Family, History and Love

Wanda and I have been discussing, of late, the need to set down in writing some portion of our family history so that in the future our children and grandchildren will have the stories and tales of our lives direct from the source. The technophile that I am, I choose to do this online so that the what we write will be accessible and available for comment to our wider family (though I reserve the right to moderate those comments).

To that end, I have repurposed this blog. In coming posts, we will endeavor to provide an abridged story of our life (hey, everyone has their secrets). We're writing this for our children and their children and those that come later so elements of these tales will be familiar only to our family,

Monday, June 13, 2011

Of Sons, Grandsons, and Exquisite Timing

Jeremy Allan Cohran (1 day old)
I have a little story that goes along with the birth of each of my children. They're somewhat funny, a little whimsical, and I've always enjoyed telling the tales to new friends or even old acquaintances that I haven't seen in many, many years. I haven't told the stories in a very long time. Most of our current friends have heard them, and my kids know almost every detail from years of repetition. I do look forward to recounting the anecdotes to each of my children's children, but it will be a little while yet before they are old enough to understand the nuances of the events.

In any case, I was reminded today of the first tale--that of the birth of my son. His birth was the only one of my children that I missed (though there was at least one other close call). Today, by purest chance, I happened to be in Arizona, where he and his family currently reside. I was there on a short business trip and while I was there his own son was born and he was there to share the experience with his wife.

 Kaden wasn't due until the 23rd of June, but as I see it, he knew how special it would be for him to come into the world while his "papa" was visiting and decided to make his debut early. Believe you me, he was far more considerate with his timing than was his daddy.

When my son, Jeremy, was born on December 23rd, 1979, I was far beneath the Atlantic Ocean aboard the USS Daniel Webster, SSBN 626 (Gold Crew). I was on my 3rd of my 15 strategic deterrent patrols and the Cold War was in full swing. My son was due to on December 17th and as luck would have it, after finishing our 30 day refit period and torpedo certifications out of Charleston, SC we were pleasantly surprised to learn that we were to get a 4 day port call in New London, Connecticut which was technically our home port. All that really meant was that New London was where we lived when we were "off-crew" and where our families lived all the time. We were a forward-deployed unit which meant we conducted most of our refits in Holy Loch, Scotland and returned there after our patrols. To have a chance to visit our families for even a few short days during a patrol cycle was a real treat. It was especially exciting for me because we were to be visiting there from the 15th to the 19th of December. If my son cooperated, I was most certainly going to get to see him born.

Kaden Murray Cohran - a few minutes old
I had taken all the lamaze classes with Wanda even though we both knew that, given the patrol schedule, I would not be with her for the birth. So when the port call was announced I was pretty damn pleased that I had taken the classes. After all, this was my chance!

Connecticut was freezing compared to the southern climes from which we recently navigated, but we were all very happy to see our families. I hadn't seen my wife in over a month and I can remember thinking "she wasn't that big when I left."  I had duty on the 2nd day of our visit home,  and we were allowed to have our families join us for dinner and movies if we weren't actually on watch. I made sure the hospital corpsman knew how very pregnant my wife was before she came down for the evening meal and I think he kept an extremely nervous eye on her during the entire time she was on board.

Jeremy and his bear
It was a bit amusing to watch her slowly descend the ladder down the hatch from the missile deck.  There were three of us gathered below to catch her in the event she slipped and the corpsman wasn't the only nervous sailor during the meal and the subsequent movie. Unfortunately or fortunately, depending on your perspective, there was no excitement for us that evening. I felt sure that the next day, the due date, would actually yield me a child (we had no idea what sex our first born would be - ultrasounds were simply not that sophisticated back then). After all, fate had to have a reason for this unexplained and unusual port call. It simply had to be because I was meant to be there for the birth.

Kaden and the same 30 year old bear
The next two days came a went and before I knew it, All too soon, I was kissing my tearful wife goodbye and headed down the Thames into Long Island Sound and then out to the deep ocean. For the next few days I was on pins and needles waiting for the 18 word "babygram" that would tell me about the birth of my child. For three days we transited to our patrol area and on the fourth day we went patrol quiet and started our sixty day game of hide and seek with the Soviets.

On Christmas Eve I was standing watch in Auxiliary Machinery Room Two Upper Level. I had the swing watch that ran from 6 pm to midnight and I remember standing near our electronics workbench with my clipboard making a log entry when the I saw a man in red suit and hat come through the reactor tunnel watertight door. He had a white beard, a jolly smile and a large red bag. As he passed by me on the way to the main engine room, he wished me Merry Christmas and handed me a small candy cane.

Not long afterwards, he passed me again and with a jolly twinkle in eye he told me that the captain wanted to see me in his cabin after I got off watch. Of course, as soon as I was relieved and signed out of the log, I hustled up to the skipper's stateroom and knocked on the door. When I entered Santa was sitting there in his suit, sans beard and hat though, and he shook my hand, congratulated me and handed me a small slip of paper that said something along the lines of "Baby boy Cohran born on December 23rd. Mother and baby doing fine." And that, my friends is how Santa told me I was a daddy.

It was over six long weeks before I got to see my son. It's a good thing my grandson has a better sense of timing.

Father and Son 1980

Father and Son 2011
Kaden sleeping in his grandpapa's arms

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Beginning

When Wanda suggested this endeavor (writing stories about our family and our life), I wasn't sure what form it would take. A chronological narrative would be boring to say the least, and I sure didn't want to spend hours writing something that would never get read. Additionally, I wanted to write tales that could be illustrated with images, if not of the tale itself, with images as least marginally related to the events described. My prose tends to be stiff, almost formal, and I guess that comes from years of writing technical procedures, business letters, and other engineering or project related documents. When I tell a story, however, I am much more relaxed and use more vernacular to spin the yarn. I can't say that I'll be able to write like that here, but I'll try not to be so formal and I'll definitely attempt to keep your interest.

In any case, I should like to start this series of narratives with the tale of how I met my wife.  In late 1972, my dad decided we should try a new church. Dad is a "preacher" in what he thinks is the only true religion—that being anything that wasn't associated with the Southern Baptists, the Jehovah Witnesses, the Catholics, the Episcopalians, the Mormons, or any other major Christian sect. I guess he most closely identifies with the Pentecostals in that he believes in "speaking in tongues," no shorts for women, and "spare the rod, spoil the child."

As I recall, we went to a lot of different churches over the years as he looked for a place where he could fit in with the congregation. Typically, he'd join a church for a few months or years then something would happen or someone would express a belief that he didn't share and he would go looking for another place of worship. Most times, we (his children) weren't given a choice as to whether we would attend or not. That's just how it was.

The structure in 2010 - now it's a store
So, in the early fall of 1972, my dad took us to a church on Bright Star Road in Douglasville, Georgia. I believe the name of the church at that time was Bright Star Old Gospel church or something like that. The church structure itself was a long, single story, white building that obviously used to be a warehouse, a feed store or some other industrial building. This was quite typical of the various churches we used to attend. The structure had a concrete porch that ran the length of the building, rusted metal poles that held up the porch roof, and a narrow, dirt parking lot that, like the building itself, ran parallel to the road.

I was always pretty nervous about going to new churches. In those days, I was pretty good at playing the piano, especially the gospel music the congregations loved to belt out as loudly and as off-key as they could during the service. My dad made sure I started piano lessons at age 6 and by age 15, I was a decent pianist. Well, I was good enough to accompany him on the piano while he sang for the church - that was the main reason I was brought along. Of course, playing meant getting up in front of all those strangers whether I wanted to or not, but eventually, this simply became routine for me.

Nonetheless, it was a new church, full of new faces, though dad did tell us that we would have some distant relatives there. I recall riding up to the church in my dad's "new" car, a bright yellow, Plymouth Roadrunner. We parked on the narrow strip of dirt, got out of the car, and went up on the porch where all the adults and elders had gathered. I can't remember if it was just me and my sister with my dad that night, or if my younger brothers were there as well, but I do remember it was still hot and muggy, and the cigarette smoke hung in the humid air and swirled around the small crowd as they puffed and gossiped for the requisite 20 minutes before the service. They would do it again after church let out, but it would be cooler then, and I could go sit in the car to avoid all the smoke and talk.

I think it was because of the smoke I decided to go on into the building without my dad. I opened the doors and looked for an open bench near the back, though I knew I wouldn't get to sit there. Dad would always insist on sitting near the front and we would have to sit with him.  I was fifteen at the time, and as anyone who has ever been a 15 year old boy would know, I was looking for the girls who were there. There was only one that I remember. There may have been a dozen or more, but I only remember one.

She was in the back, far corner of the room. She had long, wavy brown hair, a pixie's face, and was a tiny thing. She was with a little boy, obviously her brother, and was talking to some other kids when I walked through the door. I looked back at her and something about her struck me. I can't say what it was. I can't tell you that it was love at first sight. I can't tell you what she was wearing and I can't tell you that a spark jumped between us. I can't tell you any of that. But I can tell you that I noticed her and I noticed her noticing me. And I think that we smiled at each other.

I don't remember much else about that night. But, as clear as yesterday, I remember seeing her.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Back from Belize

Belize was great. We snorkeled with the sharks, snuba dived withe the sea turtles, climbed ancient Mayan temples, and drank copious quantities of the local rum and beer and ate our fill of seafood. After a few days home to rest, take care of some chores, and to play with two of our grandkids, we're off for a visit with our son and his family, including our little granddaughter, in Mesa Arizona. We'll take the fast route down, spend some time with them, then take a slow, scenic route back that will include the Grand Canyon, Historic Route 66, Hoover Dam, Las Vegas, Death Valley, Mono Lake, Carson City, Reno, and scenic views of the Sierra Nevadas and the Cascade Mountain Range. It should be a fun trip - especially the visit with the family.

We'll post more photos and information about our trip to Belize in the days to come, but we'll be traveling for a couple of days so bear with us until then.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Weather Woes!

It's been the wettest and coolest June I've seen in the 14 years I've lived in the Pacific Northwest.  Some here are calling it Junuary, and I can't disagree. Usually by this time of year we've had plenty of dry weather, a couple of heat waves, and I'd be thinking about when to turn on my sprinkler system to keep the lawn green. Not this year, though.

We've had a few nice days here and there, but never more than two or three in a row. The Jet Stream seems to be driving the Pacific moisture right into the Portland area, and frankly we're getting pretty tired of it.  We did have a decent weekend this last week, and Wanda and I managed to get out for a ride on the MP3 500 and headed up to visit our friends, Mark and Gabi, out on Bald Peak. It was a fun ride, but the temperature at the top crest of the mountain was at least ten degrees cooler than down in the valley. We stopped for a quick break on the way at Bald Peak State Park and took some photos. It was nice to be able to see the mountains and horizon for a change.

Wanda looks pretty good in her riding gear, don't you think? We took a walk around the park to check out the views of the Mount Hood and the surrounding valleys. Riding has been one of our get away activities lately, since we've been spending quite a lot of our time watching two little ones. It provides us with an excuse to get out of the house and to do a bit of exploring. Unfortunately, it is quite weather dependent as neither of us have any desire to ride in the rain and cold.

Well, with any luck, the rains will end soon and we'll get some warmer weather. That will get us out in the yard, out on the town, and maybe even out on the trails for a hike or two. If not, there's always Belize in July, and Arizona and Mexico in August. We'll find a way to dry out one way or another.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Visiting the South

Just a short week ago, I returned from a 10 day trip to my home town of Douglasville, a small town in a mostly rural county about 25 miles west of Atlanta. I hadn't visited there since my mother's funeral back in August of 2007 and I really felt the need to spend some time with my dad who is turning 74 this year. He had had back and neck surgery earlier this year and I had sent my oldest daughter to stay with him for a few weeks while he recovered, but I really needed to see him as a few phone calls each week just isn't the same, though he'll probably outlive all his children.

An unusual tree in my dad's yard - this is the flower bud.

This is a partially open bud.

This is the fully opened flower.

And this is the full tree - my dad gave me a cutting from it.

I alway feel a bit of trepidation when I plan a visit back to the South. I haven't lived in Georgia since I was 18 years old, though we did live in South Carolina and Florida from 1985 - 1993.  I always feel like I've moved on from a lot of the attitudes and biases that still permeate the region, and I'm never sure how well I'll be able to bite my tongue and not get into any political, religious or social arguments. Actually, it turned out pretty well and my tongue was only slightly sore at the end of the trip.  I did, of course, encounter some attitudes that run counter to my world view, but they weren't so strident that I couldn't just ignore them, though I did have to say a word or two to one of my nephews over the course of a dinner.
The Southeast experience significant flooding two years ago.
Some of the repairs are not yet complete.

I enjoyed spending time with my dad, though. Although he's an ordained minister, he didn't bring up religion at all to me. I did, however, spend quite a bit of time listening to his gospel music, but that was nostalgic for me since we all spent a lot of time at church, revivals, and "singings" with him.  He did have on DVD of a gospel group in concert that was quite good. The music was good and the singers were obviously having a lot of fun playing their music and joking around with each other.

Over the course of my visit with my dad, I felt like I accomplished quite a lot with/for him. The first day I was there, I was able to complete setting up his wireless network, connect his computer and printer to it, and set him up a gmail account so he could send and receive e-mails. My sister had done most of the work before I arrived (connecting the wireless model up and setting the password), but it was fun to help my dad enter the 21st century. During the rest of the week we replaced the faucets in his downstairs apartment, refinished some of the caulking on the downstairs tub, pulled wild blackberry vines out of his shrubbery, planted a dozen tomato plants for him, and helped him with a few smaller projects around his home.

I did manage to get some time for myself as well. I got out for a hike along Sweetwater Creek one afternoon. The heat and humidity were certainly more that I was used to after living so many years out of the South, and I was soaked from collar to waist by the time I returned to the air conditioned car, but it was well worth it.

Sweetwater Creek

The ruins of the New Manchester Textile Mill along the creek.

Looking upstream from the old mill ruins.

Rough water and storm clouds in the distance.

A creek bed of granite.

The Monday after my arrival I was fortunate enough to be able to meet an old friend from high school for lunch at Buffalo Wild Wings. Tim was one of my best friends in middle and high school and we spent 6 years in band playing the trombone (Tim) and the tenor saxophone (me). In fact, both Tim and I joined the Navy out of high school and I moved up my active duty date by over a week so we could go to boot camp together. Alas, Tim had a medical condition that kept him from completing his service, while I went on to complete 21 years of total service.

It sure was good to see him again, though the years have definitely changed us both. Tim had a terrible auto accident a few years ago, but has made a remarkable recovery considering the extent of his injuries. What amazed me though, was Tim's great attitude and sense of humor about his ordeal. He mentioned that we was hoping to write a book, and I hope that he does. I, for one, would be among the first to buy it.

I also managed to go fishing with a boyhood companion. Randy and I were the best of friends while we were growing up together. He moved away sometime when we were in high school, but until he moved we would fish, ride motorcycles, swim, and just ramble around the county together. We were in 1st grade together and spent lots of time at each other's homes while we were growing up.  In any case, the last time I had seen Randy was at my wedding over 31 years ago, and shortly before my trip to Georgia he and I reconnected via Facebook.  I learned that he had moved back to Georgia after living many years in the Florida Panhandle and we made arrangements for me to come up to meet him in Woodstock for some fishing on Lake Altoona.

Lake Altoona at Dawn.

We made a day of it. I met Randy at 6 am on a dock and we headed out for a day of fishing. When we were lads, fishing mean cane poles, small hooks, bobbers and catching grasshoppers or digging worms for bait. We fished in small pools and streams, often in pastures or along the side of highways. Our catches typically included bream, small catfish, and other panfish. This fishing trip was quite different. Randy has a center console fishing boat with an oxygenated bait tank, a 150 hp Mercury outboard, a sophisticated sonar/fish finder/navigation system and a remote controlled trolling motor that was GPS enabled. The fish we caught were significantly different too. I caught a huge crappie and several striped and hybrid bass, while Randy caught even more than I did.  The best part of the whole fishing trip wasn't catching fish though, rather it was reconnecting with a boyhood friend and learning about his life over the last 30 years as well as laughing about all the trouble we used to get into when we were kids. Unfortunately, I didn't have time to meet his wife and family, but on my next trip to Georgia I'll make the time to do so.

One of the dams on Lake Altoona.

Fishing on the lake.

For my dad, the best part of my visit was probably our trip to Biloxi, Mississippi to see some of his grandsons and great grandsons. It's about a 6 hour drive to Biloxi from where he lives, and he wanted to take his new truck to show it to his grandsons. It was a fun trip. Dad and I talked a lot about our family history, relatives I haven't seen in years, and he told me stories about his childhood and mine. We took our time, and stopped a few times along the way to walk around, sit at the rest area to enjoy our lunch, and to enjoy the scenery.

When we got to Biloxi, I was delighted to find that our hotel was right on the Gulf. We could literally walk across the street and stand on a lovely white sand beach. Since we had some time before my nephews got off work, we took a walk on the beach and out to the end of a pier (rebuilt since Katrina) to enjoy the view and for me to take some photos. My dad enjoyed the walk, as did I, but he really enjoyed seeing his grandsons when they showed up at our hotel room a bit later.

Dad at the souvenir shop.

The pier and the lighthouse along the beach.

Bradley showed up first with 5 year old son, Gavin and we got to visit with them while we waited for Brent, his girlfriend and his son, Conner to arrive. Brian, Bradley and Brent's brother didn't make it over, but the rest of us went out to dinner that evening and spent some time talking and catching up with each other.

Brent, Dad and Bradley.

The next day, Dad and I did some souvenir shopping and a little bit of sight seeing. Brent was working, so he invited us out to the terminal to see his workplace and we got a little lesson in how commercial container ships were unloaded and the containers mounted onto chassis and sent out onto the road. Brent certainly has to work hard for his paycheck and I admire his ability to perform such hard physical labor in such a hard environment.

After our visit with Brent we went over to Bradley's apartment (right next to our hotel), and spent some time with Bradley and Gavin and to prepare that evenings meal. Dad had promised his "boys" some fresh cooked biscuits, their favorites, and I offered to prepare the rest of the meal which consisted of cube steak with onions, cole slaw, and creamed potatoes. I'll have to say the meal went over quite well with everyone and we had a fun time eating, chatting and talking about life.

Bradley is an electricians apprentice and he showed me some of the work he has been doing in his classes and on the job. He's quite adept at the vocation and I'm sure he'll do quite well with the rest of his studies and with his chosen profession.

After dinner, a few of us took a walk on the beach and I got some final photos of Biloxi and some of the people on the beach. Brent and Jessica, his girlfriend, wanted some photos of themselves and Conner so I happily obliged their request.

Brent, Conner and Jessica.

Conner enjoys the water.

Conner and his daddy.

Dad and I had to leave the next day as I had to pack and prepare for my flight back to Portland, but we did make it back over to Bradley's the next morning for a final visit with the boys. Dad get to speak with his other grandson that morning, but he wasn't able to talk him into coming over for a visit and that was a shame because I could tell my dad really wanted to see him.

Dad, his grandsons and great-grandsons.

Saying goodbye required a pose in front of dad's truck.

That was pretty much it for the visit. Our drive back to Douglasville was as pleasant as our drive to Biloxi and my flight to Portland the next day was fairly uneventful, though there was the upset child in the seat behind me that I always seem to attract. Wanda met me at the airport and we took a little detour so I could visit my own grandchildren.

I don't know when I'll get back to Georgia for another visit, but I do feel like I made the best of this one.