Sunday, December 8, 2013

The Ship Shrine

My daughter coined the phrase, but it’s really more of a display than a shrine. I had the idea several months ago of buying some inexpensive plastic frames for enlargements of a few of my favorite photographs of ships and children. Nothing fancy, just a few showpieces for old time’s sake. I selected the pictures, bought the frames, and set everything up on the dresser in Miss Karen’s old bedroom. I admired this little gallery every day. She saw it when she came home for Thanksgiving and laughingly called it my ship shrine.

Starting on the left and proceeding in chronological order, I have a picture of the ferry Orient at the dock in Orient Point, Long Island, in August of 1976. I was still a teenager then. After my first voyage aboard the State of Maine and before I returned to school, my parents and I took a road trip out to the East End of Long Island. We visited the lighthouse at Montauk Point and the state park at Orient Point. We also stopped to admire the old ferry loading passengers and automobiles for transport to Connecticut.

The Orient was quite a sight. An old landing craft from the Second World War, she had been repainted in civilian colors and now sported a gray hull with white superstructure. Her age showed in her battered bow, her rusty shell plating, and her squat, box-like hull. She was not a graceful looking vessel, but with the bright afternoon sun shining on her port side, she was quite attractive in a difficult-to-describe sort of way. Little did I realize that this chance encounter with the aged Orient would prove to be a harbinger of voyages to be made with children yet to be born. When I stood on the adjacent beach and took her photograph I was unmarried and childless, still just a kid myself, and unable to even imagine the many voyages I would make aboard the Orient’s successors with my family in the years ahead. The picture I took of her has since become one of my favorites, and it holds first place in the ship shrine.

Next come two photographs of the tanker New Jersey Sun in drydock at the Todd Shipyard in Galveston, Texas, in May of 1977. Then follows a portrait of the tug Charger docked in Newark, New Jersey, in July of 1978. These pictures represent many happy memories of my formative adolescent years when I was learning the craft of the sea and working toward my license. Those were the good old days!

Next in line is the cable carrier Furman departing Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and passing the Portsmouth Light in New Castle on Saturday, March 15, 1986. This picture represents a turning point. My seagoing career was drawing to a close, but the proverbial new day was dawning. The following year the first of our four children was born. Henceforth in my photography the ships would share the limelight with the children.

And so the next picture shows Miss Patty with a very young James and an even younger Miss Karen standing on the beach at Orient Point watching the new ferry John H arrive. It was Friday, August 17, 1990. The same place where I had looked upon the old Orient now became the younger generation’s viewing platform, and over the years all the children have enjoyed many happy hours both on the beach at Orient Point and aboard the ferries between Long Island and Connecticut.

They travelled elsewhere, too, though. Accordingly, the next photograph in line shows the whole family—all four children with their Mommy and their Nana—in Battery Park in Lower Manhattan, watching the transatlantic liner Queen Elizabeth 2 depart from New York on a voyage to Southampton, England. That was a special day, Monday, August 19, 1996. Besides providing an exciting time for the children, it brought back memories for my mother and me, memories of watching my grandparents sail from New York for Europe in the 1960s when I was a small child myself.

The next photograph portrays James diligently scanning the horizon with a pair of binoculars aboard the ferry Delaware on her namesake bay enroute from Lewes, Delaware, to North Cape May, New Jersey, on Tuesday, August 18, 1998. Finally, the lineup of pictures concludes with another favorite—all the children assembled with Captain Steve Pond in the wheelhouse of the ferry Champlain enroute from Port Kent, New York, to Burlington, Vermont, on Monday, July 2, 2001.

On two small shelves higher up and next to the mirror on Miss Karen’s dresser, I have two additional pictures. One shows James, Miss Karen, and Steven on Sunday afternoon, June 20, 1993, all dressed up in the vintage American Export Lines souvenir tee shirts that my grandmother had long ago brought home for my brother and me. The second is a photograph taken of a painting aboard the cruise ship Nieuw Amsterdam. This depicts the Holland-America Line’s earlier Nieuw Amsterdam passing the lightship Ambrose on her way outbound from New York. I had become enraptured by this painting during our voyage aboard the new Nieuw Amsterdam following James’ wedding in February of 2012, and I regretted that I could not bring it home with me! This little copy seems the next best thing.

Not part of Miss Karen’s ship shrine but nonetheless relevant are three professionally done portraits that I did bring home from the Nieuw Amsterdam. The first of these portrays the newly married couple, James and Sarah, radiating happiness on their shipboard honeymoon. The second shows our younger sons, Steven and Michael, also looking very happy, and perhaps even a bit mischievous despite being dressed in their formal attire. The third is a family portrait. In commemoration of the wedding, Miss Patty and I posed together with all the children and our new daughter-in-law in the grand atrium of the Nieuw Amsterdam. The ship’s photographer created a family heirloom appropriate to the occasion. All three photographs are now framed and displayed together in Miss Patty’s sewing room in what we may perhaps call a wedding shrine.

There remains one more to examine. In my family history room I have another portrait taken by another photographer aboard another ship. While enroute from New York to ports in the Mediterranean aboard the Independence in November of 1966, my grandparents, Robert Burns and Julia Murphy, posed for the cameraman in their evening attire at the Captain’s cocktail party. An exceptionally good likeness of them, this heirloom holds a place of honor in my family archives. I look at it often.

I look at the portraits from the Nieuw Amsterdam and the snapshots in the ship shrine often, too. But I think this collection is not so much a shrine to ships; rather, it is a mini-archive of our family history. Ships have played important roles in our family’s history, serving as transportation for business meetings, vacations, family reunions, and sometimes just plain joyriding. Also, for many years they provided a career and livelihood for me. But while they serve the family’s needs, these vessels are not part of the family. Like other inanimate objects, they are discarded when no longer useful or profitable. Inevitably, they end their careers in a scrapyard. Occasionally a famous ship may be preserved as a museum piece, such as the Queen Mary in California or the Cutty Sark in England, but this is rare. Most of the time the old ships are refashioned into razor blades and automobile parts.

The family, however, always maintains its integrity. As the Proclamation on the Family tells us,
The divine plan of happiness enables family relationships to be perpetuated beyond the grave. Sacred ordinances and covenants available in holy temples make it possible for individuals to return to the presence of God and for families to be united eternally.1
When I consider the five generations of my family that I have known in this life—my great-grandmother, my grandparents, my parents, my wife and myself, and our children—this sounds like a great idea! When I consider the extended family that I have known here and the deceased family members for whom I have done research and temple ordinances, this great idea seems even better. But of all these folks, the four for whom I admit to having a special soft spot are my own children. I realize that they’re all adults now, but they’ll always be children, even babies, to me.

Unlike discarded merchant ships, my children will never end their careers in a scrapyard and be transformed into something else. They will remain my children and I will remain their father. The ships I sailed on in my youth provided me with a livelihood, but my children have given me far more. This includes both happy and sad memories, both restful and sleepless nights, both great responsibility and great pleasure, both worry and relief, but above all an abiding and transcendent feeling of satisfaction that is difficult to describe.

As I look at the photograph of the aged ferry Orient in the ship shrine and think of the many voyages that I made on that route over the years with my children, I feel the sense of satisfaction that comes from having given them life and raised them from infancy to adulthood. President Gordon B. Hinckley expressed it very simply and succinctly when he told Mike Wallace:
Look, when all is said and done, you as a parent have no greater responsibility in this world than the bringing up of your children in the right way, and you will have no greater satisfaction as the years pass than to see those children growing in integrity and honesty and making something of their lives, adding to society because they are part of it.2
This is true. As important as ships have been in my life, my children are infinitely more important. The photographs of my favorite ships on Miss Karen’s dresser may comprise a ship shrine, as she calls it, but these vessels’ significance is eclipsed by my children and also by my grandparents and new daughter-in-law. Thus, it is not really a ship shrine but a family shrine.

1 In Gordon B. Hinckley, Discourses of President Gordon B. Hinckley, Volume 1: 1995-1999, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 2005, pp. 32-33. This Proclamation was included in an address made at the General Relief Society Meeting on September 23, 1995.
2 Op. cit., p. 486. This statement is an excerpt from an interview of President Hinckley by Mike Wallace on the television program 60 Minutes on December 18, 1995.

1 comment:

  1. "Little did I realize that this chance encounter with the aged Orient would prove to be a harbinger of voyages to be made with children yet to be born. When I stood on the adjacent beach and took her photograph I was unmarried and childless, still just a kid myself, and unable to even imagine the many voyages I would make aboard the Orient’s successors with my family in the years ahead."

    That's what's best about pictures like that. You were just standing there innocently not knowing what was about to hit you. Awesome.