Saturday, December 7, 2019

The Pearl Harbor–Bath–Shirley Temple Connection

Shirley Temple attends a birthday party for captain's daughter
In April, 1940, Lydia Diane S. Grant—born at her grandparents’ home at 1054 Washington Street in Bath—was living in Hawaii with her mother, Lydia Baxter Gillette, and her stepfather, Captain Claude Gillette. Her parents threw her a thirteenth birthday and invited all the children in the neighborhood, including Shirley Temple, the visiting movie star. After the cake was cut and the gifts were unwrapped, Diane and her friends posed for a picture. In the photo, the captain's daughter and the Hollywood actress stand out because they’re the ones wearing lies. Both blue-eyed girls went on to live remarkable lives. Shirley Temple Black died in 2014 at the age of 85. After entertaining millions on the big screen, she became a mother, an advocate, and ultimately a U.S. Ambassador to Ghana and Czechoslovakia. She was also one of the first American celebrities to talk publicly about her battle with breast cancer. Diane Smith Grant, known to many as Snooky, is now ninety-three years old, and she’s still telling stories about her life, including her adventures in Hawaii, the attack on Pearl Harbor, and the evacuation of military families on Christmas Day.
Mrs. Claude Gillette, the sponsor of U.S. Submarine Gusk 1945
By the time WWII was over, Diane was 18, a young woman who had seen the horror of war but chose to be optimistic. Looking back, she prefers to talk about serving General Marshall and a handsome RAF pilot at a Washington restaurant. Diane’s younger brother, Tom Gillette, was 14 when the war ended, and he returned to Bath ahead of his parents to attend Morse High School. After Rear Admiral Gillette retired, he renovated the historic Queen Anne at 1111 Washington Street, and Tom has fond memories of that home. Diane and Tom are both survivors. Perhaps they appreciate life more because of their experience. Tom speaks highly of his dad. Claude Sexton Gillette met and married their mother in the 1930s when he was a commander working with the Bureau of Ships to coordinate Bath Iron Works’ efforts to rebuild the Navy. In the months following the attack on Pearl Harbor, he was a captain, one of the most experienced engineering duty-only officers in the Navy, and he was in charge of salvage and fleet repair. Later, he would be promoted to Rear Admiral and awarded the Legion of Merit, the nation’s highest non-combat medal, for his exemplary work at the Pearl Harbor and Puget Sound shipyards. He is buried with his wife in Bath’s Oak Grove Cemetery.
Shirley Temple on the USS Pennsylvania
William Faulkner once said, “History is, not was,” and I agree. Because of history, I met the Gillettes. While I was signing copies of Daughters of Long Reach at the Common Ground Fair, a man read the back cover of my book and said he had friends who would enjoy reading it. When he started telling me about the Gillettes at Pearl Harbor, I was enthralled. The man told me that Tom was having trouble adjusting to life at Pearl, so his dad’s friend, the captain of the USS Arizona, invited him to have dinner, watch a movie, and sleep on the ship. Tom thought that would be fun and spent a night on the Arizona in November, 1941. (Diane told me later that Captain Van Valkenburgh, her dad's Annapolis roommate, invited her and a few of her friends to dine with him aboard ship on December 7, 1941, but that date was cancelled because the Arizona was sunk and the captain was killed with 1,177 aboard when the Japanese attacked.) Needless to say, I was moved by the Gillettes' story, and honored when the man at the fair asked me to personalize a copy of my book for Tom and Diane. A few weeks later, I received an email from Tom. He and his sister were in Maine for the summer; they were going to make their annual visit to Oak Grove Cemetery, and they wanted to take me to lunch. 
Miss Temple with sailors at the Hollywood Cafe
           Since our lunch at Mae’s, we’ve been  corresponding, and I’ve learned so much history from these two amazing Bathites. Because Tom is the salt of the earth and the sea, he sent me matchbook covers from 1941. He used to collect them from sailors on liberty, and he had a few from my dad's ship, the USS Northampton. Like Tom and Diane, my dad was lucky. His ship was escorting the USS Enterprise the morning of December 7th. They were about 150 miles west of the harbor when the Japanese planes attacked. The next day the Nora pulled into Pearl and witnessed the carnage. She soon left the harbor to pursue the enemy and managed to wreak havoc until she was sunk at the Battle of Tassafaronga—the last battle of the Guadalcanal campaign—on December 1, 1942. My father was never merry at Christmas. He didn’t relish putting up the tree or hanging lights. Growing up, I didn’t understand why, but now I do. Sometimes it’s the invisible wounds that hurt us the most.
Tom Gillette went on to become a naval architect. He told me he studied the sinking of the Northampton. The swift actions of the crew that night saved lives. Over 700 sailors were rescued by U.S. destroyers and PT boats; fifty perished. My father was a nineteen-year old machinist mate when he swam away from his burning ship. He watched it slip into a black hole, and for the next fifty-six years he remembered the fifty. He talked about them shortly before he died in 1998.

A movie star and a submariner
My dad always loved Shirley Temple. One Christmas he bought me a Shirley Temple doll. I still have her, and she’s still wearing that blue and white sailor’s dress. During the war, Shirley Temple sold War Bonds and boosted morale by making movies with happy endings. In 1942 and ’43, she entertained and served sailors, Marines, and soldiers at the Hollywood CafĂ©, an organization chaired by Bette Davis. Until I met Diane and Tom, I hadn’t thought of Shirley Temple’s contribution to our nation. She helped us through the Great Depression, WWII, and other challenges by being hopeful. Prior to WWII, she had made several trips to Pearl Harbor, and she made a lasting impression on the U.S. Navy. In fact, when she visited the USS Argonaut on August 11, 1937, an officer gave her a gold dolphin pin, which is unheard of—only submariners have that insignia.  
           At Christmas, I wonder what our children and grandchildren will say about us. I hope they say we were brave, and never gave up believing in the possibility of peace. We are the lucky ones.    

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Goodbye Summer; Hello Backpacks

When summer ends, I feel a need to scroll through photos and recall June, July, and August. For me, Labor Day, September’s only holiday, comes too soon, and it’s not festive. As a student and as a teacher, Labor Day rang the bell; it told us to fill backpacks with pencils, pens, and notebooks. To cope with back-to-school anxiety, I had a mantra, “Remember summer." If you spent your summer in Maine, you probably have memories that will calm your nerves for months to come. In case you were having too much fun to snap a picture, I’m willing to share a few of mine. Today is the first day of school in Bath, and the kids are standing on the corner of Washington and Pearl Streets with their backpacks on, so let's conjure up those images of lazy days on the beach and in the boat.

Paul's Marina at Mere Point
Looking back, Casco Bay was our playground this summer. In June, Joe and I fell in love with a Maritime Classic; we named her This Side Up and officially became boat owners. I mentioned our newly acquired boat to a neighbor, and I’ll never forget his reaction, “It’s Disney World out there.” Turns out, he was right. The best view of Maine is from a boat. As soon as we moored This Side Up at Mere Point, we knew we would see Casco Bay in her best light, and we did. Several times a week, we would ride the blue highway to Chebeague Island, Basin Cove, Orr’s Island, the Cribstone Bridge, Bailey Island, and a little cove at Birch Island.

A Halfway Rock Postcard on display at Chebeague 
Of course, we occasionally had to pilot our boat through fog and circumnavigate a few ledges, lobster traps, and oyster farms, but there were also eagles, sailboats, coastal homes, and seals to admire. We delighted in studying our chart, identifying the islands and finding our way to Chebeague (pronounced sha-beeg by many and sha-big by the locals). In July, we visited the Chebeague Maritime Historical Society, and I learned that the lighthouses at Halfway Rock and Ram Island Ledge were built by men from Chebeague; granite from the island was used to build the Washington Monument in D.C.; and the island’s name comes from a Native American word meaning “isle of many springs”. Our lunch at the Chebeague Island Inn, was a postcard moment. The grandness of the old inn reminded me of Gatsby and the roaring 1920’s. On our way back to Paul’s Marina – the quintessential Maine marina with Judy’s General Store at its heart – we passed Hope Island’s red barns and spied a group of kayakers near shore.

Kayaks on Casco Bay

Main Street Bath's Greatest Hits before the parade
When we weren’t on the water, we nested in Bath. The Fourth of July may seem like a distant memory to some, but I’ll never forget Bath Heritage Days’ parade, especially the Main Street float, a tribute to ice cream shops, jukeboxes, and poodle skirts. (Yes, I wore a poodle skirt for Maine Street Bath.) Maybe you caught a glimpse of that MSB time machine and hummed along with the director, Amanda McDaniel, and the rest of us as we played Doris Day’s love songs and Elvis’s rock & roll. From the start of the Five Mile Road Race to the fireworks that night, Bath was celebrating along the Kennebec. If Labor Day marks the end of summer, the Fourth of July marks its beginning, and Bath knows how to start the party! 

By the end of July, the summer concert series, hosted by the Chocolate Church Arts Center and Main Street Bath, was fully underway. Every Tuesday and Friday night, music lovers gathered around the gazebo at City Park to listen to jazz, big-band music, country ballads, and even a barber-shop chorus. It was live entertainment with a spectacular view of the Zorach’s Spirit of the Sea, the Winter Street Center, and the Patten Free Library! On Saturday nights, the music moved to Waterfront Park where the Fleetwood Mac Band drew an impressive crowd at the beginning of the summer, and the Yellow Brick Road Band, led by Bath resident Gerald Brann, drew a crowd of 500 on August 31.

Bryanna, a dreamer.         

         On August 17, two weeks before Brann’s band gave the Kennebec crowd an encore, a stellar rendition of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, the Bath community brought back its locally grown holiday, Kindness Day. I had the pleasure of attending the first Kindness Day celebration on August 16, 2014, and I remember meeting Bryanna, one of the original dreamers, the rising senior at Morse High School who brought a day for random acts of kindness to life. I remember she was standing on the corner of Front and Centre Streets with Taylor, her friend and fellow dreamer, and I snapped their picture. Five years later, I found Bryanna standing on the same corner wearing her purple T-shirt with its now famous statement, “Be kinder than necessary.” She was also wearing the same smile, proving that kindness stays with us. 
As a new school year begins, let’s hope the classroom seats are filled with dreamers, like Bryanna and Gerald Brann. 

Saturday, April 13, 2019

The Patten: A Fairy-Tale Library

     In 1889, Galen C. Moses, the son of Oliver and the nephew of William – the tin men of Bath who established a foundry and a shipyard that helped pave the way for Bath Iron Works – donated $10,000 dollars to build a library on a hill that would be free to all the citizens of Bath, Maine. It was especially magnanimous because Galen did not request that the library be named for the Moses brothers; rather, he let the library be named in honor of the Patten brothers who had contributed so much to Bath’s success as a city of world-class shipbuilders. The library, designed by George Harding, with brick walls and a fairy-tale tower, would be completed in 1890 at a total cost of $15,000 dollars. In 1911, young readers on their way to the newly established children’s room on the tower’s second floor would be able to look out a Rapunzel-like window and spy the snow-white spire of the Winter Street Church. Over the years, countless children, and perhaps some parents as well, would visit the Patten and imagine sailing across the ocean on a Bath-built ship, traveling beneath the sea in a yellow submarine, flying through the clouds in an airplane, and riding through space on a rocket.  

Signing books at the Guilford Memorial Library author event

     Today, April 13, is the last day of National Library Week, and at one o’clock I will be giving a library sponsored talk at Cundy’s Harbor Community Hall because Karen Schneider, the director of Cundy’s Harbor Library, invited me, and then scheduled and promoted the event. What an appropriate way to spend the last day of library week! Since launching my maritime novel, Daughters of Long Reach, I have traveled around Maine visiting dozens of libraries. Each library, from Guilford to Wiscasset, from Orrington to Winslow, has reflected the spirit of their community, and they have all impressed me with their efforts to foster curiosity, inform, share art, create community, support literacy, encourage empathy and help young and old alike continue to find books that enrich their lives.

     Echoing the words of Saul Bellow’s, I have to “seize the day” and thank our librarians, their staff, and volunteers for allowing the public to wander around stacks of books in search of new and lost horizons. It’s astonishing how far you will go when you start your journey at your local library. I think I was seven when I started my first summer reading program in a New York library. The location was temporary. The books were shelved in an old, decrepit house while the community built a new, brick library. For every book I read that summer (mostly biographies of women like Clara Barton and Florence Nightingale), I received a sticker in the shape of a red brick, and I used my stickers to fill in an outline of the library to come. It was an effective program; I remember the books I read, and I remember the library my family helped to build.
A sailboat in the children's room  of the Patten. Imagine!
     Whether a library is new or old, whether it’s architecturally interesting or plain, whether its three stories or one, chances are I'm going to cherish it because it is safeguarding our precious books and periodicals. If you disagree, consider reading The Book Thief. I suspect that story, set during Hitler's reign of terror, will convince you that books are worthy of our protection. And I believe my local library, the Patten Free Library, is an excellent guardian of an invaluable collection of books.  This morning I’d like to extol the virtues of the Patten. After all, the love is in the details.

The Patten's  new teen and tween space
As a former high school teacher, I have to spotlight the new teen and tween space. After a twenty-year hiatus from building, the library board decided to remodel a corner of its non-fiction stacks for teen and tween use at a cost of $330,000 dollars. The nautical-themed space has raised seating in the style of a crow’s nest and offers a birds-eye view of the Kennebec River. At the ground level, there are stacks of YA literature, charging stations, and easy access to audio and video equipment. The new corner is altogether modern, vibrant and adolescent friendly.

Dahlov Ipcar's mural adds whimsy to the children's room 
The children’s room is an answer to a grandmother’s prayer. Surrounded by Dahlov Ipcar’s tigers, lions and zebras, it’s the perfect spot for storytime. As an added bonus, there’s a sunlit alcove that boasts a sailboat and allows children to follow their imagination to Java, Jamaica or Boothbay. In the summer, there are ice cream socials by the gazebo, and in the fall and winter there are craft parties upstairs in the auditorium. Whatever the weather, parents and children can learn, play and explore at the Patten.

The elegant reading room at the Patten

There’s also a quiet place where adults can read and work; it is surrounded by history, like the  paintings depicting the burning of The Old South Church in 1854. And above the reading room, there’s a balcony that adds a little mystery to the ambiance. Why is it there? What’s behind the balcony doors? Searching for answers, I found Samantha Ricker, the director of development, and she happily gave me a tour. I followed her up the winding stairs of the nineteenth-century tower and discovered the truth: It’s a time capsule. When I entered the upstairs room, I felt like I had stepped through Alice’s looking glass. Samantha hopes that the library will someday raise enough money to renovate the space and once again open it up to the public.

The mysterious second floor of the Patten's fairy-tale tower
To that end, I wish all the library’s fund-raising efforts are successful. Since National Library Week is ending, I would like to ask for an extension. (One week is not  enough.) On April 27, the Patten Free Library is hosting “A Night at the Patten.” Tickets are on sale now. They’re available online and at the library. If you live in or around Bath, I encourage you to buy a ticket and support our future; if you live elsewhere, visit your local library or check their event calendar and participate. You've probably guessed that I’m a child of the sixties, so you won’t be surprised when I leave you with a slogan from that decade: A brain is a terrible thing to waste. I believe libraries do a lot to save our brains, and they deserve our support. See you at the library!