My Second Antarctic Adventure – Palmer – Part III

Our New England Honeymoon – Copyright 2009 Jack W. Cummings

When a woman marries a sailor on active duty, her life with her new husband becomes one of uncertainty. Not so much with the character of the man she married, but with the fact that he is not always the one who decides where they will be stationed/living from year to year – that is just the nature of being married to “the Navy”. For Barbara our first two years of marriage was a sweet and sour affair. Sweet, in that we got to spend a lot of time together our first year, but the sour part was being separated for over a year and missing getting to spend our first two Christmases and Wedding anniversaries together.

On most duty stations in the Navy, senior enlisted personnel usually have to stand some sort of duty after normal working hours and on weekends. This was not the case with CASA, and getting an extra day or afternoon off to spend time with family and friends or to take short trips around the area was not uncommon. I think there must have been an unwritten command policy concerning this, as staff knew that when we got to the ICE, there would be no days off, especially for communicators. I know that when I was stationed at Hallett Station in 1961, the other Radioman and I stood twelve hours on and twelve hours off, seven days a week.

With this “policy” in mind, Barbara and I were able to take several road trips around New England and two trips into Canada. We were also able to bring Joni to Rhode Island for several extended visits. Returning from Canada we traveled over the Mackinac Bridge in Michigan and continued south to Kentucky, Tennessee, and Alabama, visiting relatives along the way. My sister Virginia and her husband Clifford were now operating a motel in Alabama and during our stay there, Joni was able to make her first contact with her Coleman Cousins.

Wickford, Rhode Island, currently referred to as Wickford Village, is nestled along the waterfront of Wickford Harbor. Historic Wickford Village offers a taste of New England as it was a century or more ago. Its historic homes from the 1700s, churches, gardens, and picturesque harbor offer a glimpse of our nation’s early history. Wickford is a thriving commercial village with a wonderful sense of history.
And there is always something going on in Wickford. Whether it’s the annual Wickford Art Festival in July, the Festival of Lights in December, and Daffodil Days in the spring. (Quoted from the Wickford Village Association’s Website.) This description pretty much describes Wickford in 1964. I sure we missed the Daffodil Days and the Festival of Lights, but we did enjoy the Art Festival that year. Barbara was an Art Major and took the opportunity to put together her own portfolio of paintings to show in the Festival. More information can be obtained by visiting the association web site at I especially like the picture of the waterfront bridge. Living in Wickford enhanced out time spent in the state.

We soon got acquainted with our neighbors, most of whom were natives to New England. From our upstairs kitchen window we had a view of a large vacant overgrown lot that contained a small pond. Occasionally I would rent a push lawnmower from a local hardware store and use it to cut the grass around our apartment building. One day before returning the rental, I decided to see if I could make the vacant lot more presentable. Since the local people used the lot for shortcuts there were some trails already visible. One thing lead to another, and before long I made it a regular habit of cutting the grass there. Although I knew I was trespassing, no one seemed to mind enough to report me to the police. I am not sure how the following incident took place, but it came to the attention of the owners of the property, the Merithew Sisters. They probably found me there one day and asked me what I was doing, and I said I was merely trying to make the place look better. The must have thought my intentions were pure, and ended up inviting Barbara and me to their nearby home for cookies and tea. We were also treated to stories of their life in New England, especially how they survived the hurricane of 1938 and showed us the high water marks on the side of their home. Once when I was clearing out refuse in the pond, I came across an old hand pump used for drawing water out of a well. Since it had obviously been discarded, I claimed it, had it sand-blasted, painted it black, and presented it to our neighbors across the street to be used for “yard art”. Later I learned that Barbara had been quietly wishing I would give it to her!

I could go on and on about those wonderful months and the people we met there, but I must move on. Wickford will always live in our hearts and memories. Those memories were enhanced by a visit late in the summer by my sister Audrey’s daughter Darlene. She would stay with us until we left Rhode Island.

By November I had received my orders to report to the USS Edisto docked in Boston at the Navy Yard. That month Barbara and I and our niece Darlene loaded up our 1964 Pontiac Lemans and headed to Rialto, California. On our way west we once again stopped in Baltimore to visit Joni one last time. Our route from Baltimore would follow US Highway 40 across the Rocky Mountains of Colorado and on in to Myrtle Point, Oregon. As we descended the western side of the mountains, I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to give Barbara her first lesson in driving on icy snow-covered roads. Our niece nearly had a heart attack when she realized what I was doing – Barbara did just great. In Oregon we would visit my sister Jean and her family for a few days before heading south to California and home.

Shortly after the first week in December I would bid farewell to Barbara and my family as I flew back to Rhode Island and subsequently traveled to Boston to board the ship. When I arrived in Rhode Island, I realized that I had left my heavy pea coat in California, since I would be staying a few days with our neighbors in our old apartment building; I phoned Barbara and asked her mail it to me. Luckily it arrived in time. Boston in December can be very cold.

The following is quoted from the official Coast Guard History of the Edisto: “On 10 December 1964, Edisto departed for the Antarctic as a unit of the task force for Operation DEEPFREEZE 65 on an assignment unprecedented in icebreaker history.  She had the responsibility for constructing the New Palmer Station for Marine Biological Studies on Anvers Island off the Antarctic Peninsula.” (With a detachment of Seabees from MCB SIX) JWC

(Next Part IV – South – On Board USS Edisto)

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