December 23, 2013 by comhomflt
The day before our LT checked in at the Navy base for the deployment that was to be, we invited his parents to spend the day with us at Mystic Seaport. I had visited it one other time as part of a work function back in my process engineering days, but it was a new experience for the rest of the family. Mystic was, at one time, a bustling New England seaport and is now home to a collection of old boats and ships as well as shops and stores from previous generations of New England seafarers. The children were excited to see the worlds of Kit Tyler, of The Witch of Blackbird Pond fame, and Johnny Tremain come to life, while we adults marveled at the methods for whaling or the giant block and tackle systems used to control the sails.
After climbing aboard a whaling ship – the oldest still afloat, we wandered through a shed where the basic components of a ship were displayed. Finding wormholes in the wood of the keel was the big thrill there, but the children enjoyed climbing the steep sides of this hull cross-section, too. We wandered along the waterfront and stopped to tour a fully rigged ship built to train young Danish boys in the mid-1900s. Unfortunately, we were too fascinated by the ships we toured to take any pictures! One of the highlights for the children (and for myself, too, history lover that I am) was the schooner Australia, formerly known as the Alma in her days as a blockade runner during the Civil War! All that is left of her now is the skeleton, but it was quite amazing to wander around a ship of that era. The kids discovered a path around and through the schooner and ran endless loops, though we did get them to pause for a quick snapshot.
Visiting the various shops was as fascinating as touring the ships; it was easy to see how the materials needed to keep ships supplied and the fishing and trade made possible by those ships could have sustained an economy. Sails, decorative woodwork, harpoon tips, barrels, and nautical instruments would have been available in any seaport, with most everything fabricated on site. At the cooper’s, we observed barrels in various stages of production and learned about the different types of wood suitable for barrel making. The printer’s shop was busy while we were there, printing flyers and word searches for the children. It wasn’t exactly like the printing press used in the colonial days of the fictional Johnny Tremain, but it certainly gave the children an idea of the labor intensive process printing used to be. Peeking into the old church and school house was fun, and seeing the shop where the sails were made was simply amazing. Spread out on the ground, the sails are enormous! When we stopped in the blacksmith’s shop, he was busily making nails for the on-going restoration of the whaling ship, but he took some time to explain to us the various harpoon tips and how they were made. Of all the shops we visited, the most interesting was the Nautical Instruments shop, with all manner of watches, clocks, and navigational tools on display. The guide allowed the kids to try out some spyglasses, which we could have also used to participate in a scavenger hunt if we had wanted; and then, he let us handle a sextant and explained how to use it! That was history come to life for the children! In the days prior to the invention of the sextant, there was more risk in traveling long distances, because navigators had no mathematical fix on their location. The sextant, however, provided a more accurate way for navigation and made exploration much less risky. For a child, it is one thing to read about such progress in a book and quite another to handle the actual thing.
Mystic Seaport also has an interesting and informative museum with a section that traces the history of sea travel. I was hoping the exhibit on Los Angeles class 688 submarines I remembered from my previous visit would still be there, and I was not disappointed. It was great fun for the kids to climb inside a bunk just like the one daddy slept in during his submarining days, and my LT had the museum guide captivated by his stories – particularly the one about illuminating his bedpan with Christmas lights and a refrigerator switch. We left most of the museum and various boats and shops untouched because little ones were getting tired and hungry. There is more to see and do in Mystic than one day allows for. The tickets did offer free admission for another day, and we wished we could have taken advantage of it!
We made good use of my smart phone to find a restaurant on the way home – something I could not have done with the StarTac that was my companion for many, many years. However, we only thought we were stopping at a 99; in reality, we ate at the Ernest Shackleton cafe, where, you can see, full Arctic gear was necessary.
Somehow, we neglected to take any pictures of the entire family on our little outing, but we did enjoy the time together. We gathered again later that evening, after naps and probably a few loads of laundry (laundry never stops with four children), to enjoy some of Memere’s delicious apple pie. Apple pie just happens to be one of my LT’s favorite things, and it was thoughtful of his mom to take the time to make him one before he left. The pie was yummy, as always, and a perfect ending to our day together. And this time, we did get a few pictures of the adults! Pepere and Memere also had an opportunity to give their last hugs and words of parting (no “good-byes,” of course), and we headed off for home and the deployment that was to begin that next morning. And perhaps the lesson to be learned from all of this is that, if your deployment gets rescheduled for a later date, you might get another apple pie out of your mom! (And maybe – just maybe – some chocolate chip cookies from your wife.)