First, before I go into volunteers, those wonderful surprises blown from errant seeds into carefully-planned beds, bringing blips of startling color to monochrome swaths, here is the plan: the top half of the daylily bed lining the driveway is orange and yellow Frans Hals, named for the cheerful dutch painter; and the bottom half is yellow hyperion-like Dover. A simple balance of spectacular color that grows denser, more intense, each July.
And then, as you scroll down the picture below, you'll see the errant bit of purple loose-strife, then the nodding black-eyed susan, and then the crowning glory: two "Raspberry-parfait" (a daylily expert tells me) lilies at the bottom. Don't know where they came from, but what a delight! I used to pull volunteers out to maintain the integrity of my beds, but now I feel the opposite: they're the glory of the garden. Why? Maybe I'd just rather not work as hard, just take more weeding time to stare and marvel. Feels better.
It's a spectacular season for blooms this year because of all the snow we had this winter, plus a rainy spring. Our Miss Kim lilac, filling the whole house with fragrance, now reaches the eaves of our roof, and is covered with flowers.
One thing that's good about the foliage garden fronting the lilac, is that the different hues of green make the lilac's blooms stand out.
Below, Lupine rising on the hillside off our sunroom has just reached the tipping point of enough healthy plants to now spread itself. So now I won't have to dig weeds out of the hard clay to make places for it to reseed itself, like I did last year. Whew! (That's a relief, because last year's marathon digging gave me a rotator-cuff injury to my right shoulder which took months of physical therapy to heal. Lupine, despite the fact that it's a weed here in Maine, is hard to get started.)
And below is our Aunt Dee wisteria in bloom, with many more flowers than it had last year. Each oblong cluster of blossoms is an inch or two longer than last year's, and the smell is musky and addictive. It's not a floral scent, but one like new-mown hay, making you stop in your tracks and think, "God, it's good to be alive!"
That's all for now...
I have just added a page with links to reviews and interviews of Full Fathom Five the book. It also appears on the right hand sidebar.
I had two Memorial Day services to attend this year, and in whizzing up the Maine Turnpike from the first one in New Hampshire to the second one - the first such service our little rural town has put on - I got a speeding ticket. It's a whopping big fine (over $200), which I'm going to contest based on my perfect driving record and years of community service. Well, at least I can try.
But after the New Hampshire service, I found myself reluctant to pull myself away from the typical reunion-like reminiscence that always takes place when adult children of lost submariners get together around our explicit commonality. It's rare when complete strangers talk so intimately from the get-go, and we tend to overlook the fact that we've never met before, and the talk explodes with revelations. There's no chit-chat. Talk's stripped down to urgent stories that we've got to get out before we run off to other services or family events.
And so A., a lady whose dad went down on the WWII submarine Albacore, told me about the smell of stewed tomatoes, while her partner peeled off from us in search of normal conversation. A. fit what I've come to recognize as the paradigm of adults who lost their dads early in life: they don't start researching their dads till some event cracks them open in middle-age. A's event was the sound of an old-time kid's bicycle bell, which - when she looked into it, she found was the signal of the WWII telegram delivery man when he brought wives the terrible news that their husbands' boats were overdue and presumed lost.
When A. heard the bicycle bell that put her on the trail of her father, she was 47. Some kids were going by on the sidewalk outside her house, the bell sounded, and the portals of memory opened up like a powerful sixty-year-old wind blowing through her head. A bedroom in her grandparents' house; her mother crying; sitting on a yellow and white quilt on the bed; the smell of stewed tomatoes.
A. called up her mother and said that she had some questions about her childhood, but wanted her mother to first just listen to her version so that she - A. - could know if she was remembering right. After listening, her mother confirmed the memory: it was the day the telegram had come, when A. was just five. Like many wives with small children, A.'s mother and A. were living with A.'s grandparents while A.'s father was at sea. The grandparents had been canning tomatoes in the kitchen when A. and her mom heard the telegraph man's delivery bell from their upstairs bedroom.
Another urgent outpouring was from L., who told us how she was only just now realizing the traits she had inherited from her dad, who went down on the submarine Thresher. She mentioned all the volunteer work she does, and we agreed that many of us carry (suffer, in my case; I hate committee-work) that strong sense of civic duty that our fathers had to have to serve in submarines. She also talked about how calm she is in a crisis, and we reflected on how this trait had to have come from her father; prospective submariners were screened for their ability to suppress the natural reaction of fight or flight in emergencies, and keep quiet as well as calm. I had a sudden flashback to thirty-some years ago when I'd been stacking firewood in our driveway, and the woodpile collapsed on my hand, crushing a finger. A praeternatural calm came over me as I quietly told our six year-old daughter to run inside and call Dad to come home right away from work. She'd seen the blood and knew it was an emergency, but was able to dial the correct number right away and calmly ask for her father. We got to the hospital and had the hand numbed and stitched up without incident, and I'd always thought - till this Memorial Day - that it was for our daughter's sake that I had stifled all my natural crisis-responses. I'd thought it was something that all mothers with young kids have. I'm lucky enough not to have had more occasions to test this belief in the years since.
I have another WWII orphan friend who figured out late in life that the recurrent nightmare she's had ever since she was a child likely stemmed from that fateful day when her mother received the "overdue, presumed lost" telegram. I've written about it here before so I'll just summarize: D. would wake up in a sweat after dreaming of being suffocated, with a woman's scream in the background. She took a roadtrip in her late fifties with her aged mother to all the significant places her mom had been with her dad. The trip revived her mother's fifty year-old memories, and she told D. that on the terrible day, D.'s paternal grandmother answered the door, read the telegram and started screaming. D.'s mother, upstairs, grabbed baby D. out of her crib and ran downstairs. When she saw D.'s grandmother with the telegram, she knew. D.'s grandmother stopped screaming enough to help the telegram man, still in the door, to pry D.'s mother's fingers from the baby, who was turning blue as her mother, in a daze of grief, desperately clutched her against her chest.
This is what Memorial Day, blessedly, has turned into since I woke up in middle-age and went on the trail of my father.
As a new author, I was on tenterhooks about how my book would be received. What was most important was that the book keep readers turning pages.
One of the first readers DID turn pages, and it's a wonderful feeling.
And e-mail from another reader:
Hi Mary Lee,Yes....I was up till midnight (and I very seldom stay up that late!) because I HAD to finish your book! I read it in one day. I simply couldn't put it down. Another one called me to say that she was in the middle of the new biography of John Quincy Adams, so opened my book just to look at the design before putting it on her to-read stack. She said she made the mistake of reading the first few lines, and got stuck reading it for the next day and a half. She's gone back to finish the John Adams, but says she wants to read FFF again.
And now Cowtown Patty has written a wonderful Memorial Day post citing the book and even plans to research and write to life a cousin of hers who died young as a result of having been in a Japanese prison camp in WWII. My dad would have been so happy to know that his story inspires this kind of investigation. There were so many unheralded victims of WWII, and the POW's were particularly invisible because after the war our government didn't want them to tell their harrowing stories for fear of offending our new allies. So the ex-POWs were told to stay mum, and carried their scars around inside of them for decades. Patty's cousin apparently died without anyone in the family knowing his story. Patty will do the world a favor to dig for this man's story and bring what might be an amazing legacy to light. We just don't know until we try. At the very least, she'll be - in the most literal and personal sense - making history.
I just finished an article in the New Yorker (Apr. 21) by Pulitzer prize-winning author Jared Diamond (Guns, Germs, and Steel). He contrasts tribal societies' behavior around revenge with that of countries with stronger government control. New Guinea is his example of a society where tribal disputes are settled personally, with each killing demanding a revenge-killing by the victim's relative. This causes an endless state of war, with people demonizing enemy tribes and constantly fearing for their lives.
In contrast, more developed countries' meting out of justice by an impersonal government allows us the luxury of peace, and allegiance to that is ingrained in us from an early age by religion and law. While New Guinea children are taught that to die avenging one's enemy is the most honorable death one can have, American kids are taught to rise above revenge by sayings like "Two wrongs don't make a right;" "Love thy neighbor as thyself," "Do unto others....," and "Sticks and stones will break your bones...".
However, Diamond shows that we're not so different from tribal societies once we go to war. Then we do our share of demonizing and dehumanizing the enemy to take our revenge. And once war is over, we go back to curtailing our desire for revenge and again trying to rise above it. Diamond says this is deeply confusing, not least because vengeance is a very powerful emotion. Equally powerful emotions of grief, anger, and love are amply aired in our society, but we don't talk about our desire for revenge. This is an emotion that has been made shameful by our laws and religion.
I think Diamond has put his finger on why those who fought WWII were so quiet about it when they came back. There was such a disparity between the savagery they'd experienced and what was expected of them when they returned: to paste on a smile and build the peace, make up for lost time, that they couldn't talk about their sorrow or anger for lost comrades, the hatred of the enemy that was necessary for them to fight, and other dark thoughts. Our Christian ethics made these thoughts unseemly.
And another thing that reduced our returning soldiers to silence was the euphemistic way WWII was purveyed to civilians by the media. Newspapers thought their readers wanted heroes, so stories of men taking out Japanese singlehandedly led the headlines. The gruesome side of war was left out, so that returning soldiers felt their experience of savagery was untranslatable to folks back home. And that made them despair of ever telling it.
Everyone I've ever talked with whose parents went through the war said the same thing: there was almost no talk about it except in very general terms for the rest of their parents' lives. And because WWII was probably the most cataclysmic experience of their parents' lives, this silence was doubly strange.
Our opposite stance to vengeance in war vs. peace still causes hesitance between military personnel and civilians. At least I experience this when I talk with today's soldiers and sailors. We don't talk freely about provocative subjects of war, vengeance, and what it takes to maintain peace. But we should.
One of the best things about researching my dad's service was beginning to have this dialogue. I realized that people who have served have thought long and hard about these subjects. They've had to. They've lived it, and come home to silence.
In the last few years, three lost WWII submarines have been found, thanks to remotely operated vehicles (R.O.V.s). These are robots developed in the mid-eighties equipped with lights, cameras, steering thrusters, and other technology that can find objects as deep as a mile underwater. These were used to locate the Lagarto in May, 2005 - in the Gulf of Thailand in about 225 feet of water; the Wahoo in 2006 - in the La Perouse Strait South of Sakhalin Island in about 213 feet of water, and - most recently - the Grunion. The Grunion, lost in May of 1942 on its first patrol, was found last August on a slope 3000 feet down in the Bering Sea ten miles northeast of Kiska Island, the Aleutians.
The three sons of Grunion's commander, Lt. Cmdr. Mannert L. "Jim" Abele, launched the expedition to find their father's lost sub. Its discovery combined dogged persistence and determination by the Abele brothers, international cooperation by volunteer and professional search teams, the latest high-tech equipment, and a massive research effort to locate the descendants of all seventy crewmen lost on the sub. John Abele, who was five when his father was lost, sent vials of seawater from the discovery site to all seventy families of the missing men.
These families were united by wonder, old and new. When seventy men simply disappear without a trace, their loved ones cling to the hope they're alive somewhere, wondering when they'll walk through the kitchen door. One of the Grunion's widows would often go down to the local train station to wait for her lost husband to return. And then, in 2007 when the families got the call that the Grunion had been discovered, they were bonded by wonder at the discovery itself, and the feeling of having found their lost tribe: others who had wondered with them for some or all of the last sixty-five years.
At last, I can announce what's been going on behind the scenes here for about a year and a half: the acceptance and publication of my memoir uncovering the fate and character of my submarine-commander father, lost in WWII before I was born. I couldn't let myself talk about it till now, for fear of over-exposure. Even now, I've had to hold myself back from republishing the whole book in the excerpts at the sidebar! To breathe a word about it opens the floodgates.
The official publication date is April 29, but you can order it now from Amazon at a substantial pre-publication discount. Meanwhile, I'm scheduling book talks, compiling mailing lists, and doing all the other marketing tasks that writers are now expected to do to promote their books. This requires a full 180-degree Janus-like turn from a writer's to marketer's stance. EEEEK! or IIIIIIck! The Maine Writers and Publisher's Alliance has written in their newsletter over and over again words I've always ignored until this past year: "Your real work doesn't begin till after you've written and placed your book with a publisher." That's when you start marketing. And I'm here to say, now that I've gone through it, starting a year before your book will be published is not soon enough. It's one of those inchoate jobs that expands to fill any time you have.
But I'm not complaining. I know that this is just temporary, the arrangements to what I really have been wanting to do ever since I started this project way back in 1999: to shout it from the rooftops! In a few weeks, I'll be able to do just that. And as of today, blog about it here.