Thursday, November 26, 2020

Thanksgiving Memories, 2020


Thanksgiving Memories, 2020

Thanksgiving in Rockport, 2006

L to R: Marty, Charlie Coulbourn, Sam Coulbourn Flores, Laura Coulbourn, Mac McCarthy, Mark Coulbourn and Jennifer McCarthy


            Celebrating Thanksgiving in a pandemic is certainly different.

            In my 86 years, I’ve seen some interesting, and delightful Thanksgivings. 

            As a kid, my brother Dick and I usually skipped everything but the rolls with butter. And the pie. Eventually I was forced to eat my Grandmother’s cushaw, and later I grew to enjoy this southern favorite.

            Then there were four Thanksgivings in the huge mess hall at the Naval Academy, with plenty of turkey and stuffing and vegetables for 3600 hungry midshipmen.

            The first Thanksgiving cooked by Martha Jane, my new bride, was in our apartment on East Ocean Boulevard in Long Beach CA. It was delightful and delicious. In preparation for the day I had rented a television so we could watch the Macy’s parade and the football games, which came on three hours too soon. That was in 1957, when television was black and white and grainy.

            There were too many Thanksgivings when Marty cooked dinner and served it to our kids, John, Mark and Susan, while I ate with other officers in the wardroom half a world away, on a destroyer in the South China Sea, or a destroyer or ammunition ship in the Mediterranean, or steaming submerged at 300 feet through the Straits of Gibraltar in a ballistic missile submarine.  Also, there was the Thanksgiving as we steamed into the Tonkin Gulf to begin naval gunfire missions in the closing days of the Viet Nam war.

            The Navy was always very generous in providing the turkey and trimmings to ships at sea. I remember when we were steaming alongside the supply ship and tons of food were being shipped over in nets between ships. A few sailors decided to divert some of the food below decks for their private use. One threw a large frozen turkey down a hold and knocked another sailor out. Frozen turkeys can be lethal!

            In Iran Martha Jane prepared marvelous dinners with help from Mehrab, our Persian houseboy. Our guests, British and Iranian, as well as American, enjoyed this American tradition, with bits of Persian style. (E.g.: Mehrab put all the dishes and plates of food on the kitchen floor to serve them.) We had dinners for American and Italian guests and family at our home in Naples, Italy, and Maria, our maid, added Italian flavor. One guest, Father Quentin, an American priest living in Rome, gave the blessing, and then surprised us all with his phenomenal appetite, as if he had not seen food before!

            Lyudmila, our Ukrainian maid in Moscow put a few unique Russian twists in two fine Thanksgiving dinners in the USSR.  We had British, Swedish, Turkish, Japanese, and German guests to help us celebrate the original Pilgrims’ feast in Massachusetts Bay Colony. Of course, we began by serving each guest a tiny glass of iced vodka. We brought this custom back to America.

            Our three Thanksgivings in Japan always had Japanese and American guests, and Kimiko-san helped Marty with bits of Japanese flavor. Guests at one dinner in Sasebo, Japan drank a little too much sake.

Nanny with granddaughters Kit and Lisby in Rockport, 2007.

            After ten years living in other countries, it was great to have Thanksgiving back in Washington, DC with family and friends. Then we moved to Rockport, MA and Marty served more elegant dinners, but then our daughter Susan and daughter-in-law Laura took over and served the meals, and Martha Jane brought the molded salad and presided with Sam, our oldest grandson, in making the gravy.

Thanksgiving at Susan’s in Providence

Visiting by Skype with Kit Mocarski, spending one year of her college in France, 2009. (L to R: Laura, Charlie, Elizabeth and Marty Coulbourn, and Susan Mocarski.)

Marty and Sam make the gravy, Tiverton, RI, 2017

I’m thankful….that we have just weathered and apparently overcome another challenge to our republic.  God knows, 11 states withdrew from the Union because they didn’t like the assault on their way of life.  But they returned.

            A man rose in Germany who sought to take over the whole world with Naziism, and other men in Japan and Italy joined with a dream of a world ruled by fascism.

            When they were defeated, another group of men arose. They had been working since the middle of the 19th century to create Communism, and with Hitler defeated, this became the threat to take over the world… first eastern Europe, then Asia, with eyes set upon the United States of America as the prize.  Then the USSR imploded, and communism began to wither away.

            And then a strange thing happened to America.  A billionaire celebrity from New York who had been trying to get the world’s attention actually found the right buttons to push to attract the attention of millions of Americans and got elected President.  Those who had been aware of this man’s ragged, miserable history of misogyny, self-dealing, money-grubbing dishonesty knew this was a mistake, but still, here he was, Leader of the Free World. Here he was, insulting our historic allies, cooing cozily in the proximity of Vladimir Putin and rejecting international agreements and wiping out environmental regulations. 

            And then came the Covid 19 pandemic.  This fast-talking con-man from Queens had no idea how to lead. His self-centeredness and self-delusion kept him from addressing the nation as a leader would and gathering the best and the brightest to mount an attack on this scourge. His every urge was to dodge this challenge and hope that it would mysteriously “go away’.  This challenge was too much for a man who was false to the core, and it brought him down.

            Still, more Americans than ever before voted to give this man four more years to wreck our republic, to make possible the dreams of Hitler, Tojo, Mussolini, Lenin, Stalin and Putin. 

            Fortunately, even more—nearly six million more—voted to restore America to its democratic republic.

            And that is worth our thanks this Thanksgiving!  God Bless America!


Sam Coulbourn

Rockport, MA

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Gloucester and the Sea


History Book Club

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Gloucester and

The Sea

Gloucester Dorymen

Wednesday, November 25, 2020. Gloucester and the Sea.  euser]

Gloucester has throughout four centuries cast its lot with the North Atlantic, remaining a maritime port for better or worse. The maritime culture of Cape Ann is the mix of a noble maritime heritage; ubiquitous sea influences that reach as far as the quarries behind Rockport and into the haunted tracks of Dogtown Common; seductive but capricious natural splendors; and untidy independence that repels some but converts other visitors into lifetime devotees. Read any book about the maritime history of Gloucester and Cape Ann. [Suggested by Richard Verrengia] 


Joseph E. Garland, Lone Voyager: The Extraordinary Adventures of Howard Blackburn, Hero Fisherman of Gloucester, New York: Simon & Schuster; Touchstone Edition 2000; Paper, 330 pp.

            Joe Garland (1922-2011) Was born in Boston. He was attending Harvard when World War II broke out and he enlisted and served in Europe with the 45th Infantry Division.  After the war he became a newspaper writer, working at the Minneapolis Tribune, Boston Herald, and the Providence Journal.  In the 1950s he made his home in Gloucester, following three generations who lived here. Then he became a leading voice in the city, writing columns in the Gloucester Daily Times, sailing, building sailboats and writing 25 books. He published Lone Voyager in 1963.

            If you live on Cape Ann, you have practically rubbed elbows with Howard Blackburn. You’ve probably had a bowl of Italian fish soup and a beer at Halibut Point, a legendary pub that has closed during this year; and you’ve seen the Blackburn Building, at the foot of Main Street.

            Joe Garland tells the story of Blackburn in Lone Voyager. Blackburn was born in Port Medway a little fishing village on the south coast of Nova Scotia February 19, 1859. He quit school when he was ten, and took all kinds of jobs, including fishing. He eventually made his way down to Gloucester, MA. 

            In January 1883 Grace L. Fears, a fishing schooner, was gathering a crew for a trip up to the Burgeo Bank, off Newfoundland. Blackburn by then was a strong, solid young man who knew his way aboard fishing ships. Fears carried a load of dories and put two fishermen into each 18-foot dory and lowered it over the side to string out nets to catch fish, mostly halibut. 

            Blackburn and Tom Welch manned one dory and rowed away from Fears to begin putting out lines with hooks and lines.  As you might guess, the weather on Burgeo Bank in January might be a bit unpleasant, and the wind came up, and the temperature went down. One bad thing after another happened to the two fishermen, and they became separated from the Fears.

            Blackburn and Welch fought the tremendous waves, bailing out the dory furiously. They lost their gloves; the cold was lethal. Eventually Welch passed out and froze to death and Blackburn rowed on, trying to reach land. His hands had frozen, and still her rowed. After three days he finally made landfall, with the frozen corpse still in the boat. He made his way to this fisherman’s house.

            The tiny village where he landed was having their own problems, cut off from a food supply and having hard times. However, the household who took him in nursed him, even using ancient remedies to peel away the frozen, dead flesh from his hands and healing what was left. When summer came, Blackburn, with stumps for hands, made his way back to Gloucester, and to a hero’s welcome, since the story of his remarkable escape from death had preceded him.

            That should be enough adventure for a lifetime, yes?

            Well, Blackburn opened up a saloon in Gloucester, right down among all the fishermen, and the coins came rolling in. He started to be a philanthropist, helping out needy fishermen’s families. New was coming in about fields of gold in the Klondike, and Blackburn organized a group of friends who each provided shares to mount an expedition to Alaska.  Blackburn bought Hattie L. Phillips, a schooner, and fitted her out to sail around Cape Horn to San Francisco. He also built a shallow-draft steamer that the group would use to steam up into the rivers of Alaska and hired a team of carpenters and mechanics to put the vessel together once they reached San Francisco.

            So here we had Howard Blackburn, the captain with no fingers, just stubs for hands, taking this team of prospective gold diggers around the Horn to the Pacific.

            They finally made it to San Francisco, but shortly afterward, when they were arguing how to make it northward to Alaska, Blackburn discovered that he really didn’t like commanding a ship with people in her.  He left the group and caught a train back to Gloucester.

            That should be enough adventure for a lifetime, yes?

            Blackburn then went back to running his saloon, but he began cooking up his next trip. He bought a 30-foot sloop, Great Western, and fitted her out for a transatlantic voyage.  Alone. By now the press called him The Fingerless Navigator.  The whole city of Gloucester came out to see him sail for Gloucester, England.

            In Gloucester after 62 days alone at sea, he was celebrated again, and then sailed to London. It was 1899.

            That should be enough adventure for a lifetime, yes?

            If you were tracking Blackburn at this point, you might wonder what would be next.  Next came another lonely cruise, this time a race sponsored by Eastern Point yacht club, to Funchal, Portugal, sailing a new yacht, built for him—Great Republic. He made this trip in 39 days.

            After this came an inland voyage, in 1902. Blackburn sailed Great Republic up the Hudson River, through the Erie Canal and to Lake Erie, Lake Michigan, down six miles of a new channel intended especially for dumping all of Chicago’s sewage into the Illinois river. Not pleasant sailing!  After that into the Mississippi, whose banks were shedding cornfields and tall trees as the river relocated its path. Then down to New Orleans, then out along the Gulf Coast to Florida, where he sold his yacht and picked up another boat and sailed back to Gloucester, in 1903.

            Blackburn died back in Gloucester on November 4, 1932, age 73.





There will be no meeting in December


Wednesday, January 27, 2021. The Empire of “United” Rome. Over the years and then the centuries, much of Rome's population came from outside Italy -- this even included some of the later emperors, such as Hadrian, who was Spanish, and writers like Columella, Seneca, and Martial, also Spanish-born. Celts, Arabs, Jews, and Greeks, among others, were included under the wide umbrella of Romanitas. This was the inevitable result of an imperial system that constantly expanded and frequently accepted the peoples of conquered countries as Roman citizens. Not until the end of the first century B.C.E., with the reign of Augustus, do we begin to see signs of a distinctively 'Roman' art, an identifiably 'Roman' cultural ideal. Read any book on the origin or life of Rome, from Romulus and Remus to Augustus.  [Proposed by Sam Coulbourn]

Yalta meeting of Churchill, FDR and Stalin

Wednesday, February 24, 2021. A History of United States alliances with the rest of the world. From its very beginning, the United States has forged alliances with other countries, from France, eager to oppose Great Britain in 1776; Great Britain’s assistance for the Confederate States during the Civil War; President Wilson’s attempt to form and join the League of Nations; our alliance with Great Britain, China, France and the Soviet Union in World War II; formation of the United Nations; the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. How helpful have these alliances been? Home in on an agreement in our past, or one that exists today, and discover its benefits and costs.  [Proposed by Sam Coulbourn]

Wednesday, March 31, 2021. The Quest for Truth in History.  How do we know it’s true? We’ve just gone through a difficult time in our national history, when what you may have believed may have been false, and what was “false” depended upon your political orientation. Propaganda and deception have always been used by governments against the outside world and for their own people.  How can the intelligent individual figure out what is true and what is false? [Proposed by Sam Coulbourn]


Tigray survivor, Ethiopia

Wednesday, April 28, 2021. History of North Africa, from Morocco to Egypt, and including Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia, Sudan, Mauritania and more. Pick a nation or a group of nations in the northern tier of Africa and learn how they interact, how they came to be, what problems are they having, or had, that attracted world attention in the past.  Some examples: The Barbary Pirates and how America’s President Jefferson took them on; The Italian Colonial history in Abyssinia and Somaliland; World War II—Field Marshal Rommel in North Africa; “Carthago delenda est!” The Punic War between Rome and Carthage; Tunisia and the Start of Arab Spring. [Proposed by Sam Coulbourn]


Wednesday, May 26, 2021. Mass Refugee movements in History. [Proposed by Sam Coulbourn]