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A Letter to My Family

dad bThis is Dad as a young merchant marine. He graduated from Massachusetts Maritime Academy in 1943 and went into service shortly thereafter.  I have learned of his earlier life through his sketches and letters that Mum and Nana preserved.  I did not know this side of him.  I knew only a broken man; struggling with alcoholism, a shattered career, and the loss of his great love to cancer.  It has been a privilege to travel through time with him and bare witness to the musings of a man at sea, declaring his love and contemplating his future.  I have found it to be a bitter sweet experience; conjuring sadness for what came to be, but also, a warmth in my heart that has long been cold; a salve to the wounds that our family endured.

I created this blog for us, to preserve our history and sense of place in the world.  I’d like to think he is glad I am sharing his letters.  He loved Mum so much and that is a nice feeling.  We all came from a great love.  Enjoy.  I love you all.

Best,

Jen

P.S.  Start reading from the oldest post.  Scroll down and read your way up to Nov. 2, 1948

1 November 1948

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Dearest Wife,

Thank you for the lovely cards.  Honey, if you don’t mind my being to familiar, your a peach!

Gee, I’m sorry about not writing more often, this voyage, my darling.  It seems that all I do is think of coming “home” for good and I only write mental letters.

I met Mr. Tierney’s wife in Buenos Aires, this trip.  They took me to a cocktail party and then to Martinez, their home, for dinner.

I had a gay old time at the cocktail party, chatting with Mr. Clarendon, who is head of the South American branch of Moore McCormick.  I also met some very prominent oil men, and a Mr. Clark, Foreign Correspondent of the New York Times.

Mr. Tierney was, I think, paving the way for me to get a position ashore in Buenos Aires.  He was very surprised and tickled about my going to work for Dad.

For over an hour, I was in a corner with Mr. Steamship, Mr. Oil, Mr. Lead, and Mr. Newspaper, and they couldn’t hear enough about Dad’s houses.  I could describe them accurately, even though I have never seen them finished, because I worked on the drawings.

Darling, I’m so happy about going to work for Dad.  I realize now that it is what I want.  My time at sea has served it’s purpose.  We now realize how much we love each other, and I think we both want to work hard with the same end in view. 

You have a lovely ring, all paid for, and now, it’s time for me to come ashore.  

Oh darling, we shall be very happy.  Everything is indicating that.  You haven’t had time to say too much about after our marriage.  But, regardless of the usual remarks that you will hear, like, “My man doesn’t kiss me the same as he used to”, “I don’t think Johnny even knows I’m alive”, “My husband hasn’t taken me out dancing for three months, etc…”  You know the kind of talk I mean.

Darling, I’m going to be your future.  Together we are going to succeed in keeping our love full of life and increasingly enjoyable, after we are married.

As for not being able to go out dancing, after our marriage, I mean if we feel that we should be saving for a chair or a table, or some thing, it won’t be any excuse.

We can always go dancing at that Navy Officer’s Club in Boston, and it’s a lovely place to go.  What I’m driving at is, I can go to sea and save a little more money than I can working ashore- but why?

My future is with you ashore, working with Dad.  I wouldn’t have loved you nearly as much, I don’t think, if I didn’t think that you had the qualities I need in a wife.  A wife who is lovely, desirable, and sweet to love to be sure, but a buddy and a partner too.  So that after we turn out the lights at night, we can talk and plan, in bed together for the success of our task in life, to raise a good Catholic family, and to keep our love alive and burning, as God meant it to be.

All these things I guess I can tell you better in person.  It just doesn’t sound very clear in a letter.  Think of all the wonderful talks we can have between now and our wedding day!  I can scarcely wait to see you.  Tell Chop to get the wet freshly painted furniture out of my bedroom, I’ll be home in two weeks!

 

Love, (and you know how much!)

Dave.

2 November 1948, 13 Days from Home!

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Hi Cyclone!

Darling, if you ever feel like getting me very angry, it will be very simple.

All you will have to do is, insist, as you did once before, that you have no talents.  Oh! that makes me boil!

What matters is how you feel towards me, your religion, your outlook on life, your amazing ability for making love, and your gladness of your capability, which you will soon discover.

A man doesn’t marry someone because they can paint, make trays, or hook rugs.  A man marries someone who can make his home and family into something so dear to him that without them he’d be lost.  

You say you like to rest your head on my favorite spot.  You’ll be the most talented girl in the world when, on nights that I am tired or worried, you draw my head to the lovely, comfortable, corresponding favorite spot of yours.

When, as I rest my head there, maybe you run your fingers over my forehead a time or two, and draw all the troubles out, leaving a happy, contented husband and pal.

Now, I ask you, are you talented?  Oh lady!  You have the talent to make our life a thing of lasting beauty, and to bring up children who shall be a lasting monument to our love.

I have to catch the mail with this, so I’ll say, “Home” soon darling, forever,

 

Dave.

Setting the Date

Dearest Cyclone,

Say, about our wedding date.  You had your wish about waiting until May.  Now, listen to me about the day in May.

The S. S. Brazil arrives in New York on Wednesday May 4th and sails again on Friday May 6th for a 45 day trip.  I think we should make Thursday May 5th our wedding day.  Then Johnny may have a chance to be there, maybe even Ward Castle if he can get off.  But, Thursday May 5th I should like to be our wedding day darling.

One thing about the ceremony, you don’t have too much to plan in the actual ceremony.  God took care of that Himself when He made it a Sacrament, and provided an absolutely perfect beginning for any young couple.  Just imagine how wonderful it will be to be side by side, at last, at our Wedding Mass.  Oh! darling what can I say to let you know how deeply I feel it even now five months before.  I can feel goose pimples of sheer joy playing tag on my spine when i think of you there beside me, when the priest says those words.  You know, my love, I believe we are wrong when we say that there are no words to express how deeply we feel our love.  There are words and not in the little black box either.  The words of the marriage vows taken with God, at His Mass, sanctified by His presence.

I think that then, when, after you say, “I do”, I look into your exquisitely expressive Irish eyes, I shall see the faith, complete trust, and confidence of undying love written there.  A union glorified and protected by divine love.

How can Catholics help but marry for eternity?  If two people as much in love as we are, listen with their hearts opened before them to the words of their Service, how could either of them ever be unfaithful afterward.

Oh darling, if only there were some way that we could get a hold of all the young couples who will go racing to a notary public, a Justice of the Peace, or a Sea Captain, in the month of May, and let them have the opportunity that God has given us.

I’m getting a little impatient now, for our wedding.  Not impatient for selfish reasons, but impatient for you to become used to me and for you to begin to enjoy the rich fullness of happy married life.

Soon, my wife,

Dave.

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Northbound 27 September 1948

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Hello Darling,

By the time you receive this, I suppose I shall already have been “home” and gone again. It takes longer, usually, for mail to reach New York from Trinidad, then it takes the “Brazil” to get there.

What a case of “channel fever”, I have this trip.  It seems as though each voyage is worse than the preceding one.  Every click of the compass, as it follows the ship’s yawl back and forth to the rocking rhythm of a quarter sea, seems to say:  7 more days, 6 more days, 5 more days.

As I pace back and forth, back and forth, becoming so impatient to be in your arms that the delay seems almost unsurpassable.

So I pace back and forth and examine, once more, the unbroken line 360″ line between sky and water, and make another firm resolution with myself to stop wasting my life away at sea. ( to be cont’d after I go up on the bridge for 4 more hours of pacing )

Darling, a group of Argentine Exchange Students came up on the bridge today to take pictures of the mates getting a noon position.  It’s a wonder we even got a position, every time we’d turn around we would nearly stumble over two or three getting candid shots.  Anyway, one of them took one of me when I was getting my sight so I’ll send it along for laughs.  I’m not really as fat as I look in the picture.  ( must be poor exposure or something! )

My precious, it’s simply no use!  I can’t write anymore.  I’m too close to home and I keep drifting off into dreams of you.  Oh Betty!  My sweet darling Betty, I love you so much!

214 more breakfasts alone!  Then we shall each find contentment, peace, and happiness together in this fear torn world, in a fast disappearing haven called family life.

Your are my heart!  Beat strongly for me, I love you with my life!

Yours Forever,

Dave.

29 August 1948

My own Darling Cyclone,

Whew!  Gosh, thanks for being you, my love.  What a week we had!  I never dreamt that so much could be done in so little time.  I keep thinking of you going back to work tomorrow morning.  I hope you wont be too exhausted.  I know it was rough on you, especially since, as a rule, you go to bed rather early.  But, oh my dearest, it was wonderful, and well worth the lack of sleep, don’t you think?

Honey, I’m sure we can go the rest of the way to May, without further occurrences like our recent one.  I shan’t even try to describe how miserable I felt, watching you break down.  What a helpless feeling!

We will have no more of that I’m sure.  It’s too much for us to take.  Sincerely though sweetheart, the toughest part is past.  We haven’t too long to wait now and I’m sure that after seeing you the other night, that all will be ok.

Honey, we sailed right on time, darn it!  And I got to bed promptly at 11:00p.m..  Was I tired?  A little!  The next day I compiled the following:

There are approximately, 8 months, 34.8 weeks, 244 more breakfasts alone, 5,856 hours, 351,360 minutes, 21,081,600 seconds until you are mine forever!  Your love, and BED, HERE I COME!!!

Yours alone, forever,

Dave.

14 August 1948

14 August 1948

Darling Cyclone,

If you should feel a warm, sweet, all enveloping blanket of content, fall over you some evening about 6:30 p.m., you’ll know that my thoughts of you are reaching all the way up there and tugging at your heart saying, “Hey Cyclone, be of good cheer, I’m way down here but I think of you more than you ever hope, and I love you with a love that is an ever-increasing, not to be denied, flame!”

I think of you often during the day, every day, but when the end of twilight comes and Jupiter creeps into the golden moon glow, you are beside me, I can feel you, I know you are there, and my heart sings.

In fact one night, when the helmsman made seven bells, and the lookout answered bell for bell and sang out, “All’s clear, calm night, lights are bright sir!”, my heart sang so strongly for joy of our mutual, beautiful love, that I made up a song on the wing of the bridge, while watching the birth of an evening.  I’ll sing it to you some time, if you can stand it.

Cyclone My Cyclone

I love you so-I guess you know,

How I stumble through each day,

Whenever I’m away.

But when evening rolls around,

And lays its curtain down,

I dream a dream,

A Technicolor dream,

A dream about,

Cyclone-My Cyclone,

I’m living for the day,

I come ashore to stay,

Then I’ll never take

My arms away-from,

Cyclone-My-Cyclone! 

Oh well, at least you know I love you and that you are in most of my thoughts in some way each day.  You asked me to pray for you darling!  Remember.  Well, except for the mornings when we have been docking ship or something, I’ve been to Mass and Communion every day, both in Thanksgiving, for you, to God, and as a love gift to my cyclone.

I pray especially hard at that part of the Mass where the Priest takes the paten, makes the Sign of the Cross on himself and says, “Grant of thy goodness, peace in our days, that aided by the riches of thy mercy, we may be always free from sin and safe from all disquiet”.

Gosh!  I’ve missed your letters since you lost my addresses.  When you get the next list, write them on the wall of your bedroom, you can’t lose that.

Speaking of your bedroom, I still recall fondly, the luscious nights’ sleep I had in your bed, with my head on your pillow, your perfume around me and a Technicolor dream inside me.

About 259 more days my darling cyclone, and you’ll be mine forever.

Goodnight my life,

I love you, my wife,

Forever,

Dave

13 August 1948. North Bound

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Darling “Cyclone”,

We are only 6* south of the Equator now, and headed “home”.

Don’t forget, your room is reserved starting 22 August at the Henry Hudson Hotel on W57th street.  If possible, ask for Mr. Wilmot at the desk, tell him that I’m the “Mr. Shields” that’s an officer on the Brazil.  Then, he will remember me and see that you are taken care of properly. (Gosh Honey!  I’d like to be taking “care” of you properly, right now.)

Choppy has the pass and what information you will need to get in to pier #32 North River on Monday.
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Oh darling!  I’m looking forward so to seeing you!  That’s rather an unnecessary remark, I suppose, because you are now thoroughly aware of how much my thoughts are yours.

Cyclone, just think, we’ll see much more of each other this time, than before.

I have a watch from 5:00 pm on Monday to 8:00 am on Tuesday morning, then 5:00 pm Wed. to 8:00 am Thur. morning, which means we will have:
Days- Mon, Tues, Wed, Thur.
Nights- Tues and Thur.

Maybe I can arrange to have you on board until 10:00 pm on one of the two nights I am on duty. Anyway, we will see a lot more of each other than last time.

Look, if for some reason you can’t get onto that pier, (a Narcotics Agents inspection, or something.), and I haven’t been able to get out along the pier to find you by 10:00 am, go back immediately to the Henry Hudson, and I’ll get in touch with you there.

Have a big “Welcome Home” sign out, because it seems as though I’ve been waiting to kiss those warm, soft, lovely lips of yours “hello again” for ages.

It won’t be long now Cyclone! 260 more days before you start getting my breakfast!

Oh my love, my love, your mine and I’m so very happy.

“Heart of mine, faithful and true,
Love me always,
As I love you!” Please!

Forever,

Dave

10 August 1948.

Aug 10

Dearest “Cyclone”,

Well, we are in Rio now, on our way “home”.  No mail from you!  What an empty feeling it gives inside.  But, I realize what happened, and when your letters do start coming through again, I’ll appreciate them that much more.

Darling, here it is, August 12th already, and I haven’t had time to write since the above attempt.  Oh!  I’ve written to you every night, mentally, on watch, in fact darling, I’ve written a song about, “Cyclone” (my cyclone that is).  But, it’s been so hard to find time to get words down on paper.  It’s not so much the fact that I’ve been busy, because I know you have been busy too.  It’s just that sailing hours are so inconvenient that they take all the pep out of you.

We are only in each port a few hours, most of that time I’m working cargo.  Then, we always seem to sail around 2:00 am which means I get into the sack about 2:45 am, and have to get up for my watch at 3:30 am, which, as you can see makes me rather tired the next day.  This procedure is repeated every two or three days until we leave Trinidad, then I can catch up on my sleep for New York.  Now, if I can only concentrate on getting a few of these mental letters that I write on watch, down on paper and mailed to you, I imagine you would be a lot happier.

Oh sweet cyclone, excuse me for saying it, but, I know how much you love me, and want my letters, even if they are scrawled fast and unreadable on the paper, just as the contact between our two hearts is as constant as possible, and I feel awful when I’m too tired to write.  But, I’ll work out a routine yet, so that the letters will keep coming even if all I can say is: 

“My love, my heart, my cyclone,

I’m your Dave forever.”

G’NITE

4 August 1948. Bermuda

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Dearest,

This will have to be short and sweet, because the stevedores are going to unload beer and wine, and I have to count the bottles.

Honey, you know how constantly you are on my mind. How often, on the bridge at night, my thoughts are of you. So, please, Betty, be a little patient for another week or so, then my letters will come faster.

You see, they don’t carry any pursers on these ships any more and the Captain and myself have to split up all the paper work.

As if that isn’t bad enough, all the cargo we are carrying at present is what you call special cargo. That is, expensive items that have to be counted separately by the mates before being unloaded. This takes up almost all my time, and the little bit left is usually devoted to sleeping.

But, in a few weeks, the cargo will be different, I can relax, catch up on lost sleep, wash clothes, mend socks, and WRITE to you. What? What? What? What?

Maybe I can add a little more to this later, but right now I’m in a hurry. Please excuse the writing. I’ll have more time later on. I hope.

I’ll certainly be glad when the rest of this cargo is gone. The trouble is, we drop off, 200 tons in Bermuda, 87 tons at St. Croix, 300 tons at St. Kitts, etc…, all down the line.  All while you are at one port, your time is spent checking cargo ashore.  Just as soon as you are done, it’s time to leave for the next place.  Oh well!  You get loads like this occasionally, and the only thing to do is forget everything else and concentrate entirely on the cargo and navigation between ports, and the mountain of paperwork.

I like the job because I am experienced in it and know what I am doing.  That is a big factor to consider.  However, right now, I should like to know about 12 hours in which to do nothing except sit down, look at your picture and write to you about a mate who loves you, and whose life will be incomplete until he holds you in his arms once more.

We have what it takes to make a happy and successful union, and the sooner you realize it the happier I shall be. (oops!  you should be too!).

Well, I’m awfully busy now Cyclone, so I’ll have to run.  Keep my heart in working order.

Darling-I LOVE YOU,

Dave.