Thursday, July 19, 2018

More on Boating in Delaware

Port Mahon Lighthouse 1978

After we got our boat, fishing was on the agenda every weekend. Many times we went to Port Mahon which was closer than Mispillion Light. It is east of Dover, north of Little Creek Preserve and south of Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge, a more than excellent bird watching area.

The Port Mahon Road extends about four miles and requires the driver’s close attention as parts may be under water during high tide or after storms. It’s best to time your trips with the tide charts. It is a beautiful drive right along the water of the Delaware Bay and at the port itself you can see the remains of an old fish factory and several dilapidated pilings that used to be piers for fishing and oyster boats. The shoreline is strewn with rocks and shells of all kinds with intermittent patches of sandy beach. If lonely is what you’re looking for, this is the place.

Nothing as exciting as getting lost in the fog happened at Port Mahon, but I do have some very pleasant memories of fishing there. We never went out into the Bay as far because the best fishing was closer to shore. After coming back in, I always liked to explore the shoreline for rocks and shells and shore birds and snap a few photos. There was an osprey nest on top of a large pole near the parking area that drew my interest on several visits. A falling-down store and a shucking house were near the old fish factory, and I had to explore those much to Jim’s chagrin. Exploring old buildings was one of my things in my younger days.

I recently read that the old lighthouse, which looked ready to fall down in the 70’s when we were there, was set afire in 1984 by some young kids up to no good. It completely burned except for the sixteen rusted iron pilings. It was built in 1903 and had a keeper of the light until 1939 when it was automated. It remained active until 1955 when the Coastguard transferred the light to a nearby skeletal tower.  Once it was abandoned Mother Nature and vandals began a long twenty-nine year goodbye. I never could find out if it was actually built in the water or if the Bay encroached underneath later. I suspect the latter. At least the pilings were a good idea either way. I’m sure it shone the way to many an oyster dredge, but I do remember a couple boats that were dead in the sticky salt marsh mud. That reminds me that the water was usually very dark and churned, not the kind you’d want to swim in.

I do remember one embarrassing moment that luckily went unnoticed by all but us because of the desolation of the place. Jim had just lowered the boat off the trailer into the water when to our surprise the Bay started coming inside the boat. Immediately we knew what had happened and Jim quickly reloaded it back onto the trailer.  The water drained out of the stern through that little hole below the motor, the transom drain hole you’re supposed to put the plug back into after washing out the deck from the previous fishing trip. It only took one time to never forget again.

We caught many different kinds of fish at Port Mahon, but I think the most abundant were sand sharks. Some people said they were good to eat. Except for one time, we never kept any to try. They weren’t aggressive as you would expect sharks to be, but they had fierce-looking teeth that intertwined through each other. The one we kept went to our next door neighbor who was a master fish chef and often cooked our catch. He made a fish gumbo with the shark but I couldn’t get past the smell to manage a taste. I never liked any kind of fish stew so I was likely prejudiced to begin with. Everyone else said they enjoyed it.

As I write this I Google “Port Mahon” and find that the road today is almost impassable during high tide because of the rise of the Bay. Some new boat launching docks have been installed and there is a thirty-five car parking lot, but fisherman must pay close attention to the tidal charts for a safe return and exit. Much of the road traffic is from Dover Air Force Base trucks off-loading jet fuel from Bay tankers. That’s a picture I don’t care to remember. I’ll keep my memories of fishing trips, shell picking, and the old Port Mahon Lighthouse imagining its guiding beam to incoming ships of the past.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Mispillion Fog


Mispillion Lighthouse from the Delaware Archives

As our last Memorial Day rolled around, I thought back to those holidays of the past while living in Delaware. A particular one popped into my head, but it had nothing to do with honoring our troops. It may have been 1975 or 76, and it involved a boat. As a water person, I was always campaigning for the purchase of a watercraft. I really didn’t care what kind as long as it didn’t leak. My first thought, as the end of May approached, had to do with boat ramps being lowered and the beaches gearing up for the holiday weekend.

Every year at the first sign of warmer weather, I scanned the newspaper ads for boats for sale. I can’t tell you how many boats we looked at, but Jim always found something wrong…until the right one came along. It was an 18’ MFG open bow, cathedral hull with a 125 HP Evinrude. The cathedral hull (or tri-hull) is shaped somewhat like a wavy m and is more stable in the water. That means harder to turn over, but in a heavy sea it’s a rougher ride because of the additional surface contact. Jim, a West Virginian turned Delawarean via Air Force and marriage, was not a water fiend like me, but he did like to fish and the open bow and tri-hull sold him on the boat.

There are lots of things you don’t think about when buying a boat like the hitch, the size ball, registering with the State, and getting the required safety items such as a compass, life preservers, flares and an oar. These all take time and effort and delay the fun part. We did our paperwork, made the trek to the Department of Motor Vehicles, and went shopping for the other stuff. Maps and a two-way radio were purchases left for another day. We were ready to fish.

First, we had to decide where to fish. I’m not much for fresh water so I lobbied for the Delaware Bay. Even that left many options because Delaware, although a small State, has a lengthy coastline. Many sites beckoned close by, including Woodland Beach, Port Mahon, Slaughter Beach, Mispillion Light and some others. We chose the Cedar Creek Marina just south of Mispillion Light for our first outing. Although renowned for sudden storms, the fishing was said to be excellent.

Hot, clear and sunny was the forecast when we pulled out of our driveway in the morning mist at 6 A.M., towing our new, used motorboat behind us. After waiting in line to launch at the marina, we slowed snaked our way through the creek in a long line of impatient fisherman. The first thing we realized we had forgotten was insect spray. Mosquitoes were on the warpath and the cavalry were sitting ducks. There was no turning back in that line.

Where an inlet meets a larger body of water, it usually means a churning of the waves. Think of it as trying to pour water from a soup pot into a Coke bottle and you’ll have the picture. I had been standing in back of Jim as he piloted us into the Bay from the Inlet when we saw a woman driving her sleek-looking powerboat too fast. She hit an oncoming wave at the mouth of the inlet and went almost vertical in the air. I thought she would hit the bell buoy, but she slowed down just in time. After righting her boat, she took off again and was soon out of sight. I thought of her later.

Once we were in the Bay, I estimated we rode along at a steady pace about 25 minutes. Then we cut the engine and dropped anchor, slathered on some sunscreen and baited up with squid. We were after speckled trout for a fish-fry supper with the family next door. Jim caught a small one right away, but our luck didn’t hold. An hour went by and nothing snagged our hooks.

“Did you happen to notice the compass setting when we came out of the inlet?” Jim asked. He was sitting on the bench in the stern with his line dangling over the side.

“No, I was too busy watching that lady driver bouncing over the waves with her bow stuck up in the air.”

I turned around and looked back, shocked to see a rolling fog coming toward us. The sun had disappeared behind a mass of gray sky.

“Do you have any idea which way is back?” I asked.

“Well, I’m sure it has to be west, but I’m not sure we’ll find Mispillion Light. I don’t think we’ve been going in a straight line.”

These were my thoughts, too.

“Well, what do you think we should do? Sit here and wait for it to lift or try to find our way back?” Jim didn’t answer.

The fog rolled in quickly until we could barely see the ends of our fishing poles. It was so quiet not even a hungry gull could be heard squawking overhead. Then we heard a clicking noise. Click, click, in a continuous rhythm. It was coming from the stern. Jim stood and looked over the motor at the water, and I cautiously walked down the center aisle toward the back to see.

The dark water was circling around the motor like it was going down a drain.

“We must be in a little whirlpool, and it must be turning the prop and making that clicking noise.” Jim voiced his logical explanation.

I leaned over slightly for a closer look. The bottom could be a hundred feet or more this far out. Oil tankers travel up and down the Delaware Bay with their heavy loads on their way to refineries near Philly. We were probably in their channel, which made my heart pound since we couldn’t see five feet ahead of us.

We had set the anchor, we thought, but it looked like we might be drifting. We had the required flares, but who would see a flare in this stuff? Those oil tankers could plow right over us and not even feel it.

“Hey, we’d better turn on our running lights,” I said to Jim, as I heard the sound of a massive hull moving through the water and felt our boat rise a little from the waves. I held my breath until I heard it moving off in the opposite direction. We had seen nothing through the thick murk. We rocked back and forth from the tanker’s wake, and I clenched the side of the boat until my knuckles turned white.

We were hopelessly disoriented, and there was nothing to do but wait for the fog to lift. If we moved, we could run into something, and we had no idea which direction to go anyway.

After a couple hours the fog began to clear and we were able to see the beacon at Mispillion flashing our direction home. It remained overcast so we opted to hightail it in while we had the chance. No more fishing this day. 

We learned a valuable lesson about boating. Always take a compass bearing just before you get out into open water, but after telling our story to everyone we met when we got in, they said we did the right thing by staying put. They strongly suggested we buy a marine radio if we planned any more early morning fishing forays. And a boating course couldn’t hurt either.

When we got home, our neighbor said it had been hot, bright and sunny all day. No fish-fry this time, but seafood restaurants are for unlucky fisherman, or in our case, lucky.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

My Favorite Teacher

Sometimes when I’m stuck for something to write about, I’ll Google “memoir topics”, and long, long lists appear to rattle my memories. I did that today, and the one that rattled the loudest (#10) was to write about my favorite teacher in school.

The school I attended, Harrington High School, was in one of those old brick buildings, a two-story with white pillars at the main entrance and classes that always seemed to be on the other floor. It had that old school smell, if there is such a thing, dust, sweat, mildew, and a faint smoky, kerosene aroma in the wintertime. Although Harrington was, and is, a small town, around 3,000 souls, the school always seemed crowded, especially at class changes and lunchtime. When I think back, I was always in a hurry to get somewhere, shouldering my way through crowded hallways, impatiently waiting in line for the bathroom, pushing my tray on the cafeteria rails, or running for my bus after the last bell, hurriedly grabbing necessary books from my locker then slamming it closed. I don’t remember using any kind of lock. I do remember a jumble of books, papers, and a smelly blue gym suit thrown in helter-skelter making that last duty of the day frenzied. It was a long walk home if I missed the bus.

Mrs. Pollitt was my tenth grade English teacher and also my homeroom teacher for that year. She was a formidable lady with short curly white hair, well-dressed, and a little snobby-looking to my less than snobby eyes. She did not put up with any foolishness, and if I did not do my best, I felt I had let her down rather than letting myself down.

Mrs. Pollitt is 2nd from right.

When I think of her, I see her back, straight and tall, right arm extended and writing furiously on the blackboard, diagramming a sentence. She was all business. When she turned around to ask a question, my stomach would do a flip-flop. I was not only in awe of her intelligence but afraid of her disapproval. Her intense eyes seemed to drill right through me when they hovered on mine and I trembled inside when called upon.

I sat in the farthest row over from the door near the windows, but I dared not look outside. There was no day-dreaming allowed in Mrs. Pollitt's class. Oral book reports were one of my biggest dreads, and I remember doing one on Tess of the D'Urbervilles. Books were assigned, and we had no choice in the matter. Tess was a racy book for a small town tenth grader. It contained almost every emotional situation known to man including rape and murder. I got the normal "speak up" command as my shy, red-faced self stumbled through my written summary. How I ever got A's in her class, I cannot imagine. She never gave the impression of being satisfied, never smiled, and yet I knew I had to do my best.

I have always thought of her as my favorite and most knowledgeable teacher because somehow she made me dig down deep inside myself so that I never got to the point of being satisfied with learning. Although she rarely gave any encouragement, I think her expectation of her students to continually strive to do and be better is what made her an outstanding teacher.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Jim's Chair

Jim, my husband, who died in 2012, had a favorite chair as most men do. His was a Stratolounger, red and gold plaid, bought in the 70s and used by him daily until his death. I tried to persuade him to let me replace it with a new one many times, but it never worked out. His chair was “broken in” like a old pair of shoes. It sank in all the right places and fit like a glove. A new one was out of the question. “Why would I need a new one?” he asked.

At least he let me move it to a new location in the family room once in a while, and a bi-yearly cleaning kept it looking presentable for a long time, until Mopsy came to stay. Mopsy is my cat who appeared at our front door in 2003. Mopsy has claws and claws are to be sharpened on anything handy which included Jim’s chair. Eventually a few frayed threads developed along the edges which I tried to keep trimmed away but finally gave up on.

During his last ten years every afternoon Jim would nap in his chair covered up with a plaid wool blanket even in summertime. The AC made him cold and the heat was never warm enough. He watched television, read the newspaper, and visited with friends, all while relaxing in his chair. Sometimes I saw him there when he wasn’t because I was so used to seeing him in it.

So you can imagine the impact the chair had on me after he died. I saw it, and I saw Jim. It was comforting, like a friend, but when I had real company, I saw how terrible it looked and kept thinking that I would have to do something with that chair, get a new one, get it reupholstered, something. I procrastinated with those thoughts for several months, never daring to sit in the chair because it seemed like Jim was sitting there. I could sniff the tweed cloth, and it smelled just like him with a hint of his cologne.

In time, the thoughts of replacing it or getting it reupholstered vanished, and I grew into the idea of keeping the chair…forever. I began to wonder what was so special about it. Why did Jim like it so much? And that is how I came to try out the chair. Now, I’m the one who takes naps in it, reads in it, and relaxes in it. It still looks terrible, but I don’t care. It makes me feel safe and secure exactly like Jim made me feel. Why would I need a new one?

Sunday, April 15, 2018

A Bad Apple

About once a month I buy a bag of apples. I don’t pay much attention to what kind they are because I tend to jump around depending on price. I’m always amazed at how many new varieties of apples appear in the store. There are actually over 2500 of them, I looked it up. I don’t think I’ve ever bought Honeycrisps or Cameos. Honeycrisps should be graham crackers and Cameos, well, they’re the things you pin on your blouse. Anyway, the first one I ate out of the last bag I bought had absolutely no taste at all so there they sat in my fridge day after day. I expect an apple to be a sweet, slightly tart and crunchy fruit. I finally got tired of looking at them, especially since the skin on a couple were puckering letting me know they were drying out. I wondered what I could do besides eat them raw. I'm one of those people who hates to throw away food, and I’m not a lover of sweets so pie was out of the question.

I went to Google for an easy recipe for 
an apple bread and found this one:

Apple Loaf

2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
½ cup chopped walnuts
½ cup butter, softened
1 cup white sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup apple, peeled cored and shredded (I grated it)

Preheat oven to 350°. Grease one 9 X 5 loaf pan. Mix together, flour, baking powder, soda, salt, and nuts. In a large bowl, beat margarine, sugar, and 1 egg until smooth. Beat in 2nd egg and stir in vanilla. Stir in shredded apples. Pour flour mixture into batter, stir just until moistened. Spread into prepared pan. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Let stand 10 minutes, then remove from pan. Place on a rack to cool.

I didn't have any nuts of any kind but it turned out great without them. The only problem was I had 6 apples and the bread recipe only needed 2 to make a cup so I grated the rest, added sugar, lemon juice, cinnamon, nutmeg, and vanilla and cooked them in my microwave for 6 minutes. They were delicious on top of a slice of the apple loaf. It was a hearty meal warmed in the mornings for breakfast with my first cup of coffee for the day, and it was even good for dessert with a dollop of whipped cream. I ended up freezing half of the loaf and when a slice was warmed up in the microwave, it tasted as fresh as just-baked.

So the moral to this story is that a bad apple may turn out not to be bad at all. It depends on what you do with it, and I think that could apply to the fruit or the person.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

The Color Blue

Unless you’re a hermit, you’ve heard of Fifty Shades of Grey, that titillating novel by E.L. James. In this instance Grey is not a color but a person’s name. I’d like to talk about a real color, not grey (or gray) but blue and the many shades of blue.

If someone were to ask what my personal favorite color is, I would say blue, all shades of blue and there are many. When I think blue, the first thing to pop into my head is water, the ocean, and that’s why I consider it my color. I’ve always loved the water, being in it, near it, watching its movement. I grew up in Delaware near the eastern shore of the Delaware Bay, which is riddled with beaches and wildlife preserves. From Memorial Day until Labor Day, weekends meant going to the beach, not the shore as they say in Jersey, although I did love to ride the ferry between Lewes and Cape May.

Blue is a primary color which means you cannot make it by mixing any other colors together. It’s the color of the sky and the sea, and probably the color you see the most of, although you may not realize it. It’s a symbol of trust and loyalty, think true blue, and it produces a calming effect even to the point of slowing metabolism. Lie on your back and look at the sky and feel the calmness wash over you. Or lie on the ocean, watch the clouds, roll and drift on the waves. It also represents the color of heaven mentioned many times in the Bible and in song, my blue heaven. Blue has positive effects on the mind and body.

Generally thought of as a cool color, blue is represented in many crystals and stones, lapis lazuli, sapphire, blue topaz, azurite, turquoise, and many others. In art it gives a feeling of distance to a painting and shows perspective. It allows you to look beyond. Wearing blue will help you communicate with others and help you  remember a speech or other information, and so it’s good test attire. Maybe that’s why all those lines on lined pages are blue.

But in art, there are warm and cool blues although today there is some dissension about which is what. Ultramarine tends to recede and is thought to be cool while cerulean brings objects forward and so is thought to be warm. Pthalo blue was always thought to be warm but most recently it has made a switch to cool. It all depends on the color next to it. If you have some paints or sample cards, try it and see what you think. On the color wheel, blue sits in between red and yellow, both warm colors which to me makes blue look very cool. Cobalt is thought to be the most pure blue.

There are so many things we associate with the color blue, Bluetooth, blue baby, blueberries, blue jeans, blue suits, bluebells, blue eyes, bluebirds, blue jays, robin’s egg blue, sky blue, blue moon, bluegrass, navy blue, even my test books in college were called blue books, and I’ll bet you can think of lots more.

But blue can mean other things, things not really colors. To get the blues or be in a blue mood is not a happy thing, just the opposite. It’s said to be in a blue mood is to be in a dark place. Some remain blue so long it becomes depression. Friends always attempt to lift you out of the blues but many times it can be constructive, giving you time to think or make decisions or even heal from a loss. To Emily Dickinson it meant a fixed melancholy, not something I’d want. Every working person has encountered blue Monday, that beginning of the work week after a weekend of fun and celebration. To most people the blues is a passing mood making happiness, in contrast, so much happier.

And then there’s the music, soulful blues we have no problem recognizing whenever we hear it and whoever we are. Although the blues gained a reputation for misery and oppression, it can also be humorous and at the least will turn the corners of our mouths up and put a twinkle in our eyes. The twelve bar blues is one of the first things taught by piano teachers, easy to play and rhythmic and repetitive in 4/4 time. We’ve all heard the big band blues, Count Basie and Glenn Miller. Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings borrowed a lot of their country music from the blues. Blue is a big part of us like it or not.

And so I ask about your favorite color, there are so many to choose from. Is there one that you feel fits your personality or temperament? You can find lots of tests on the web to determine the answer for you. I didn’t need a test to know my color. I have always been true blue.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Have Children's Books Changed?

I’ve been thinking about the books I read as a kid and, on the surface, I don’t think they have much in common with what kids today are reading. When I Google to see popular kid’s lit, things like Charlotte’s Web, Where the Sidewalk Ends, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and Where the Wild Things Are pop up. These books seem light-hearted in comparison to what I remember.

As a small child the books I read over and over were Aesop’s Fables, Mother Goose Rhymes, and Grimm’s Fairy Tales. The first taught me morals, the second was for fun, and the last showed me fantasy worlds, grim though they were. They all seem a little dark as I look back and remember.

Although Aesop only insinuated good and bad, it was easy to see the difference and to determine that the reward for good behavior was preferable to the punishment for bad behavior. Aesop also taught me to be wary, to look beneath the surface and see that things are not always as they may seem. There are over six hundred of these fables written by a man believed to have been a slave in ancient Greece. That might explain some things. All of his little stories were told through the eyes of animals, and I think that is what pulled me into the book as a child.

My favorite Aesop tale was The Lion and The Mouse, where the lion had the option of eating the mouse or listening to the mouse’s plea that he might prove useful later, which he did by chewing a rope in two when the lion was caught in a trap. This taught me that kindness was preferable to snap emotional decisions, to not measure a person’s value by appearance, and to think of the future, a thing a small child rarely thinks of. Even now, when certain situations come up, one of the old Aesop’s Fables pops into my head, slows me down a little and makes me think before acting.

Mother Goose was my introduction to poetry, and I continue to think of poetry as rhymes, though there are many many different kinds. Remember Hey diddle diddle, the cat and the fiddle, the cow jumped over the moon, Jack be nimble Jack be quick, Jack jump over the candlestick, and I even learned my months with Thirty days has September, April, June and November. Many of the Mother Goose poems were so endearing they became songs like Baa baa black sheep, have you any wool, Yes sir, yes sir, three bags full, and Hush Little Baby don’t say a word, Papa’s gonna buy you a mockingbird. This last one has been recorded by Carly Simon and James Taylor, changed up just a little but still the same idea.

The Mother Goose Rhymes are attributed to many different origins some dating back to seventeenth century France and beyond, but the first publication was by Charles Perrault in 1697, published in French and later transcribed to English in 1729 by Robert Samber. So I guess Mother Goose was neither a mother nor a goose, although I do have that picture embedded in my brain.

And then somehow I was introduced to Grimm’s Fairy Tales with immediate favorites of The Three Little Pigs, Little Red Riding Hood, Snow White, Hansel and Gretel, and Cinderella. Fear seems to be the common thread through all these dark stories. I don’t remember how I got this book but I do remember having my own copy and considering it a huge treasure. I can even remember dreaming about Hansel and Gretel. Now, as an adult, it’s doesn’t seem quite as child-friendly. In fact, I bought a copy awhile back intending to read some of the stories to my then small grandchildren. I changed my mind and tucked it away in the bookcase.

The brothers who wrote these tales, Jacob and Wilhelm, originally penned much more gruesome scenes which today might be considered R or X rated. They were not written to entertain children, but somehow children became their main audience, and in future publications the adult content was cleaned up, and cleaned up even more in our time by Walt Disney and others.

The Grimm brothers were German librarians whose intents were to hand down German folklore and in contrast to later publications, the originals did not always have happy endings. Snow White was not wakened by the Prince’s kiss but by a good jarring of her glass coffin, and the wicked witch who was really Snow White’s mother is forced to dance herself to death in a pair of red-hot iron shoes. Ouch! And in Cinderella, her step-sisters actually cut off parts of their feet trying to fit them into the glass slipper. Yuck, sure glad I didn’t have that version; it could mar you for life.

Kids today read about moral improvement, emotional challenges, and diversity but the writing styles are very different from my era, what I would call a little dumbed-down and a lot of happy-upped. Many kids only read graphic novels (we called them comic books) which leave little to a child’s imagination. Everything is right there on the page, no mind visualization necessary. I think this is sad especially when stories help us so much to make sense of ourselves, sometimes even shaping our future selves.

I’m glad I have my little kid reading memories and even though I don’t have the tangible books, those synapses from yesteryear continue popping through my brain, keeping me on the straight and narrow.