16 April 2014

Spring Snow

Last night as we were falling asleep, I mentioned to my husband that I heard we were supposed to wake up to snow in the morning.

"Hmph," he growled, checking his phone. "It's 50 degrees now. There's NO WAY we're having snow tonight."

Understand that it's been in the 50s and even 60s each day for over a week now. The last of the snow in our yard melted days ago. We've begun raking out the gardens and we're watching the tulips, daffodils, irises and crocuses begin to poke their little heads out of the cold ground.

In spite of no forsythia blossoms yet, Spring is here. We DEMAND that it's here!

And then we awakened to this...


Very funny.

Thankfully now at 3:00 p.m., most of it has melted or blown away.

And I'm desperately keeping my eye on that forsythia bush in the front yard...

Copyright © 2014 - Paulla Estes

12 April 2014

Christening of the USS Zumwalt (DDG 1000)

You may be aware that the christening of the new Zumwalt destroyer took place today.

Last October, this event was postponed due to the government shut-down. At the time, when I discovered it was rescheduled for April, I commented to my husband and daughter that the weather in April is far too unpredictable to schedule such an event.

But I am not in charge.

And we were both shocked (and pleased!) to awaken this morning to the prettiest and warmest day we've had all year.

As my husband works at BIW and is closely involved with the construction of this new-fangled ship, we were among the lucky few that got a decent parking spot. And upon walking inside the gates to the shipyard, we saw this:

In all the years he's worked there, I'd only been inside the shipyard once, and just briefly. To walk around unimpeded and to bask in what turned out to be a glorious blue-sky day, was spectacular.

After touring around a bit, we found our seats and chatted about the day's events.

The late Admiral Elmo R. Zumwalt II is the namesake of this new class of ships, and his story is one that everyone should hear.

Zumwalt grew up in California and then went to the U.S. Naval Academy in 1939. A wartime hero during WWII, Zumwalt met and married his French-Russian wife, Mouza, while in Shanghai, China. Apparently they only knew each other three weeks when they got married, and to further complicate matters, she spoke no English and he spoke no Russian. But it was a love that would last.

Zumwalt had a long and distinguished Naval career including, among many other things, assuming command in 1959 of the frigate, USS Dewey (DLG-14), also built at Bath Iron works.

In 1970, Zumwalt became the youngest Chief of Naval Operations thus far, at the age of 49, and he quickly began to make sweeping changes in the Navy. His Navy-wide messages known as Z-grams included measures to reduce discrimination against women and minorities, which were opposed by some, but which ultimately changed the Navy for the better and launched it into a more inclusive future.

The Zumwalts had four children: Elmo R. Zumwalt III, James Gregory Zumwalt; Ann F. Zumwalt Coppola and Mouzetta C. Zumwalt-Weathers. Sadly, the eldest son, Elmo, died of cancer in 1988 at the age of 42, and the admiral always felt it was due to exposure to Agent Orange (by his orders) in Vietnam.

We then talked about what we know of the Zumwalt family.

My husband met the son and daughters, who were to be at today's christening, a few months before. Ironically, when I was in college, my parents moved in right across the street from Admiral Zumwalt and his wife in Arlington, Virginia. I was young and busy and hardly around, but my parents were instantly taken with "Bud and Mouza."

My dad has been emailing me all week with memories and links to articles and clippings about the christening, the obituaries of both Bud and Mouza, and countless articles about their lives together.

Here are some of his words:

As you know, I liked the Admiral a lot. He was very kind to me, offering to introduce me to several very high level officials in Washington, most notably Ambassador Paul Nitze, who had been a close advisor to almost a dozen Presidents. I never took him up on the offer because I didn’t want to waste their time by talking about things that would be of no more than passing interest to them. In retrospect, that decision on my part might have been a mistake because one never knows what very beneficial things can come from such meetings.

Bud’s wife’s name was Mouza. As I’ve mentioned, she was a White Russian. They also had a son, who died tragically years ago from effects of exposure to Agent Orange in Viet Nam, ironically while Bud was in charge of Naval operations there.

The next day I got another email:

I’ve mentioned that in 1990 I saw Mouza just after she had returned from her 50th high school reunion, apparently in Manchuria. She told me that there were only 5 people from her class of 50 then still living, and, rather matter-of-factly, that most of the deceased had been killed by the communists. As you probably know, the White Russians opposed the Bolsheviks (Red Russians) in the Russian civil war (Russian Revolution), and the Whites were largely exterminated after the Red communists won that war.

I have fond memories of numerous visits (and games of tennis) with Bud, and several conversations with Mouza. Wonderful people.

And now here were the children of this couple - these neighbors of my parents - sitting before us in the grandstand, waiting to name a ship after their heroic father. It was surreal.

As the festivities got underway, we looked to the giant screen above us and to the right of the grandstand.

Up at the podium was the new commander of the Zumwalt, Captain James Kirk.

Yes you read that right.

Captain Kirk rallied the troops and they marched to the front with much pomp and circumstances while the band played Anchors Aweigh.

And from then on out, Captain Kirk jokes ensued.

In attendance and presenting with heartfelt speeches were Governor Paul LePage, Senator Susan Collins, Senator Angus King, Congressman Mike Michaud, and Congresswoman Chellie Pingree. And while each poked fun at the name of the new commander, they also spoke of the man whose name is given to this great ship.

The principle speaker was Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus, who told personal stories about the admiral, and mentioned that the ship has been under construction for five years now.

Finally we heard from the remaining children of Admiral Zumwalt. First up was his son, James Zumwalt, followed by daughters Mouzetta Zumwalt-Weathers and Ann Zumwalt Coppola.

After hearing personal stories given by the children of Bud Zumwalt, there was hardly a dry eye in the crowd. They spoke with such love and admiration of their parents; the good they did, the passion they had for social issues, and the patriotism passed on to the children.

Amusingly, amidst all the tears and fanfare, an osprey pair swooped overhead as it built its nest atop a pole above the big screen.

Next the Zumwalt family was escorted to the bow of the ship where a giant "Z" had been aptly placed. There, daughters Ann and Mouzetta smashed champagne bottles near the bow, to the roar of the crowd and the raining down of red, white and blue streamers.

It was a bittersweet moment. But mostly sweet.

And for our family, it was an honor to witness.

And for my husband, it's been an honor and a privilege to be a part of building such a ship.

Copyright © 2014 - Paulla Estes

11 April 2014

Springtime on Popham Beach

I went to Popham at low tide this week.

Mostly, the snow had melted off the beach, but as we walked along to the mouth of the river and looked up toward Fort Popham, there were still big chunks of snow.

Low tide is the best time to go so you can really see everything - and get everywhere.

In just a couple of months this will be a completely different scene. These two will be in swim suits and they'll be surrounded by many more beach goers. And it will be WARM!

Copyright © 2014 - Paulla Estes

09 April 2014

Pigs Can't Swim, by Helen Peppe - A Book Review

This winter during a typical dark and snowy January, I received an email from De Capo Press asking if I’d review a new memoir up for publication. Memoirs are my favorite genre, and I’m always eager to read a well-written one. Bonus points if it’s set in Maine.

This one did not disappoint.

In Pigs Can’t Swim, Helen Peppe takes an honest look back at her hardscrabble survival story of growing up in poor, rural Maine, as the youngest of nine children.

I think I love memoirs because they prove that few are spared the insanity that goes hand in hand with distracted parents, sibling issues, generational baggage, and extended family drama. But Helen Peppe’s story dives into the deep end of the pool and paints with startling clarity, a picture of a family steeped in anxiety and emotional pain, yet gutting through life with teeth-grinding endurance.

The youngest of nine, I often watched my siblings as they received their lessons. Never sorry for anything but getting caught, they tensed their muscles, tucked their chins to their chests, and hunched their shoulders as they endured, much like apes in a tropical downpour. From my spot on the perimeter of the family in the days when I was still cute and innocent, I wondered about “need” and “knowing better” each time my parents shouted things like “there’s no need of that” and “you know better.” P.2

Misery, boredom, and ignorance reign. Young Helen is neglected and terrorized on a regular basis. Her parents work frenetically from dawn till dusk, rarely listening to their children but always suspecting them of some perceived slight. Intimidated by older siblings for her looks, her questions, her role at the bottom of the family, and even her very presence, worry becomes Helen’s “normal.”

I gambled worry every day. Cigarette butts, like used condoms, I would learn a few years later, had a way of coming back when you least expected them. Never flush anything down a toilet that is on a septic tank or is the sole toilet for a dozen people. P.72

Helen’s story slogs through summer chores, bullies on the school bus, Stephen King novels, and a persistent longing for escape. Gum-popping and be-bopping escapades ensue when her parents leave the house and the older siblings are in charge. Favorite animals in the barn are served up for supper, and the rest of the family is irritated and baffled by Helen’s early abhorrence of meat. Occasional family vacations to the lake offer fleeting moments of joy when her mother seems engaged and almost happy.

Both charming and disturbing are the names Helen gives her siblings. They are dubbed with titles such as the blustery-and-favored brother, the sister-who-holds-grudges-longer-than-God, the tough-yet-admirable sister, and the hair-twirling-pretty sister. Chilling is the seldom mentioned but always frightening bullshit-artist-ass-Skipper, a family hanger-on that’s not ever completely explained, but always avoided.

Portrayals of her beleaguered parents are somehow sympathetic, though her raw candor about their ignorance is obvious. They care for her and show glimpses of affection for her, but their bitter version of practicality trumps all. Written from the perspective of her young self throughout, Helen calls out the absurd and maniacal with grown-up insight and wit.

There were infinite “have-tos” especially when you needed a parent’s time. My mother might say, “I can’t bother with you right now. I have to get supper started,” or “I have to mow,” or “I have to help your father.” I felt fury when my parents shouted and complained over what I thought was nothing but they thought was something. This makes me feel guilty now, a bit sad, in the same way that I feel when I think back to how I hated the neighbor’s sable German shepherd, who nearly strangled herself on her chain in her snarling rushes to get me, while at the same time I felt sorry for her. P.250

A consistent theme throughout is Helen’s heartfelt love for animals – some that love her back and others that nearly kill her. But they give her the sense of belonging she never seems to find with her parents and siblings.

That Helen does ultimately climb out of the life of her childhood is both relieving and astonishing. Rooting for her at the turn of every page, I laughed and cried through her long, slow years of ire and setbacks. When Eric arrives on the scene as a ray of hope, like Helen I was both taken with him and skeptical of certain disappointment.

But that’s the thing. Pigs Can’t Swim leaves bits of hope along its path like breadcrumbs. Helen follows the trail, gathering those bits and tucking them away until the future – a future of her own – actually begins to take shape.

I arrived at the end of the story feeling like I’d reached the summit of a mountain after a long, arduous climb. Finally out of the dense forest of desperation, lunacy, and longing, the view is a promise and a reward all in one. Hard as it was to go with Peppe on her journey, I was left craving more.

I recommend this tale to those who feast on well-written literature, rich descriptions, and wry humor found in the most unlikely places. Many times I was reminded of the memoirs of Mary Karr as I read about a gritty life that is portrayed as sad, hilarious, and insane, all at the same time. Pigs Can’t Swim does more than entertain. It gives hope; hope that anyone can rise above her circumstances in life; and that indeed, pigs can swim after all.

Copyright © 2014 - Paulla Estes

01 April 2014

Skewed Sense of Time

It's April 1st.

The first day of Spring passed by on my calendar well over a week ago, yet since then we've had temps in the single digits, freezing rain, and yesterday two inches of snow.

Today the sun is shining, Spring winds are blowing (though it's still only in the low 30s) and the sky LOOKS like Springtime.

Just don't look down. There's still quite a lot of snow and ice on the ground and all the trees are bare.

And I realized something this morning.

Three months from now we will be in July. July 1st. Somehow, that doesn't seem so far off - even though the view out our Maine windows will look vastly different by then.

That's the part that puzzles me. Looking back three months, it was January 1st. That seems an eternity ago. And I know that in January, looking forward toward April is nothing short of depressing. The long, cold months loom ahead like a prison sentence, and though the sun will shine differently in the sky, we know the view out our windows in April won't be much different.

I suppose it all comes down to hope and change. We hope for warmer days and greener scenery, and we know the change is coming. July will be here before we know it, and then the colors of October, and then BAM, we're back to looking out at snow, ice, and barren trees.

And that skewed sense of time.

Wow, that's really not where I was going with this.

But here we are. Let's hear it for Springtime and putting the ice and snow of winter behind us once again.

Well, eventually. :)

Copyright © 2014 - Paulla Estes