Thursday, July 28, 2011

A Moment of Realization - of Becoming

The following is from my personal journal:
July 13, 2011 - Starlight Café, Bath, ME - Had a crabmeat and spinach quiche. I know that "real men don't eat quiche", but I had the opportunity to have crabmeat in it. And everybody knows, crabmeat is the other, other white meat.

After a terrific tour of Bath Iron Works, via a trolley from the Maine Maritime Museum, we had about a half-hour conversation with the tour guide. The tour guide was a retired engineer who worked on my ship - USS Elrod, FFG-55 - back during my early naval career. We had about a half-hour conversation together after the tour. Later, while Lisa and I were in the gift shop, we could here him telling others that there is a plankowner from the Elrod here. Way cool!

We went to Café Crème to have something to drink and snack. Very tasty. From there we went to the Kennebec River and sat on a bench and absorbed the atmosphere. Then we went to the local IGA for some wine and cheese and watched as a rainstorm came through. I did a fast walk to the other side of town for the Jeep. We decided to go back to the hotel to clean up and change clothes.

Dinner was at the Osprey - delicious. Great clam "chowdah"! Lisa had a lobster roll and I had seafood fettuccini (lobster, mussels, scallops, shrimp - oh yeah!)

After dinner we went for a drive and enjoyed as the evening set in. We found ourselves at the "end" of Bath along the Kennebec as the sun set.

Lisa and I had a conversation while sitting alongside the Kennebec River and why a place like this for me, or for her Kent State University, has such meaning. The Kennebec is just a river. I'm no lifetime sailor. I have no connection to the sea as some do. And yet I'm drawn here.

My life completely changed when I got to Bath, ME back in 1985. I left San Diego, CA, went home for about two weeks on leave (vacation), and then met the ship in Bath. I arrived, met the ship, and immediately was sent to Norfolk, VA to meet the crew. You have to understand, the Elrod was a brand-new ship. We were the original (a.k.a. "plankowner") crew. There is something special about being the first crew to take a ship out to sea. But at the beginning, while she was still being prepared, living quarters on the ship weren't ready. The crew was gathering in Norfolk to prepare, and that is where I went.

After a couple of short weeks we flew back to Maine to meet the ship. Once we took possession of her we left Bath via the Kennebec River and met the outskirts of a hurricane. After being tossed around for awhile (it was such fun! I saw a chair lift off the deck and flew over against a bulkhead [wall]. In actuality, the ship dropped and leaned so quickly the chair was left in midair, where the bulkhead came to it. Someone immediately said, "Someone want to tie that thing down?") the ship went to New Jersey for our ammo, a quick stop in Brunswick, GA for the commissioning ceremony, and then to Charleston, SC - our home port.

You see, the Kennebec represents a transition for me. Traveling down the river on the Elrod was a symbolic moment where I left "childhood" and entered "adulthood". Leaving home and going to San Diego, CA was not the same. Sure, there was boot camp, Radioman "A" School, and Morse Code School, but it was still school. When I got to the Elrod I was told, "You just get out of school? Well, forget what you learned; we're going to teach you how to be a Radioman." I learned how to be independent yet part of a team/family. I moved on and became a man. The river represents that "becoming" to me. And coming back to it floods my personal banks with emotion - overwhelms me.

I've half-jokingly said that when I die I want to be cremated and have my ashes deposited in the Kennebec. I guess I find that river a symbol for another major transition as well.

© Emittravel 2011

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