Around the World with Martha Jane:
The Adventures of Marty Condon Coulbourn
By Sam Coulbourn, with much help from Marty
There was this girl who walked into my life one day 63 years ago on a train. It turns out she was the funniest, smartest, most imaginative creature I could imagine. I called her “Bug”.
Boy, she didn’t know what she bargained for when she answered a letter addressed to “Westy Condon, Lesley College, Cambridge, Mass.”
Marty in Rockport’s Old Fifth Parish Cemetery, 1955
U.S. Naval Academy Chapel, June 8, 1957
Before she knew it, she had dashed beneath the crossed swords of my classmates, we had a new baby, and I was sailing off into the blue Pacific, and she was flying from California to Boston to see if her mother, Florence Condon, approved of this little half-Yankee, half-Texan California boy.
What we didn’t know! How could we know what was coming in the next several decades? Marty would be a spectacular Navy Wife, but part of that job meant being apart from your husband for many months at a time, and bringing up kids, and dogs, running a household, keeping the car running, paying bills on a meager budget--- alone. It also meant serving brilliant meals at dinner parties attended by friends, loads of relatives, and a constant stream of remarkable people from all over the world.
Marty would be a mother to three children, and later, “Nanny” to five grandchildren.
She’d become an antiques dealer who could tell you the difference between a Kerman and a Hamadan, Pointed Antique and Sheffield, Imari and Satsuma. She could spot the weasels that scurried around antique shows, looking for fine old silver to melt down. And she gained the trust and admiration of most other dealers and most customers.
She was always a teacher, teaching English to Italians, Japanese, Iranians and Russians. And teaching many subjects to her husband.
She was spilling over with bright ideas, and the skill to get other people interested and sharing and collectively making good things happen.
Marty didn’t ever feel so self-centered that she would write a memoir, so I started to write one for her. I planned to sketch in the parts I learned from her and then get her to fill in the blanks. However, before I could do that, she was gone. September 1, 2018.
Early Life. Martha Jane was born to Florence and John Condon in Cambridge, MA on January 25, 1937. It was the time of the Depression, and Massachusetts Governor James Michael Curley was trying to get John Condon, an attorney and banker, to take a job helping to close banks. Condon knew that anything associated with Curley would likely be shady. Curley sent the Condons an elaborate layette for little Martha. Florence was delighted, but when John heard of this he had it returned to the Governor straightaway. John Condon could not be corrupted. Martha inherited scrupulous honesty from both her parents.
When she was three years old, her father died, and her mother had to enter the work force to support her family. She began a career at the Middlesex County (MA) Registry of deeds. Martha grew up in Medford, spending summers with her aunt and uncle, Maddie and Al Norwood, and their children, her cousins.
Florence, Martha, Jack and John Condon, Holyoke, 1940
Madeline Norwood serves cake to Nancy and Susan Norwood and Martha Jane (with doll).
Milford, NH, 1943
Stories by Martha Condon, 1947
Here is a story by nine-year-old Martha Jane, in a collection she submitted for school work:
A Thanksgiving Dinner (1946)
Thanksgiving I went up to my aunt’s in New Hampshire. When my cousins and I woke up that morning we got dressed and hustled downstairs. My aunt and my mother were just dressing a 25 lb. turkey. A little later that morning my mother put two mince pies and two pumpkin pies in the oven. My two cousins Nancy and Sue fixed the center piece of pears, grapes, apples and oranges. Then we went for a walk in the woods because we had to pick some little pieces of pine to put with the center piece. When we got home every thing was ready. About five minutes later my uncle came in and said, “I have a surprise for you!” We shouted “What is it. He said to look in the cow barn. We all ran for the door. When we got to the barn there hardly able to walk straight was a little baby calf. He was having his Thanksgiving dinner of hay.
The Norwood family descended from one of the first families in Rockport, MA, and the family, normally hard at work on their dairy farm in New Hampshire, came to this seaside town to relax. Martha Jane spent her summers here with her cousins.
These hard-working dairy farmers didn’t really relax when they came to Rockport. They were forever planting, building, rebuilding, cleaning, and serving hearty meals and hosting parties for family and neighbors. Martha Jane got to help with all of this.
Our Lady of Nazareth. When it was time for Martha Jane to go to high school, her Mother enrolled her in Our Lady of Nazareth (OLN), a small Catholic girl’s school in Wakefield, MA, and each day Martha took the bus across suburban Boston to this school, run by the Sisters of Charity. This experience became a strong foundation for Martha for life, and she still met with several classmates at least annually. Cathy and husband Ed Weckel and Julie Ann O’Neill attended her funeral, September 7, 2018.
Martha Jane ca. 1954
After OLN, Martha entered Lesley College. One weekend, Martha and Jan Gleason, an OLN and Lesley classmate, were traveling to Washington by train in spring, 1955 when they met two Naval Academy Midshipmen. I was one of them and I noted a name in a text book one pretty blond was reading on the train, and wrote a letter to “Westy Condon, Lesley College, Cambridge, Mass.” A bright and imaginative college dean received the letter and sought out the only Condon in the college, and asked Marty if she were expecting a letter from Annapolis. She wasn’t, but she read the letter and answered it.
That was the lucky break of my life, because it was the start of a 63-year love affair.
I invited her down to Annapolis for a weekend. She accepted, driving down from Boston with her mother and her mother’s friend. Her mother needed to be nearby, because, well, those navy men … you never know!
Our Wedding. In June 1957, the day after my graduation and commissioning in the Navy, Martha and I were married in the Naval Academy Chapel and set out on a lifelong journey around the world.
Wedding, Annapolis, 1957
Sam and Marty, Port Arthur, TX 1957
John is born. We drove from Annapolis on our honeymoon, stopping in Virginia, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida, then we drove to my home in Port Arthur, Texas. We then drove to our first home, in Oakland, California, and shortly afterward, to Long Beach, and then San Diego, CA. There, in February 1958, John Dixon was born. I took charge of sending out birth announcements, authenticated by dipping John’s tiny foot in green food color and stamping each letter. Marty was horrified at such misuse of our “Baby Squiggs”. She later nicknamed him “John the Mouse”.
John and Marty, Mar. 6, 1958
I left for a long deployment to the western Pacific on my destroyer, and Marty and John flew home to Medford, to the delight of Florence.
Navy Wife Extraordinaire. I returned from the western Pacific in summer of 1958, and Marty and John joined me in Long Beach. In December 1959 all three of us, and a newly acquired puppy, piled into our Chevrolet Corvair and drove across country, headed for New London, CT, where I would start Submarine Officers’ School.
By this time, Marty had been a naval officer’s wife for over two years, and that meant long months with the husband gone to sea and her caring for the family alone. It also meant activities with other wives of ship’s officers, and volunteer activities like handling cases for Navy and Marine Corps enlisted and their families at the Navy Relief Society. At New London Marty began to show her tremendous talent for leadership. She gathered several submarine school wives to create a SubSchool Class Cookbook.
Marty (c), Penny and Jean do a cookbook
(Courtesy Christian Science Monitor)
Mark is born. Soon I was serving aboard a New London-based submarine and Marty gave birth to Mark William, in November 1960. Marty nicknamed him “Marky Maypo and “Mapes the Good Grapes.”
The next summer, I left on a cruise in the submarine to the St. Lawrence Seaway and up into the Great Lakes. Marty entrusted John and baby Mark to her aunts and she and cousin Nancy took off by car for Montréal to meet the ship and share shore liberty with me there and in Québec, Detroit and Port Huron, MI.
John, Marty and Mark, ca. 1962
Susan is born. Then I was transferred to a new fleet ballistic missile submarine, which meant more long periods with the family apart. When I returned from one patrol Susan Allerton was born, in January 1964. Her nicknames for Sue were “Miss Tink” and “Suzista Transista.”
The next year I was sent to Washington for the family’s first shore duty, and we bought our first house, in Springfield, VA, not far from my office at Main Navy in the District of Columbia. I traveled a lot and it seemed wise to buy a big dog to protect the family. Schatzi, a friendly German Shepherd, joined the family.
Susan, John and Mark, 1966
In 1967 we moved to Virginia Beach, VA and I reported aboard a communications command ship as navigator. Marty interacted with other officers’ wives, often assisting young wives of enlisted men. I next became executive officer of a destroyer making deployments to the Mediterranean Sea and, as wife of the second-in-command, Marty found herself more involved with helping young wives.
Marty in Persia. Next, we packed up and flew to Tehran, Iran. Schatzi also came. I was assigned to be an advisor to the staff of the Iranian Supreme Command, under the Shah. Iran was a challenge for the whole family. Landing in a city of four million people, with all the language and signs in Persian, and the Iranians, more accustomed to camels or goats, driving their cars wildly through the city. Few spoke English, but somehow, we managed. We had many suppers and gatherings with other American, British and Iranian officers and their families and Americans working in Iran. There were many laughs and we learned much about this wonderful country.
Martha Jane in Persepolis, Iran
Shortly after moving into a hotel for temporary lodging, Marty had to drive the rented family car to take the children to register for the local American school. Wherever they went, Iranians looked at the blond mother and three blond children like they were from another planet.
The westerners in Tehran formed a tight, friendly community, and soon Marty was taking an active part. She took a job as an English teacher at an Iranian foreign language school, while the children were enrolled in an American school.
Mark at our home in Tehran with Schatzi
We rented a home in the north of Tehran, just a few blocks from the Shah’s palace. We had an Iranian family living in our garden --- the husband was gardener for us. We also hired a badji, or maid, to help with cooking and cleaning.
Marty became very interested in the art and crafts of Iran, and we began to acquire Persian rugs and antique Persian and old Russian articles. Marty and her friends made many trips to obscure rug shops in the Tehran Bazaar, and when the family visited other cities and villages in Iran she became more educated about the breadth and depth of Iranian art.*
We took the kids up to the Turkoman tribal area to experience people who were still living in an earlier century. We arrived on market day, when the men, all wearing karakul hats, bought and sold camels, goats and sheep. We visited a yurt, the traditional home of these people, and one young dandy, wearing western clothes, emerged from nowhere with his motorbike and took Marty on a quick spin around the village. Marty seemed to enjoy escaping from the camel era.
*Just weeks before Marty passed away, she asked me to take her to Landry & Arcari, a Salem, MA rug merchant. When I wheeled her into that huge showroom, with stacks of Persian carpets all over, I could see that she was back in the Tehran bazaar. A young man from Afghanistan was helping us view the rugs, and he skillfully flipped them just like we remembered from long ago. She picked out two, then bargained for them, and asked if we could take them to “try out.” This was Marty, in her “rug heaven”.
Daughter Susan in a rug shop in the Turkoman region of northeastern Iran.
Marty the Hostess. By this time Marty had become expert in the entertaining that was part of life in the Navy, but here, exposed to officers and diplomats from all over the world, she began to learn much more about serving a marvelous, colorful meal to 50 or so guests, or a half dozen, always with polished sterling and beautiful decoration. And always with great humor—never stuffy.
Marty on the roof of her home in Tehran with Alborz Mountains in background, 1971
Probably her most memorable hostess experience in Iran was when she and I had a dinner to honor the departure of my boss, Army Colonel Hal Horne, and his wife. Our houseboy at this time (she’d fired the badji, or maid, for stealing several of the items we had brought to Iran for the children) knew other houseboys, and we enlisted some of them for this event. A friend suggested an Iranian cook at the Netherlands Embassy. We hired more Iranians to set up a bar in the garden and also a small band to play traditional Iranian “twoodle and tweedle” music, as Marty called it.
Marty’s mother Florence and her fiancé Fred Sears were visiting from Boston, so they were about to experience this event.
Several Iranian generals were invited, so the Iranian General Staff ordered their security people to come over and search for bombs and such in advance of the party. They were a bit heavy-handed, roaming around pulling plants out of pots to look for microphones or explosives, and once they opened the door to a bathroom and surprised Florence.
As the Iranian cook was preparing stuffed zucchini for the dinner he accidentally cut off the tip of a finger, so I paid him 10,000 rials and had my driver take him to get the finger sewed back on. The poor man decided he’d rather keep the money and forget repairing the finger. Other cooks filled in, preparing about 60 roast Cornish game hens and all the accompaniments.
By the time the guests arrived the band had partaken too much of the bar, and the tweedling and twoodling was loud enough to attract itinerant Iranian mards (peasant men) who happened to be walking home from work.
The houseboys always squatted and used the floors to lay out the dishes to be served. They served the elegant meal to guests, who were Iranian, British, Canadian, German, French and American senior officers, and Iranian and American civilian officials and diplomats and wives.
As guests were completing the main course the music swelled up so much that the houseboys serving couldn’t help themselves and began to whip the napkins off the laps of the guests and performed an Iranian dance that includes waving napkins around. Although some of the high-born Iranians seemed shocked, most of the guests enjoyed the display.
Living in Iran was filled with surprises. Marty got to know Red the Antiques Dealer and Electrician, who told her how to bury a new “antique” copper vase to age it; he also converted half our house to American 110 voltage, instead of Iranian 220. We were slow to understand why lightbulbs were popping in the Iranian half of the house.
Marty admired the” Simsaz” or electrician, who came to our house and simply ripped out the wire that was embedded in the clay wall, repaired it, and smeared mud over it again. Then he tested the voltage by touching it. Ouch! Also, the “Lulekesh” or plumber, who made a mess of the bathroom; or the painter, who used the Farsi word to paint, literally: “To hit with color.”
While we were in Iran we took a few days’ vacation in Lebanon, on the shore of the Mediterranean Sea. Although there were many camps filled with Palestinians, and machine gun emplacements all around the airport, it was reasonably safe in those days. We thought.
Marty at Biblos, Lebanon, 1971
It turns out that Beirut was seething with spies from all over—Mossad from Israel, of course, and KGB. We even met a friend from Iran who we found was with the CIA, also in Beirut. And the usual collection of shady characters from all over the region. We stayed at a nice old hotel, The St. George’s, and went to the bar for a drink. Soon Marty, who had nothing to drink before, was acting very drunk, and it turned out they had given her a Mickey Finn. I took her to our room and she soon recovered, but it was a warning to us about traveling in the Middle East.
Marty and others organized a huge party to say “farewell” to our departing general. What better than an “All Mexican” party in Iran? We created a small Mexican hut in the patio of the officers’ club and equipped Iranian waiters with sombreros and serapes to serve tequila, tacos and enchiladas. We put on a skit about Pancho Villa for our unimpressed general, and just about everyone had too much tequila.
We hosted an American USO act that featured Johnny and the Green Men, musicians with green dyed hair. We also organized a bus tour for fellow officers to villages on the Caspian Sea.
After two years in Iran we headed for Mayport, FL for our next home port. On the way home, we traveled first to Moscow and Leningrad (now St. Petersburg, Russia), USSR, our first exposure to that forbidding country. Then we flew to Stockholm and Amsterdam and boarded a Rhine cruise ship, sailing down the river from Rotterdam to Basle, Switzerland, sampling the wine and food from each region. Next we flew from Basle to Barcelona and Valencia, Spain. By this time the family was exhausted after visiting too many museums and churches, and even the beaches of Valencia didn’t attract us. We elected to cut our vacation short and flew home to Boston.
When we arrived in Boston, Florence served us a good old fish chowder, the same meal she had given us before we departed the U.S. two years before. It was good to be home.
Soon after, we flew to Mayport. I left for Hawaii where I would board the ship I would command, as we sailed to the waters off Viet Nam. Marty became the “mother” for the wives of the crew of the destroyer during the final months of combat in Viet Nam. Nine months after leaving home, the ship headed east for the Panama Canal, and son John flew down to the Panamanian Pacific coast to meet the ship and ride her back to Mayport.
Next, we were transferred to Charleston, SC and I went to sea again, in command of a fleet ammunition ship. Marty managed to leave the children with relatives and flew to Greece to meet the ship in Athens and we took off to explore Greece for a few days.
Then I was assigned to enter the Naval War College for study, and the family moved to Newport. Back in New England for the first time in nine years, Marty joined several organizations and lived a very active life, and we were able to visit Marty’s family in Medford and New Hampshire often.
Marty goes to Italy. In 1975 I was ordered to a Navy staff in Naples, Italy, and we moved into “Camping Averno”, a summertime family camping resort for two months, while Marty and other wives carried out a tedious search for housing. While this got annoying for the adults, the children thoroughly enjoyed long hours of swimming and playing with vacationing Italian children at the resort. At this time, we took the children to dinner at small restaurants every night, joined by the family of Al and Aggie Koster, who were also searching for housing. The kids had their fill of Coca Cola and spaghetti.
Marty finally found a delightful apartment on the fifth floor of a palazzo in downtown Naples, far from any other Americans, but with views of Mt. Vesuvius, the Amalfi Coast, Capri or the Gulf of Pozzuoli from every window.
John at our home in Naples. Mt. Vesuvius is over his right shoulder.
Marty soon went to work teaching English at the American Consulate, and we traveled all over Italy. The children went to U.S. Department of Defense schools.
Soon cousin Nancy, now married to Ron Pomerleau, with two daughters, came to Naples for a visit. We all caught the train from Naples to Florence and spent several days visiting many, many churches, museums, shopping, and enjoying much Florentine food and wine. Marty had learned about gold bracelets from the women in Iran, and she continued to collect them here.
One day in Naples daughter Susan saw some boys tormenting a tiny black kitten, and she rescued it. That cat received the name Aïda. When it was time to leave Naples, we thought we would give the cat away, but Susan stood her ground, and we started through the bureaucratic process of shipping the cat to America. Aïda stayed with us until Susan was married, nine years later, and then the cat went to live with her, and Susan’s children were able to enjoy her. That black cat was good luck for us!
Father Quentin. Our friend, Al Koster, thought we might like to meet this Dominican priest living in Rome. He was from New England, so Marty could offer him New England hospitality. We invited him to come down for a weekend.
Father Quentin took the train from Rome to Naples, and we met him at the big Stazione Centrale in Piazza Garibaldi. He was a roly-poly little fellow, about as wide as he was tall, and wore a brown monk’s robe with a big, wide belt with a large cross on the buckle. And sandals.
Naples Harbor with Vesuvius in distance
We bundled the good Father into our Fiat station wagon and were off to Posillipo, our home.
Father Quentin told us that he lived in a cubicle in a very monastic existence in Rome. We had plans to take Father Q. out to dinner that night, with our friends, Aggie and Al Koster.
After Quentin was shown to the guest bedroom, he revealed that he had brought a large bag of laundry from the nuns that occupy his religious dwelling in Rome. He asked if he could use our washing machine to launder them. That was when he told us about how much he loved large, “thirsty” towels after his bath, because at the monastery, he used only a very flimsy cloth to towel off with. And his bath was in cold water.
Italian dining can be a marvelous experience, with a meal that begins with aperitivi, then antipasti consisting of olives, other pickled vegetables, bruschetta (toast with oil and tomatoes). and sausages and cold meats. Then there’s the pasta course, and next the secondo, or second course, which is a meat or fish. After that you have a dolce (pastry) plus fruit. Then comes the coffee, and cheese, and perhaps a glass of cognac or grappa, a powerful, clear liquid. Finally, there is the digestivo. This is a peculiar drink which seems to act like a giant plunger to take all that food you have consumed and push it down into your belly with force.
Americans at dinner would tend to order only two or three courses, but if Italians were having a real dinner, it might consist of all the above. And the waiter, in true Neapolitan style, would query you on your health and perceived illnesses, and then prescribe the vegetables you might like to eat.
Father Quentin didn’t speak much Italian, except when it came to the menu, and then this round little holy man showed his prowess. He ordered every course, in beautiful Italian.
“Vorrei un poco di spaghettini, è un pezzo di lasagne, e --- ooo, un piccolo pezzo di carne di vitello, per piacére,”
We could see this bill was going to be a zinger.
Marty washed and dried all the robes and clothing for the nuns, and then gave it to Father Quentin and showed him the iron and ironing board. Then she went out to shop for a cocktail buffet we were having for my boss, who was soon leaving Italy. Quentin addressed the ironing board.
Marty returned two hours later, and Quentin, in his brown robe, was spread across the floor in our dining room, next to the ironing board. She thought he had collapsed.
No, the good Father said that the ironing had completely worn him out, and he was collecting enough energy to continue.
Marty roasted a turkey for the buffet. Quentin volunteered to carve the turkey for the buffet, and he did, with spectacular artfulness, garnishing the bird elegantly.
That night the Commander of the Sixth Fleet, Vice Admiral Harry Train, came to our buffet along with the other guests, and was pleased to meet Father Quentin. We all bid farewell to my boss, and the guests left.
As soon as the guests were gone, Father Quentin descended upon the turkey and finished it single-handedly.
Soon it was time for us to say goodbye to Quentin, but he was enjoying the food and relaxation so much he said he wanted to stay. We gathered him and all his possessions up, along with all the ironing for the nuns, and drove him forthwith to the train station, and put him on the train for Rome with a hearty farewell.
Marty in Newport. I was ordered to teach at the Naval War College in Newport, RI and Marty soon joined the staff of Seaport ’76. This was a group of retired senior naval officers and Marines, who took on the task of raising money and building a ship that replicated John Paul Jones’ first warship. Headed by Vice Admiral Tom Weschler and Captain Howard Kaye, the group included a colorful assortment of intrepid fund-raisers, hard chargers eager to command, but with no one to pay attention to their bluster; blowhards, windbags and stalwart performers. The group became well-known in Newport philanthropic circles, and Marty learned how to manage more senior officers, in addition to her husband.
Living in the woods of New Hampshire. Cousins Nancy and Ron Pomerleau offered us a chance to buy a house in a new development being carved out of the woods near Amherst, NH. Nancy, a career real estate agent, whisked us through the buying part, and Ron, a builder, got his team together and built a nice home for us right near Horace Greeley’s old farm. We knew we wouldn’t live there long, because I was headed for Russian language school and attaché training in Washington, a year of preparation for going to the American Embassy in Moscow.
Marty found a job as executive director of the New Hampshire Symphony, building on her experience with the Seaport ’76 organization. I started an intensive course, flying home on weekends. Daughter Susan enrolled in the local high school for her senior year.
Marty and the Spy Business. During that year I had Marty fly down to Washington for a dress rehearsal for our life in the USSR. In Russia attachés would spend much time driving to locations to collect intelligence, usually followed by the KGB and other intelligence services. Often, we would be accompanied by our wives, and so some training included Marty. An Army colonel headed for Rumania and his wife joined us in a rental car in Arlington, VA, and our assignment was, as attachés of a fictitious country, to collect intelligence at several targets, from Charlottesville to Richmond, VA. We would be opposed by Army counterintelligence agents, the same ones who followed Iron Curtain intelligence officers operating out of Washington, except they would also use techniques used by the KGB and other Communist security services.
Even though we were driving through beautiful Virginia countryside, and it was all for training purposes, it became obvious that we were headed for a strange new world in the USSR. Staying in a motel in Petersburg, VA “enemy” agents deflated two tires on our rental vehicle. When we came down for breakfast the agents swooped into our room and searched for anything we had left in the room that would “prove” our intelligence collection mission. We learned a lesson that we would always obey in the USSR, to carry such materials in a bag, and never let your guard down.
Marty got a chance to see the other side of our Moscow duties when we attended a reception at the Soviet Embassy in Washington. We met the Soviet Ambassador to the United States, and several of the senior military attachés and their wives. Marty enjoyed meeting Mrs. Smirnov, the Naval Attaché’s wife, who told her that she had really enjoyed getting to use Pillsbury baking products. A big, burly Army tank corps General, upon meeting Marty, said: “Sometime in Moscow you will be out for a walk, and you will turn around, and you will see me!” He was joking, but Marty realized that she was headed for a no-jokes situation.
Marty and the Russians. In 1981 we flew to Moscow to begin a strange and challenging tour in Moscow, USSR. We had visited Moscow on our way home from Iran nine years before, and Russia was pretty far down on Marty’s list of fun places to live. But she knew that for her husband, who had studied Russian since high school, it was the dream job, and she agreed to go.
By now John was on his own. Having just graduated from University of Rochester, he signed up to start flight school and become a naval aviator, but first he and his buddy Ned Walsh took off for several months traveling in Europe. The plan was for them to meet us Christmas Eve in Moscow.
Mark beside Soviet train for Helsinki
We arrived in Moscow and were met by an officer from the Embassy and were taken to a temporary residence at an apartment building quite a distance from the Embassy. Most of the people in the building were Africans, some learning revolutionary studies or other communist topics at Lumumba University. Soon Aïda arrived by KLM Dutch airlines and joined us.
We knew we were in a foreign country when our escort told us not to put our bags down in the elevator. It seems the African children, who had never lived n a city before, often peed in the elevator. We soon observed that the Africans also enjoyed large cookouts in their apartments, cooking a whole goat. The air got rather pungent at times. We soon moved to our permanent quarters on the sixth floor of the American Embassy.
Naval attachés and wives in Moscow
(L to R: Henrys, Coulbourns, Crabtrees)
Life in Moscow for Marty involved attending many diplomatic dinners and receptions, and hosting about one dinner per week. Every two or so weeks she would accompany me on travel to far-flung parts of the Soviet Union. Our mission was to observe whatever we could, especially Soviet warship construction and operation. Wives accompanying implied that the trip was for pleasure, but they often got fully involved in the work of trying to photograph and observe things that the Soviets didn’t want us to see.
Marty and Nancy Pomerleau, Suzdal, Russia, 1981
Marty the Intelligence Collector. It so happens that women, perhaps because in their younger years there may be many male eyes tracking them, get to be incredibly expert at detecting those eyes. In the Soviet Union, when we were always liable to being followed by the KGB, our wives could detect surveillance much better than men could.
We took the Midnight Red Arrow train from Moscow to Leningrad, arriving on schedule at 8:25 a.m. A driver met us at the train station and drove us to the American Consulate, where we stowed our bags and jumped into our car, all set for a day of work.
We did a lot of driving around places where the Soviets were building new ships and patrol craft in Leningrad. Usually two attachés traveled together, but sometimes it was just an attaché and wife, and on this occasion, it was Marty and me.
I had to observe the construction of a new missile boat the Soviets were building on the banks of the Neva River. I asked Marty to drive our four-wheel drive Niva (a Soviet Jeep-style vehicle).
On this day, there was a huge amount of snow everywhere in Leningrad, and I asked Marty to drive down this plowed path to the river, with snow on each side much taller than our car.
She drove us, but as we got near the target, out stepped a KGB “goon”. He was in a position to stop us and submit us to some nasty interrogation. So, I told Marty, “Quick, back up, as fast as you can!”
If you have not practiced high speed backing, traveling backwards down a snowy track with snow piled high on each side, it’s not easy.
But Marty kicked the Niva into reverse and away we went, backing down maybe 100 or so yards, and then cleared the area.
Marty was not happy with me for getting her into that situation.
The Cheery Chelovyeks. Marty quickly made friends with our next-door neighbor, Jane Hamm, wife of my boss, Brigadier General Charles R. Hamm, USAF. Both women observed how Moscow, and all of Russia, could be a depressing experience. The Russians you met on the streets typically wore sour, dour expressions. The short days, the cloudiness, the cold, combined with a lot of shortages, of food, public services, generally, Russia could be a downer. Marty and Jane decided that they would set an example of cheerful, positive Americans, so they called themselves “The Cheery Chelovyeks (Persons)” and managed to get others to have a lot of fun during our two years.
We go on a Cruise. We went on a cruise aboard a small German cruise ship out of Kiel, West Germany, and visited several Baltic ports, with the objective of entering Leningrad from sea, to observe the city like we were unable to from land. The passengers were working class Germans, and there was plenty of beer, ooompah music, sauerkraut and sausage. Intelligence collection could be fun!
Marty cruising the Baltic
We made two cruises aboard Soviet ships in the Black Sea. On one my boss Charlie Hamm and his wife Jane joined us. The KGB was so impressed that an American general would take a Black Sea cruise, that they arranged a whole staff on board to surveil us, including a small Russian wedding party. Marty and Jane loved to laugh at the tricks the KGB tried in following us in the Black Sea ports.
We took one trip to a small town in Turkmenistan where the Soviet Air Force was launching air attacks in nearby Afghanistan. We stayed in a hotel lighted by lone light bulbs, with the smell of toilets in the hallways. The black-and-white television had two channels: one with an endless Soviet version of World War II, in Turkoman, and the other the same thing in Russian. In the hotel restaurant the waiter came with a full set of steel teeth and a large menu. Nothing in the menu was available except shashlik and cabbage, so we had that. Marty took all this in stride, and we always found something good to enjoy; she always was up to go shopping, and we could always laugh at some of the antics of the men who were sent to follow us.
Marty had a maid, Lyudmila Kadikova, whom she really loved. Although Lyudmila was probably an accomplished intelligence gatherer for the KGB, she was a warm and pleasant woman, and mother of two grown girls. Her husband worked at the East German Embassy. She taught Marty how to make delicious Ukrainian borscht!
One of Marty’s more complicated entertainment operations was to provide a reception in our apartment for the leaders of the Soviet Navy, incident to an annual meeting of admirals of the U.S. and Soviet navies. I told Marty that it would probably be just 20 or so admirals and other senior officers, but no wives.8
Many Russian and American Admirals in our apartment.
On this occasion, all the wives accompanied their husbands. The head of the Soviet navy appeared with his wife in a mink coat. Each time the elevator door opened, more arrived. Many Russian wives, even though their husbands were quite senior, appeared unfamiliar with foreign things and particularly, Americans. They touched the fabric of our table cloths and curtains and examined the china. Marty and Lyudmila had prepared enough food, but we started to run short of vodka, so we sent runners out to the other Americans in the building to lend us their supplies. It was another example of using parties to visit and get to know people of a different world. Marty became expert at this in a warm and good-humored way.
Sam and Marty at Ball, U.S. Embassy, Moscow, 1982
Marty and her friend Jane used their organizational skills again to put on a memorable St. Patrick’s Day Party in the garage of the Moscow Embassy They bought a pig’s head in the Moscow farmers’ market, colored it green and hung it over the entrance. The Irish ambassador provided barrels of Guinness and we got the American ambassador and other senior officials to put on tutus and perform “Swine Lake”, the ballet.
Daughter Susan lived with us part of our time in Moscow. She got a job in the American Consulate, and soon found that one of her tasks was looking after a family of seven Pentacostals from Siberia. These strange people had broken into the Embassy and requested asylum and lived in a basement apartment for three years. As a young consular worker, it was Susan’s job to assist these people, which included carrying out unique requests and conveying messages from, for example, former President Jimmy Carter and Rev. Billy Graham.
Marty goes to Japan. After leaving Moscow, my next assignment was Commander of a U.S. Naval base on the southwestern corner of Japan, on the island of Kyushu, in Nagasaki prefecture. Marty stayed behind for a few days to get our house rented, and Mark and I, with our beloved Aïda in a cage, stopped at the larger Yokosuka Navy base near Tokyo for Navy business, and the cat escaped.
Aïda was now loose on the base. Mark and I were forced to leave for Sasebo, leaving the people at the base to look for the cat.
A week later, I got a call from Yokosuka. They had found the cat. Son Mark was traveling between Tokyo and Sasebo at the time, on the cheap train, (36 hours round trip) so he went to Yokosuka and picked up the cat. Marty finally arrived in Sasebo.
Family in Sasebo: John, Sam, MJ, Susan, Aïda, Mark
When Aïda arrived, she walked calmly out of her cage onto the floor in our kitchen and looked up at us as if to say, "What in hell has kept you people?"
The local wives of leading Japanese citizens were eager to meet Marty. The base commander’s wife traditionally received these women in her quarters for weekly English conversations to help them learn English. Marty resisted this at first, but then she found out how warm and friendly these women were, and we enjoyed frequent social interactions with them for the next three years. Near the time when we were to depart Japan, Marty organized a “Graduation Trip” for the women to practice their new English in, of all places, Seoul, South Korea. These women never traveled without their husbands, but they adjusted, and had a ball.
Marty with Seoul Shoppers Matsunaga and Matsuo
As before in other duty stations, Marty planned and conducted huge social gatherings and small ones. She also found time to teach English at a Japanese Catholic Girls’ School in Sasebo. One of her students, Chimi Miyajima, recently recalled:
“We were such spoilt, unserious teenagers and Coulbourn-Sensei (as we called her) never had an easy time with us…nuns at the school struggled to get us under control… but her powerful voice and energetic teaching method brought us so much fun that her class eventually became our favourite.
“We could tell when she was making her way to the class as we could smell her sweet perfume from a distance, her fashionable outfits sometimes amazed teenagers from the countryside of Sasebo and her sense of humour made us laugh hard. I had always felt like I was in a U.S. comedy show when in her class.”
Marty, Florence and Susan in Sasebo, 1985
The Fleet Commander sent a team of SEALs to test our base security. Called the “Red Cell”, these are rough and ready sailors and officers who jump out of helicopters and swim undetected to attack the enemy. The kind who killed Osama bin Laden.
A package had arrived at my headquarters about this time, with markings that showed it was mailed from Hokkaido, in the north of Japan. and I suspected that this was a trick of the Red Cell. I called my Explosive Ordnance Disposal team. They came and x-rayed the package. They couldn't detect its contents, so they did what EOD people do whenever in doubt. They blew it up.
What they found was it was a well-destroyed Kokeshi doll. Marty was not happy with me, as it was a doll she had ordered from a Japanese woman who had recently shown her dolls at a craft show at the base.
The Red Cell did all kinds of things during their visit, including sneak attacks and hostage taking, but after it was all over, Marty had them to our quarters for a nice, well-lubricated dinner before they departed.
Son Mark lived with us a short time in Sasebo, then took the train to Tokyo and found a position as the head American in an English language school. He lived in Japan for seven years.
Christmas in Sasebo
Marty’s Antiques Life. On July 1, 1987 I retired from the Navy, and it became Marty’s time to call the shots as she began her antiques business. Marty had been quietly collecting beautiful things, from a huge Japanese kitchen tansu to tiny, elegant Russian Palekh boxes; lots of Persian rugs, paintings from Italy and Russia, gold bracelets and other jewelry from bazaars in Iran and Turkey, and from Florence and Naples, Italy.
Marty in her booth at Little Compton, RI, 2012
She’d learned a lot talking to master craftsmen who created spectacular porcelain in little shops in Japan; her hours in Iranian bazaars had taught her much about Tabrizes, Kermans Turkomans, Kilims. In Russia there were many Kommissionis, where Russians put family treasures up for sale. Marty and her friends enjoyed finding marvelous antique items amongst the usual bric-à-brac in these shops all over the USSR.
Marty loved doing antique shows, from Washington up to Maine. These were either one or two-day shows that involved loading up a rented truck with all her goods, then unloading at the show site. She would meticulously decorate her booth and the two of us would join scores of others selling our wares. Marty really loved this, and got to be quite an expert on carpets, pottery, porcelain, silverware, furniture and much more.
Marty checks her watch at antique show. Only six hours to go!
Marty also tried her hand at running her own shop. She opened Philomena’s on Main Street in Rockport and ran it for over three years. She learned that, while there were lots of tourists in Rockport, and they liked to visit her shop, they didn’t buy much. She closed the shop and for several years put her goods on display in a booth in group antique shops in Essex and Concord, MA. She really enjoyed the friends she made as we did shows in Camden and Kennebunkport, ME, Concord, Wellesley, Hingham, Chatham, and Osterville, MA and Little Compton and Tiverton, RI.
Peter and Jan Beacham, friends in the antique world who also live in Rockport, shared adventures to antique auctions and shows all over New England and many parties and dinners over the years.
Marty always had a bright way to view what could be a very difficult job, putting up with obtuse and difficult customers. She often referred to her costly merchandise as “swill”. There were the serial returners, the know-it-alls, the lowlife who wanted to buy exquisitely crafted antique silver just to melt it down, the annoying bargainers, the people who’d look for a tiny flaw in order to get a big reduction. But there were thousands of wonderful, friendly customers and fellow dealers.
Shopping. Any memoir involving Marty must include the feminine sport of shopping. Marty loved to shop. She was at her best when she was free to roam a Persian or Turkish bazaar, a grungy shop on the back streets of Dublin, Ponte Vecchio, the bridge over the Arno in Florence, Spacca Napoli or Via Roma in Naples, Kommissioni all over Russia, the seething fields of antiques at Milford or Amherst, NH, or Todd’s Farm in Rowley, MA, or the old Filene’s Basement. No matter the venue, Marty carried a list in her head: “Elizabeth takes a size x, Susan likes mmm, Laura could really use a gggg, McGurk likes those rrrr, Boonie likes those long oooo; Mark could use one of those…” Nothing brought forth new energy and a glowing complexion like a good shopping terrain.
Susan and Ted’s Wedding. In November 1987, while we lived in Washington, daughter Susan wed Ted Mocarski in a beautiful wedding at a small Navy chapel. They had a reception at the Congressional Club in downtown DC and the couple began married life in New York City. Marty thoroughly enjoyed working with her daughter on all the details of the wedding, from planning for cake, drinks, food, clothing, photography, and music, to handling the many family guests arriving from afar. She thoroughly enjoyed uniting our family with the wonderful Mocarski family.
Marty knew how to pack for a move and unpack, and set everything up, over and over again. Her first married home was an apartment over a liquor store in Oakland, CA. Then Long Beach, CA. Then San Diego, and New London, Ledyard, and Groton, CT; Springfield, VA and Virginia Beach, VA; Tehran, Iran, Mayport, FL, Charleston, SC, Newport, RI, Amherst, NH; Moscow, USSR; Sasebo, Japan; Washington, DC; and finally, Rockport, MA.
Marty comes home to Rockport. In 1988 we bought a small house on Mill Lane in Rockport. It was quite run down, but it was right opposite a summer cottage owned by the Norwood family, Marty’s cousins. Marty led the charge to make it livable, while we figured how we could start to renovate it.
John and Laura’s Wedding. Marty loved to tell the story of how she met Father Cedrone, the allegedly difficult and distant pastor of St. Joachim’s. When she went to register us in the parish, she visited the parish residence and began to fill out a card in the front hall, when she sensed that someone was watching her. It was Father Cedrone, who then appeared, and began to quiz her. When he discovered that she had attended Our Lady of Nazareth Academy in Wakefield, where he had been chaplain, the door swung open.
Even though he seemed to favor Marty, we soon learned that Laura Robertson, who was engaged to marry son John, wanted to be married in this town that she had often visited for a few hours on weekends.
Marty figured getting the good Father to grant permission for these two out-of-town Catholics to be married at St. Joachim’s would be hard. She invited Father to come to supper where he could meet Laura and John, and John could ask him. Father Cedrone agreed, but declared that he would take only one drink, he didn’t eat salad or dessert, and he didn’t like dogs.
We set up our humble, makeshift dining room in a house that had no designated dining room. We put our hound Lucy in the basement where she scratched and howled. Marty prepared a nice dinner and the good father came and accepted a glass of Scotch, and we talked while we waited for the young couple to join us. They were stuck in Boston traffic.
Time wore on. Father had another drink. Lucy howled and scratched. We put her on a leash in the yard.
Finally, Laura and John arrived, and we had our dinner, including salad. We had wine. John put the question to father, who queried them on where they attended mass. “Well, ummm, I try to get to mass sometimes in Newton,” said John. Everyone, including Father Cedrone, had dessert.
“Oh, I guess you have to get married somewhere. Yes, you can be married at St. Joachim’s.”
The wedding took place in September 1990 and John and Laura Marie held their reception in the Rockport Art Association. Wedding guests, especially family from Mexico, New Hampshire and Texas flowed in and out of our small house. Some of the younger guests were observed under cover of darkness, scampering through the graveyard next door, mostly unclad, heading for a late-night swim.
Three months later, our first grandson, Samuel Joseph Mocarski, was born to Sue and Ted. He is now married to Kate Golden and they work in the clothing industry and live in Brooklyn.
Marty and Sam, 1991
We met Mac and Jennifer McCarthy in Japan when Mac was commanding a Marine Corps base and I a Navy Base. They came to live in Rockport a year after we arrived, and we had many celebrations and dinners with them over the years.
We start to build our Dream Home. One weekend we hosted a load of family, including the Pomerleaus and Sue and Ted. We had been talking about renovating the house; we even had an architect’s drawing (more of a sketch). All we needed was a decision, and... oh, yes--- money.
Suddenly Ted, our young son-in-law, struck the first blow, smashing a piece of drywall in our bedroom. Then Ron took a whack. Then I did. Soon we were on our way, demolishing the fragile framework of this humble little 1810 house.
Off we went. I applied for a loan, and Ron lined up a skilled crew, and we were on our way. In 1992 they completely gutted and renovated the front of the house and poured a cement floor in the dirt basement. Ron and his crew drove down from Amherst, NH each day, and by fall we had the first stage done. We had a shiny new white-tiled bathroom with Jacuzzi, and things were looking up. We celebrated by taking a trip to Spain and driving to Portugal and back.
The Perfect Storm (October 1991). While Ron and his crew were working on our house, we left to go live in Florence’s apartment, right down next to Front Beach. We had just moved a few things in and planned to spend a few days in this house, while Florence and a friend were down enjoying the weather in Florida. A storm blew up in the Atlantic, one of the worst in history, and the skies were darkening, the wind was blowing, and the waves started to lash this beachside dwelling. I was at work, several miles inland, unaware of any problem, and Ron and his crew were working on the lee side of our house, which is 100 yards or so from the beach. Marty could see that this was serious, so she drove up to our house and got Ron to come down and assess the situation. He could see this was really dangerous, so he got his crew and pickup truck and began to move everything out of Florence’s apartment. I had returned from work and helped them move the furniture and carpets out as the waves were beating down the walls. Two neighboring men had come in to help. They were calmly packing up Florence’s fine crystal and china, while we struggled with a large carpet that was getting very heavy with sea water, as gale-force winds blew through. We stuffed all of Florence’s belongings into an empty cottage belonging to cousins, across the lane from our house.
The storm demolished many seaside homes and a fishing boat was lost at sea with all hands, depicted in a film, The Perfect Storm, a while later. Florence returned from Florida and joined us living in a bed-and-breakfast until her house could be repaired.
Our home remodeling continued. Four years later, we demolished the back of the house, and built a new basement, with a living room and master bedroom above. We celebrated that with a trip to England, Wales and Ireland, visiting this nice old lady who lived in Marty’s grandmother’s ancestral home. We also explored southern Ireland with the Pomerleaus,
Our home, 7 Mill Lane
We joined our friends from Iran, Pat and Paul Brown, to tour New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Maine, and all nearly drowned when Paul’s Explorer started without him driving and nearly plunged off the ferry landing at Okracoke Island, NC.
Marty loved her grandchildren and always enjoyed inviting them to “pull up a chair” and then she’d call them by her nicknames, and quiz them about their latest adventures. In addition, there were Katherine Allerton Mocarski, (Boonie) now studying for her Neurology PhD. at U. Mass, Worcester; Charles Dixon Coulbourn, (Mr. C. and Chaz McGazz), becoming an accomplished builder and cyclist; Isaac Peter Mocarski, (McGurk), a rower on Boston University’s crew and a senior there; and Elizabeth Robertson Coulbourn, (Bits), a budding design star and senior at Syracuse University. Marty’s childhood nickname for Sam was “Honey Man”.
Laura and Charlie welcome baby Elizabeth, 1997
Sam and Kate’s Wedding, 2017
Left to right, standing: Mark, Alina, Sue, Ted, Laura, Kate the Bride, Sam the Groom, Elizabeth, Isaac, John, and Charlie. Seated: Kit, Sam, Marty, and Kate’s Grandmother.
Our New (1810) House. This was Marty’s finest hour. She decorated our new house, and we installed granite and gardens front and back. Now we finally had the house of our dreams, and it was the home for Marty until the day she went to heaven, where she has taken on a whole new decorating job.
Thanksgiving table, 2010
Rockport Music. Early in our life in Rockport, Marty started volunteering for Rockport Chamber Music Festival. Here her organizing skills came into play. She chaired two fund-raising auctions, and three annual “Cottages and Castles” house tours. She and her team met at our house, she fed them bowls of fruit and coffee, and the girls (and some men) worked on minutely detailed plans and raised many thousands of dollars for the Festival. She joined the Festival board and helped pick the visionaries who would later build a beautiful $25 million Shalin Lu Performance Center in 2010 and create Rockport Music.
It was fitting that daughter Susan arranged for the celebration of Marty’s life, immediately following her funeral, to be held in the performance center.
Marty was my wonderful partner, always thinking about the next project, dreaming, and urging and leading. She seemed to bring out the best in her children and in most of the people she worked with, whether it was selling antiques or interviewing sailors for payday loans. She always saw the bright side of things. Even when the task was serious and maybe discouraging, she could extract humor to lighten the load.
Marty is now supervising us from a distance, and I hope she likes what she sees.
P.S. I regret that so much of my story of Martha Jane sounds like my biography, but the fact is she was such a loyal, giving, unselfish partner that she and our children went many places and did many things that they might not have chosen, because of “the needs of the Service” as we said in the Navy. When I retired, we tried to concentrate on supporting her antiques business, and I hope that she felt that.