Sometimes Things get too Convenient


Starting this blog is like starting a story in the middle of the book. I find myself torn between carping about the day I have just had and telling the story of how I got here.

Well, let’s just start at the beginning:

I was born in the second half of the last century, to a homemaker mother and an aircraft worker father. My earliest memories were of living in a suburb, but my fondest memories were from after my father moved us all to a farm 20 miles outside of Atlanta. Both my parents were happy to be living in the country as they both were from farming families. It was only WWII that had propelled them both into the aircraft industry. They met on the production line. He was a rivet inspector and she was a riveter. Yes, my mother was a Rosy.

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My Mom to the right, with her two friends who were in training with her for war work.

My siblings, having been born and raised in the suburban life apparently were not happy with the move, and seemed to harbor grudges against the parents for the rest of their lives. The rest of their lives so far, I should say. Only one has passed away as of this writing.

I was the last of my parent’s five children. I have always liked to tell myself that they quit after having had the perfect child. Of course, I was not perfect, just not as flawed as the ones who came before. But let us not get into that bunch just yet. Only the youngest, and my only brother, comes into the story at this time. He excelled in one sport, torturing his baby sister (me).

Now I could spend a lot of time carping about how unjust that all was, but I have to admit that he had a lot to do with the strong person I have turned out to be. When I was five, my masculine sibling flunked out of the fifth grade. That was bad for him, but it worked out very well for me. My father in a rage cut the cord of the family’s black and white TV and then carted the box down to the basement, vowing that there would be no more TV in the house until all the kids had strait A’s, where it remained until well after we moved to Texas.

This was great for me since it spared me from any more influence from that form of media until my senior year of high school. I remember waking up early in the mornings and going for long hikes through the still dark woods with my father, while my mother was back at the house cooking breakfast. I don’t remember any of the siblings going on these treks. It was a magical time, walking along side my father.

He liked to talk, and he never spoke to me as a child. He talked about nature, life, religion, and philosophy. Eventually we would find our way back to the house and join Mother and the rest of the brood at the breakfast table. Daddy would open his newspaper as he ate, and between bites and sips of coffee he spoke of the articles he read.

Whether he read about the war in Viet Nam or the disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa, I clung to his every word. It was wonderful in the days before I realized that he was not an oracle of god, but just my Dad. He would head off to work at the aircraft plant, and eventually I would head off to school, which I hated. My best memories were before I started school.

In those days of freedom, once my father and the other kids were out of the house, it was my time with my Mom. Yes, she was a housewife, but she really didn’t want to be one. It was just what was expected of her. She was a pleaser, and tended to at least try to do what she was expected to do. Once Daddy and the siblings were out of the house she would make a half-hearted pass at housework before setting up her easel.

When I was very little, my contribution to this process seemed to be crawling around the floor and chewing up photographs she was using as models. When I became old enough to sit still, I became her live model. There was a time in between, when I could not keep still, but I was too old to be entertained by chewing on things. That was when my Mom gave me a board to paint on (not a proper canvas) and made a small pallet of paint. It wasn’t until I was in the first grade that I painted a real painting. That one was of a ship in a storm (go figure).

Mom taught me to cook, to read, to dream, and be my own person. When I went off to the first grade dressed in a succession of little dresses with a nautical theme, she made sure that I understood that just because the other kids were doing something or striving for some goal, I shouldn’t follow them. I should find my own way. That was kind of a strange way for a pleaser to raise her kid, wasn’t it?

There is of course a story behind that. I will tell it one day, but now back to my back story.

I was a senior in high school when I goofed up and brought home a very good report card. I don’t think it was all A’s, but whatever it was, Daddy was happy with it and brought home a small black and white TV to watch the 1976 Olympics. Wait just a moment, perhaps it wasn’t my grades, but my father’s love of sports?

I had one goal in life, and that was to show my brother that I mattered. I wanted to be better than him and disprove every rotten thing he ever said about me. The funny thing is, to this day he thinks I worshiped him as a child. Worshiped? Do christians worship the devil? I just wanted to show the devil that he couldn’t grind me down.

One day my father’s life took a turn for the worse, and he thought it was about time that he went back home to the town he was born in. That is when my life really became dark. I guess it is bad to move to a new town at 10-years-old where no one knows you or your family. All I know is that to move to a town where no one knows you, but they know all your cousins and really like them, is very very bad.

I spent the next eight years planning my escape. I came up with a lot of hair-brained ideas. I wanted to run away. My father found out and made me draw up a budget. Once I had done that, he told me that once I save 10K I could head on out. I thought he was the most understanding Dad in the world. He was quite wily.

Finally I escaped, not having saved the 10k, but having received a partial scholarship to college. The day my father saw me off at the Greyhound Station he was dressed pretty much as you see him in the photo above, but his handsome face was far more weathered.

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Painting of Raymond Edward Pirtle by his daughter Sandra L. “Sam” Pirtle.

Every year that passes, I am more and more amazed at my parents. Think about it: It was 1976, a time when women were being told that they shouldn’t become cops because they would be relegated to being meter-maids; that they shouldn’t become lawyers because they would find themselves as glorified law clerks; and that they shouldn’t become doctors unless they wanted to specialize in pediatrics. It was a time when women executives had to put up with being called by pet names and told to get the coffee for men who were sometimes subordinate to them.

In a time when people were shouting down the Equal Rights Amendment, my parents waved me goodby, and sent me off to a Maritime Academy to become one of the first female officers in the US Merchant Marine Service.

(Poof a miracle happens!)

Okay, more like a fast forward. Mother is gone. Daddy is gone. I have severed almost all ties to the siblings. Now 41 years after the day I headed out on my own, I have retired from the seagoing life.

Three years ago, I had a very convenient life. I was working regularly for Matson Navigation Company, mainly as second mate, but occasionally as third mate. I had once been Chief Mate with Maersk, but found the step down in grade to work for Matson was well worth the drop in pay. I owned a condo in Honolulu only two miles from the Union Hall and seven miles from Matson’s docks. Everything I needed from doctors to stores was in that nice compact area.

Life was great, until the SS El Faro sank (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SS_El_Faro). When I was a very young officer I sailed on the SS Marine Electric. She was an old converted T2 tanker, which had once carried the name of SS Gulf Mills.(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SS_Marine_Electric)

She sank about a year after I sailed on her, and many of the men lost were very good friends. About a year after her sinking I sailed aboard a vessel called the SS Puerto Rico. When the SS El Faro sank, R.R. Frump, who wrote “Until The Sea Shall Free Them,” sent me a message with a photo of the ship. I recognized her at once. It was the SS Puerto Rico. (Later Bob wrote a book about the SS El Faro, The Captains of Thor: What Really Caused the Loss of the SS El Faro in Hurricane Joaquin)

I know, I know, Hollywood tells you that changing a ship’s name is bad luck because so many ships that sink have had their names changed. There is a reason for that. Most ships go through many names. Very few of the 30 odd ships I have sailed on over the years kept their original name for all their years. Once I sailed on a ship that had a plaque on the bridge naming all ten of the names she had carried. She grew old and was finally scrapped.

Like so many people I couldn’t believe it had happened again. I won’t get into that whole can of worms here. You can catch up with it all at: http://gcaptain.com/el-faro-open-letter-investigators/

Let us just say, it lit a fire under my tail. It took a while but finally I had all my ducks in a row and filed for retirement. During those three years, I realized that my retirement savings and pension would not be enough to let me live the convenient lifestyle I had acquired. I spent the time trimming my lifestyle back. With each adjustment I made, I realized that I liked the simpler life.

Though I developed a business strategy to make my post retirement income match my income I made from sailing second mate, I found that I was enjoying my cut back life better. I will go into more detail about my simplified life in future posts.

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Cadet Sam Pirtle in the Dominican Republic with training ship T/S Texas Clipper in the background. Photo by Captain Donald Wayne Farthing.

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