Change

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On December 10, 2013,  Robin and I braved the icy roads of Northwest Arkansas for a short trip from our new and temporary apartment to our old home on Jimmie Ave.   With the closing time scheduled just a few hours in the future we wanted to spend a few minutes in our home.

Each room was completely empty of furniture and belongings,  yet so full of memories.   It was hard to walk through the house and see vast expanses of emptiness where so much has happened in the last 16 or so years.   There were birthdays, Christmas parties, my dear sister and her husband were married in a E. Fay Jones inspired gazebo that I spent days building.   There were days and nights spent surviving an ice storm in 2009 when the power was out for 7 consecutive days.   There were great celebrations with our dear friends and gourmet meals cooked to perfection, there were endless sailing club board meetings, dramatically improved by eating a meal together.   There were celebrations of change and sad times when change had affected us so very negatively.    All of them now just memories.   Just a chapter in a closed book,  placed conveniently upon a dusty shelf. We can never return “home”.   Sad?  Maybe.  Robin and I are looking forward to many new adventures.   We always knew that our life and lifestyle wasn’t going to be sustainable on Jimmie.   The house was entirely too big for just a couple of people who had raised a son and were ready to downsize.

Barb, who has excellent taste in wine,  set us up with a fantastic bottle of zinfandel.   I expertly uncorked the wine and poured it into two glasses that we had left behind just for this occasion.  With the fireplace blazing, we sat cross-legged on the empty expanse that was our living room.   A flood of memories and tears soon ensued. We cried,  we reminisced, we toasted,  and then suddenly we were ready to move on; to close this chapter, and open new ones.   It was really that simple.

We finished our bottle of wine and walked through the house one more time and headed to our favorite restaurant Mermaids.   Initially, we started going to Mermaid’s on Tuesdays because bottles of wine were half price and appetizers were on special for happy hour. A super deal, since we like both.  However, the thing that kept us coming back was Toula, the manager of the bar. Tuesdays at Mermaids became “Toula Tuesdays” since we knew that we would be greeted with a warm smile and extra care from someone that we have grown to admire. So, in our vulnerable state after saying goodbye to the house on Jimmie, we arrived at Mermaids. Toula took care of us and served us a great meal to end the evening and shared in our excitement and tredpidation about this finalization of our first step of our adventure.

We made our way back to our apartment where we reflected on the past months activity.   Robin pointed out that the house selling business has been pretty much a hurry up and wait enterprise.   In February and March we worked hard to get things ready to go on the market.   We killed ourselves for days moving crap and getting ready to be on the market.   Then we stalled,  spending  the Spring and Summer aboard Sea Change hopeful for a sale.   Again in September,  we painted make changes and cleared more stuff away for Clark Partners realty group to re-list the house.  Hopeful but a little afraid, we watched the For Sale sign get put in the front yard again.   Then the whirlwind hit, with force.   Three weeks after listing we had an offer and then began the process of actually moving out of the house that we had occupied for the past 16 years.   It would turn out to be job much larger than I had anticipated.

A week before we were ready to close, our stuff still in boxes in the garage, one of the worst winter storms Northwest Arkansas had seen hit with a vengeance.   An ice storm laid down several inches of ice and sleet then an additional 7 inches of snow piled upon the ice.   The roads were a nightmare.

In the sixteen years we’d lived on Jimmie Avenue I had never failed to get my trusty 4 wheeled cars up and down the drive.  This was not to be the case this year as my many attempts failed with a bad slide towards the embankment.  Robin and I waited it out for a few days but ultimately needed to shovel a small strip of pavement to get the 4runner up the drive and remove the last bits of our stuff from the house.

We were successful and after countless trips to our over stuffed storage place, we were completely out!  Success!

We grabbed our boat cards and walked the neighborhood.  Stopping at Jo’s house, a retired school teacher who had been our neighbor on Jimmie.  Heading on to the next house,  it became clear to me that leaving the house was easier than the leaving the people we had come to know and love in our neighborhood.   They were as much of a part of Robin and I, as we were of them.   We made our way down the street hugging and wishing well our neighbors of the past 16 years.

The next day, on a sunny but not warm December day,  we arrived at the closing office, signed the appropriate paper work and were done.   That was it.  Months of worry about the house not selling were gone.   Chapter closed.   Here we go!

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Son of a Son of Sailor

Michele Mangione, Circa 1940

Michele Mangione, Circa 1940

I never met my paternal grandfather.  He died about a year before I was born in the early 1960’s.   All the memories that I have of him were stories told to me over the course of my life by my father. Like so many family traditions, necessity dictates action. We were and are a family of men that took to the sea (for various reasons). As was the custom in Italy,  my grandfather, being the youngest son,  was to become a priest and enter the religious life.   He would have nothing of this lifestyle and against his parents’ wishes he took a job as a cook on a merchant marine ship.   I’m not sure how long he cooked aboard the ship, but when it docked in New York harbor, he took liberty and never returned.  He spent the rest of his life in Western New York; marrying my grandmother whom he had met in the northern hills of Pennsylvania.

Frances Mangione,  Circa 1950

Frances Mangione, Circa 1950

From all accounts he lived a colorful life; making more wine than the law allowed and making the occasional moonshine run from Northern Pennsylvania. Meanwhile, he and my grandmother ran a small neighborhood grocery store in Buffalo, New York.

In the late 1940’s, the Korean Conflict was in full swing as was the military draft.   My dad was the perfect candidate to get the call.   In the inner city neighborhood where he lived, families were intricately connected.  As it would turn out, the local pharmacist was serving on the draft board, a collection of local citizens that would select eligible young men from the neighborhood to serve our country. The pharmacist told my grandfather that Dad’s name had been selected, and he was to be drafted in the upcoming weeks.  The pharmacist went on to say that if Dad didn’t want to be an infantry soldier in the Army, he should choose another branch of the service and do so quickly.   Deciding that the Navy would provide an acceptable alternative to marching and living in a foxhole, Dad enlisted.   After boot camp in Chicago,  he was off to war serving aboard a destroyer escort, the USS Wiseman.

Easter Sunday 1951

Easter Sunday 1951

I have toured several Navy warships from that era and I can say without a doubt that living aboard ship with 200 other men would not be a pleasure cruise.   Small bunks with little or no privacy and extreme working conditions were the norm. Many ships of the time utilized a boiler engine to make steam to generate electricity. This drove two bad ass electric motors which allowed the ship to reach a top speed of 24 knots with a range of nearly 5000 miles. (Sea Change only makes about 7 knots top speed.)

The USS Wiseman had been decommissioned after World War II.  But with the demands placed upon the United States, this destroyer escort was pressed back into service during the Korean conflict and subsequently recommissioned in April of 1950. Her mission was to serve as an Electric Power Supply Ship. She departed San Diego bound for Korea on September 11, 1950 with Dad aboard. Their first deployment was to the port of Masan in Korea near the mouth of the Naktong River.   Since the city was no longer able to make electricity on its own, the USS Wiseman would be its generator.  Dad was an Electrician’s Mate, standing watches and doing general maintenance on generators aboard the ship.

0666703I enjoyed listening to Dad talk about his Navy days. There was a certain romance about being at sea and he was able to clearly convey this to me. When he talked about his time on board, he made it seem like an adventure. It didn’t seem to matter that the living conditions aboard a Navy Destroyer Escort were rustic, he really enjoyed his time aboard ship.

One of my favorite stories goes like this:

The crew aboard the USS Wiseman were weathering a typhoon in the Pacific.   The ship was pitching and rolling so severely that they thought it might actually capsize.   The ship would list to 55 degrees at times. The crew had all been told that at 60 degrees the boat would turtle or roll over. Most of the crew had succumbed to mal de mer (sea sickness) with the pitch and roll and were incapacitated.  The crew quarters reeked of vomit.   Dad and a few other sailors who were apparently immune to sea sickness had been on watch for much of the storm in the engine room.   Because of the storm, the galley had been closed for days and the men in the engine room were hungry.  Dad made his way though the ship to the galley and grabbed a handful of potatoes and a pound of butter.  Returning with his cache to the engine room, the crew peeled back the asbestos insulation on the steam pipes,  placed the potatoes next to the hot pipes and wired the insulation back in place.  In less than hour, they had a hot baked potato meal. All thanks to Dad.

1950 Navy Picture of DadIn another strange and serendipitous story,  a little more  than a year after the Al-Queda attacks on September 11, a destroyer class Navy ship was refueling in Aden harbor in Yemen, when it was attacked and bombed. This created a 40 by 40 foot hole in the ship’s port side.  Seventeen sailors were killed and 39 injured in this horrific attack.   I began doing some internet research on destroyers and, while my experience with the internet was limited,  I began to find some information. This led me to google the USS Wiseman.  I found a rudimentary site set up to try to reunite anyone who had sailed aboard her.   I registered for the newsgroup portion of the site and posted that Dad had been a crew member in the early 1950’s.  I left my email address and thought that nothing would come of this relatively anonymous post.

A day or so later I received an email from John Schmaltz,  who as it would turn out, not only served with Dad but they were best friends. We exchanged phone numbers and soon we were speaking on the telephone.  He asked about Dad and I could sense his palpable sorrow when I told him that Dad had passed a few years ago.   A few minutes into the conversation,  he told me that he had a VHS tape of converted Super-8 videos from his time on the USS Wiseman.   He took down my address and a few days later we were watching never before seen (at least by his kids) footage of Dad sunning at a pool in Japan,  drinking a cold beverage with friends, and playing with local children. It was wonderful to see this footage of stories of which I had only heard.  Now, I had movies. I, in turn, exchanged some of the black and white photos that I had scanned of Dad aboard the battle ready ship, and some photos that I’ve included in this post.   It was serendipity at its finest.

Today would have been Dad’s 82nd birthday.  With this post, I hope to honor his life, his service, and the service of so many men and women that have gone before and after him.  Dad lived a rich and gregarious life while he was on the planet.  Unfortunately his life was cut short,  shorter than any of us wanted.  He passed in 1995 at the very young age of 62.  While I miss him, I hope to honor the tradition of the men in the Mangione family by sailing the blue water.  Happy Birthday, Dad!

Inertia

While it is true that a body at rest tends to stay at rest until acted upon by an outside force, sometimes when the ball gets rolling it seems to pick up momentum. That would be a good description of how things are going at this time. We got an offer on the house. We moved the boat. The house passed inspection. We found a temporary apartment. We have nearly finished packing ready to move. The holidays are upon us and WOW when things start to happen, they sometimes go full tilt.

I have found myself looking around the house over the last few days and feeling sentimental. Michael and I have spent the majority of our married life living in this place. There are good memories and some not so good but our lives have been here for the most part. We have had Tree and PD live with us here. Dominic spent a good deal of his time here. We’ve had Christmases, summers, rain and shine, in-laws and out-laws have been here. Our house has been a home but it is time to move on.

The packing has been furious if not fast. Sorting through the accumulated stuff of nearly 20 years is time consuming and emotionally exhausting. Michael has suggested that I start a letter to the new owners of 2464 N Jimmie Ave. He thinks it will help me to be less sentimental (or weepy) as we finish our move. I started the letter last night and I think that I will leave it with a bottle of champagne. ( Another fine suggestion from Tammie). I have written about how to drive up the driveway and how to back down the driveway, where the owls lived when they nested here, which windows to look out to get the best views of the sunset and explained the hot tub twenty degree rule to keep from freezing body parts. I have many memories that are precious and some not so good from living here. I hope to hold onto the precious and learn from the not so good.

We spent our last night on Jimmie Ave. Michael prepared a lovely dinner of prime rib for two with butternut squash soup and spicy sautéed spinach. We had a nice bottle of wine and wished the new owners well. We have been happy here. I hope they will be too. RJMM