with your story, your poem, the emotions.

That’s why the old, old house stayed with me all day and into today. I love every house I have lived in because each one was home and always will be. If I were to visit each one, it would remember me.

That old, old house. I wish I hadn’t broken its poor back.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Home. With me.

The old, old house stands brooding, silent, empty, shuttered.
Peeling paint, peeling memories, peeling years, decaying.
Squeaking gate unhinged, cracked stone steps, black holes gape between them,
Give way to wild rose and dandelions, crabgrass, spurge and apples.
Skinned shins on broken porch boards; cobwebs make me shrink.
Ancient knocker of green-tinged brass, dolphins dancing on their tails.
Quiet the knocker, there’s no one home, no need to break the spell.
Inside, dark, the stairwell creaks beneath soft steps; why am I so quiet?
Master bed and rusty springs, rusty tears discolor the sink.
Cloudy, cracked mirror hides its faces, nothing there to see.
Floorboard creaks and, moved aside, a shaft of light reflects.
Beneath, boy’s treasure, cigar box full of baseball cards, a whistle, and a rock.
Bedrooms, closets, attic, nursery; musty smells of youth grown old.
Quiet again, I tiptoe down the stairs; who might I awaken?
The heart of a house the kitchen, mama’s voice the rhythm;
Rolling, kneading, slicing; mixing, baking, roasting; nourishing.
Holding hands around the table, they bowed their heads and prayed:
“Give us this day our daily bread, we thank you for your blessings.”
The old, old, house holds nothing now, even memories have fled.
Outside, I wave, and the great machine surges, wrecking ball swings high.
And as the old, old house’s back is broken, I know I hear it cry.
In my hand the cigar box treasure; I’ll take it home with me. Home. With me.

I Loved You, Before I knew You

Take my hand.
Walk with me.

Lust, fleeting.

The cocoon nurtures the butterfly before its wings may spread.

Chilly Willy

013014-snowman-sits-on-snow

Winter appears to have returned with a vengeance over the weekend. The high in Southern Maryland yesterday was forty-three degrees, and may reach thirty-four today. I’m not one to complain about the cold (except for a cold seat-of-ease; don’t they make heated ones?), and believe temperatures this cold should be accompanied by snow. My northern friends may cast eye darts at me, but I don’t mind shoveling snow. I find the cold exhilarating and shoveling an excellent workout. Of course, a good year of snow here is ten inches or so. We received at least three times that in 2010, but that’s a rare occurrence no matter how hard I pray for Buffalo, New York-like snowfalls.

I call Tampa, Florida home. “Haha,” you say. “It never snows in Florida.” I beg to differ, mon ami. In 1977, mere days before I left for Navy boot camp, a wicked nor’easter (so unexpected it wasn’t even named!) dropped nearly half an inch of snow on my neighborhood (just off 30th St and Fowler Ave). The snow had it made in the shade until the afternoon. I know! Unbelievable!ar-140109800

Before that, I lived in the Netherlands where I received my first impression of the fluffy white stuff. I remember walking around downtown Driebergen one night in the snow with my Dad at Christmas time and shopping for presents. To this day, I’m pretty sure I heard sleigh bells and a hohoho off in the distance, although that may have been wishful thinking.

It wasn’t until I completed boot camp and initial training, and reported to Naval Air Station Brunswick, Maine in October of 1977 that I understood all the hullabaloo about snow. Maine’s funny in Winter (notice I capitalize Winter – that’s respect – don’t anger Winter). It snows in October, then you don’t get any more snow for weeks and you think you’ve dodged an icicle. Then – bam! – it snows like hell is freezing over. It makes you cry. It makes you want your mommy. It makes you wish you were stationed in Death Valley (Yes! there IS a Navy base near Death Valley).

But, you adjust. You put on your big boy longjohns – two layers; your arctic sweatpants; your woolen trousers; three pair of LL Bean extra woolly boot socks; a turtleneck; a mock turtleneck; an LL Bean wool-lined flannel shirt; a sweater; another sweater; a scarf; a longer scarf; a fur-lined hockey mask; snow shades; a watch-cap; ear muffs; uh-oh, take it all off, you forgot your boxers…. Then you’re ready to walk to the outhouse. Haha 🙂 Just kidding (my Maniac friends don’t take offense) (insert ‘tears in my eyes’ smiley emoticon here 🙂

The trouble with wearing all that gear is that you just peel it off layer by layer as you labor and labor as you sweat and sweat while shoveling and shoveling the snow from your driveway. Or as you ski, snowshoe, ice skate, name-your-Winter-numbing thrill.

Where was I? Oh yes, October 1977. So, it snowed. Sweet! But, nothing much (see above) fell for a while after the October Surprise. Then, in early February, 1978, Winter returned. A Paul Bunyan Winter. A Blue-all-over Babe Winter. A Jolly Green Giant-in-a-parka Winter. W-I-N-T-E-R (one more letter and Winter would have the same number of letters as R-E-S-P-E-C-T).

Wow. And I thought the Winter of ’77 in Tampa was rough. Hooboy. It snowed and snowed and snowed, and the wind howled and howled and howled, and the power went off and on and off and on and off and off and off. And I had to go to work.

130715-28coffeemovingcolor397-300x300

No. Seriously. In the Navy, they own you. Well, the taxpayer owns you. And taxpayers don’t take kindly to non-politicians wasting their hard-earned taxes by not going to work because of a little snow. Unless someone from the squadron comes to your room in the barracks, taps softly on your door, and politely encourages you to remain indoors for your safety and drink hot Irish coffee, you go to work. So I did.

I put on my boxers (briefs, actually 🙂 my Navy-issue, three-sizes-too-small longjohns – two layers; my Navy-issue two-sizes-too-large sweatpants; my Navy-issue all-weather (NOT!) cotton trousers; three pair of black Navy-issue cotton socks; a turtleneck; a partridge in a pear tree; a mock turtleneck; a short-sleeved shirt; a black, Navy-issue sweater; a black, Navy-issue scarf; a black, Navy-issue watch cap; a pair of big, huge, bulbous, seriously-insulated Winter boots; mittens the size of Lake Michigan; a pea coat; and a parka. Now, the parka.

Navy parkas are hand-me-downs. “Hand-me-downs?” you ask sincerely. Yes, hand-me-downs. From the US Air Force. The Navy gets all its winter clothing, or foul-weather gear, from the Air Force. “Why?” you ask. Well, the Navy’s money is used like this: Requirement>Budget>Procurement>build officer’s club>build barber shop>ask for more money>build ships>build aircraft>build hangars>build runways>build shore patrol HQ>build barracks>build uniform shop>ask for more money>build Chief’s Club>build morale center for enlisted men>>><<<<<. Uh oh. No money for parkas No worries; the Air Force will give us their foul weather gear; they don’t work on cloudy days or when the temperature drops below comfy-cozy.

The Air Force uses its money this way: build officer’s club>build golf course>build putt-putt golf course>build swimming pool at officer’s club>build theater>build wives’ club>build NCO club>build Enlisted Men’s club> build tuxedo rental shop>pay Miss Manners to teach enlisted men manners and proper pinkie extension for drinking tea>build more enlisted men’s clubs to accommodate the poor, wretched, forgotten, Navy enlisted men. Ask for more money to build airplanes and stuff. And tools.

When an Air Force guy gets a spot of caviar on his clothing, he’s required to donate the clothing to a Sailor, then purchase new clothing. Same thing with foul-weather gear, except the Air Force doesn’t use the foul-weather gear. They’re required to have it, Congress says so, but they don’t have to use it. So, it sits around in mothballs for a while until some Senior Master Technically Senior Sergeant remembers the deprived Sailors he noticed panhandling on Poverty Row while his driver drove him to work. He orders his men to give the foul-weather clothing to the Navy, then they all sit around all charitable-like, laughing, and sipping 40-year old scotch and telling war stories (NOT!).

a-christmas-story-movie-ss02Anyway, where was I? Oh, yeah. So, I donned my parka – the caviar stain embarrassed me but I Sailor’d up – and headed off to the hangar. And danged if I didn’t walk into a whiteout. No, not the type of whiteout the Air Force uses on computer monitors. This was a snow whiteout. The hangar is only half a mile away. I mean, on a clear day you can see forever! Not that day. I couldn’t see my boots. I couldn’t see my belt. I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face! I could see my breath, because I had the front of the parka rolled all the way out, and because panic makes you breathe hard and fast. My breath had to go somewhere! How was I to get to work? Where was the hangar anyway? Who would be stupid enough to work on a day like this? Who would be stupid enough to fly in this weather? Stupid me.

4451739_origI stuffed my hands in my pockets – a big no-no in the Navy; it basically means you’re a no good malingerer, liable to skylark all day and hide out in the head to avoid work. I felt guilty then, and took my hands out of my pockets in case an officer walked by and saw me (remember my previous Navy post? Where I said I was the juniorest of junior Sailors? Yep. Still the case). Off I went. Nooooo tracks in the snow to signal the way; nooooo rope line to make sure I made it to the hangar and didn’t wander off the sidewalk and freeze to death (then someone would have had to write my folks about how I died in the line of duty, brave man, good man, bright future, huge loss to nation, many medals, etc etc etc; nooooo leaders to light my path with the purity of their benevolent awesomeness.

How I made it, I do not know. Apparently, ‘He’ had many more adventures in mind for me, or I amused ‘Him,’ I’m not sure which. By the time I made it to the hangar it was nearly sunrise. The officers would be waking up in a few hours and would need parking spots free of snow. I grabbed a shovel, girded my loins – buried somewhere under all those Air Force hand-me-downs, and headed for the parking lot.5872a6f36756f-image

“Where are you going, Shipmate?” It was the Command Senior Chief, Senior Chief Mike Glenn.
“I’m going out to shovel the officer’s parking lot, sir”
“Don’t call me Sir, Bill. I work for a living.”
“It’s Will, sir, I mean Senior Chief. Not Bill.”
“Okay, Bill. Put away the shovel and post topside to the Wardroom. For some reason, the Skipper says he wants you to make his coffee from now on.”
“Aye aye, Senior Chief.”
I didn’t ask questions. I didn’t look back. I didn’t malinger, skylark, or go AWOL. I ran my tail topside and made the Skipper, Commander Riffle, the best damn coffee in the whole darn United States Navy.
“Why?” you ask.
Hee hee: The Skipper had taught me how to make Navy coffee a week earlier.burke-with-coffee

 

But that’s a Sea Story for another time 🙂

Thursday Nights with Dad

Dad and I used to go the movies together when I was a kid and we were stationed in Soesterberg, Netherlands. Thursday night at the Camp New Amsterdam Air Force Base theater was westerns and war movies. All my buddies and their dads went. Mom would make grilled cheese sandwiches for dad and me at home, then we’d have popcorn and soda – and candy – at the movies. I always sat down in front with my pals, while dad sat with his friends in the back. John Wayne looked so tall filling the screen as seen from the point of view of a kid with his head tilted way back and stuffing popcorn in his mouth.

Willy and Dad Christmas in Holland 1966

Dad and me, Christmas 1967, Amersfoort, Netherlands

I loved the war movies and thought it was cool to be a Soldier, Marine, or Sailor. I didn’t know much about war at that age, even though the war in Vietnam was kicking into high gear. I also didn’t know WWII films were mostly propaganda, intended, naturally, to make folks back home despise the enemy and love our heroic fathers, sons and brothers. War was seen from the 20,000 foot level on the big screen. When death was shown, it was a heroic death if our boys, and a cowardly death if the enemy. The thinking was that the fighting men needed the support of the folks back home, and everyone needed good morale. So movies glamorized war, minimized death, and made a lot of noise.

dad-at-seventeen

Dad, seven months before he turned seventeen and joined the Navy.

Dad was a Sailor in the Pacific in WWII, a gunner’s mate, and fought at Iwo Jima and Okinawa. That’s his battle-damaged ship, an LST, at the  top of this post, sailing into San Francisco Bay. He was nineteen during the Battle of Okinawa. Only nineteen. After the war, dad married, joined the Air Force, and started a family.

dad_-bootcamp

Boot Camp, Great Lakes, IL

It never occurred to me later in life to ask dad what passed through his mind – or the minds of his buddies – while watching those movies. Years later we saw Patton together and Midway too; dad didn’t avoid war movies but, with few exceptions, he never spoke about his war experiences. He explained to me once what firing a salvo from a battleship meant, but that was about it. I was curious, but never pressed him to talk about it. I don’t know why. I guess I thought there was plenty of time to ask those questions later.

It wasn’t until years later that I realized how deep an impact the war had had on him. I invited him to tour my aircraft carrier when he and mom visited me in Norfolk, Virginia in the early nineties. He came to the ship, but wouldn’t go on board. That’s when I understood my father. Boarding my ship would have brought too many memories back: the death of his buddies, and the near-destruction of his ship.

20161001_144133

Mom and Dad, April 1947, San Francisco

To work through my dad’s experiences, I wrote an essay two years ago that pieced together what little I knew from him, and what little my mom would share. As I wrote, I came to understand that his entire post-war life was molded by WWII. I titled the essay Eighteen Thousand, Two Hundred and Fifty.

Eighteen Thousand, Two Hundred and Fifty. “Eighteen Thousand, Two Hundred and Fifty.” That’s how many days my father lived after the war. That’s also how many times my father died after the war. That’s how many times he fell asleep each night praying he would not wake up and relive the war in his mind, only to die again and again and again until, one day, finally, he died and stayed dead. Dad went to war a boy. He came home an old man.

That’s what war did to my dad when he was just nineteen years old.

I will have only one regret someday when I depart this life: That I didn’t know my Dad until it was too late.

I love you, dad.
Your son,
Willy

mom-and-dad

Mom and Dad, Tampa Florida