Finding a Treasure Trove

When someone you love is suddenly gone from your life, there are obvious things that you will miss—their captivating smile, their warm embrace, that goofy joke they told at every family gathering.

Not surprisingly there are other heartaches that we cannot anticipate or measure—things we never imagined that we would long for after a loved one passes away. This was the case with my father. This April it will have been two years since he departed and I am shocked at how quickly we have forgotten some of his character traits and idiosyncrasies. For a while, I couldn’t find any recordings of his voice, and I was distraught. Yes, I remembered exactly how he would say “Hello Nana-Banana” when he gave me a hug, but I wanted to remember more, each intonation. Thankfully, several friends and family members found recordings on their phones that they shared with me- one even highlighted his laughter which was a treasure to hear.

The reverse of this is also true, however. I have discovered memories of my father that I didn’t know existed. In our family, we always called him the “Mad Clipper” because he constantly cut out cartoons and articles from local papers. He would hand these out to a particular person he thought would benefit from a laugh or a tip. His clippings could range from a Wizard of Id cartoon to a Consumer Reports article about the best dishwasher brands, rated and ranked by price.

Just the other day I uncovered a notebook I had never seen before. The front is covered with a variety of stickers: Tin Can Sailors, Retired Navy Pride, Association of Naval Aviation (ANA). Inside I found a treasure trove—book reviews of his latest reads, mostly related to the military service. He also kept correspondence between his friends as they shared their latest “good reads” analysis.

This is like uncovering another glimpse into my father’s life and his interests. He read books that I would never have thought to read, and he took notes on them, too. This discovery dredged up a memory, too. Every year when we headed to a local Christmas tree farm, he made sure to exchange books with the owner. Turns out they had both served in the Navy and had similar interests.

Needless to say, I thought I might share these findings with you, dear reader. Granted, these titles are older, but the good news is they will be readily available since they’re not “hot items.” To be sure, you will quickly catch onto the nautical theme of these selections:

Halsey’s Typhoon: The True Story of a Fighting Admiral, an Epic Storm, and an Untold Rescue by Bob Drury and Tom Clavin. As if December 1944 didn’t have enough trouble of its own, this is the story of a popular naval hero, Admiral William “Bull” Halsey, who “unwittingly sailed his undefeated Pacific Fleet into the teeth of a powerful typhoon” later named Cobra. Admiral Halsey’s task had been to maneuver two dozen fleet oilers to provide fuel for the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise. When hit by the typhoon, three destroyers capsized. Any survivors of this catastrophe faced shark-infested waters, seventy-foot waves, exhaustion, and dehydration before rescue arrived. Thanks to Lt. Com. Henry Lee Plage, “who, defying orders, sailed his tiny destroyer escort USS Tabberer through 150-mph winds to reach the lost men.” According to my father’s notes: “Weather reporting was few and sketchy at best at this time. There wasn’t much warning of a typhoon. Ships were low on fuel and couldn’t refuel due to high seas and wind. They tried various methods and none worked.” Basically, hands down an amazing story of a lesser known World War II event.

Master and Commander by Patrick O’Brian. Many of our library patrons love to read O’Brian and his acclaimed Aubrey-Maturin series. That said, I had no idea that my father was also a fan, at least of O’Brian’s first book. In Master and Commander, the friendship between Captain Aubrey, R.N., and Stephen Maturing, ship’s surgeon and intelligence agent, is established. Set in the Napoleonic wars, O’Brian captures the life of sailors and servants in Admiral Nelson’s navy. As a quotation from the Guardian reads, “There are two types of people in the world: Patrick O’Brian fans, and those who haven’t read him yet.” I believe it’s time to read at least one O’Brian story so I can also become a fan, or try the Master and Commander DVD with Russell Crowe.

The Hungry Ocean by Linda Greenlaw. Many readers first learned of Captain Linda Greenlaw in The Perfect Storm, where her boat the “Hannah Boden” was the sister ship to the fated “Andrea Gail.” In this book, Greenlaw has adventures of her own during a month-long swordfishing trip in the Grand banks. My father was impressed with this Colby graduate’s sailing skills. He also took note of the average expenses of running a five person fishing boat and the hardships that they face on a daily basis. In Greenlaw’s own words: “If we don’t catch fish, we don’t get paid, period. In short, there is no labor union.”

Ten Hours Until Dawn: The True Story of Heroism and Tragedy Aboard the Can Do by Michael Tougias. I know my Dad loved to attend local library programs where local historians like Michael Tougias presented their latest books. I remember Dad sharing the story he had heard about the brave captain of the pilot boat, the “Can Do,” who set out to rescue the tanker “Global Hope” in the Salem Sound and the Coast Guard patrol that was caught in the maelstrom as well. According to Dad’s notes, Tougias “did a good job describing the main characters and their families and the results to each of the loss.” That sounds like a win!

Dangerous Waters: Modern Piracy and Terror on the High Seas by John S. Burnett. I can understand how this book would have fascinated a retired Naval Commander like my father. As he wrote, piracy is still a big problem for “whole ships disappear without a trace. Crews are captured, killed, tortured.” In particular, Burnett focuses on an area between Singapore and Sumatra called the Malacca Straits which is susceptible because “it’s a narrow area and very busy and a highway of ships going to and from the far east.” Amazingly, 25 ships per hour, 600 ships per day, pass through this area and pirates have no trouble boarding them by “climbing up ropes, poles, anchor chains etc.” Combine this read with the movie, Captain Phillips, and you will be staying off the high seas for some time.

The Good Times by Russell Baker. I’m not too surprised to find Baker’s second memoir on Dad’s list, since he also served in the Navy and grew up in the Depression. I remember my father regularly following his column entitled “The Observer” in the New York Times. Like my father, Baker spent his childhood delivering papers in his neighborhood and finding humor in so many day-to-day events. According to the Library Journal, “Aspiring writers will chuckle over Baker’s first, horrible day on police beat, his panicked interview with Evelyn Waugh, and his arrival at Queen Elizabeth’s coronation in top hat, tails, and brown-bag lunch.” Who doesn’t appreciate a man who brings a brown-bag lunch to the Queen’s coronation?

While Dad’s list consists of book titles that I would not have picked out on my own, it has been wonderful to add a little variety to my repertoire. I hope you think so, too. I also hope you discover a treasure like this from your own loved one, providing insight into their interests, hopes, and dreams.