Monday, April 29, 2013

the yellow submarine is not yellow

Dear Em,
When your nonnie & papi come to visit, they are so content to just see you happy. Our days are designed around the preferences of a toddler & are filled with visits to the park & rides on the swings- anything & everything to see a smile on your face. I guess that's what being a grandparent is about. I like to make sure we do things for Nonnie & Papi too, they so rarely do things for themselves. That means beach days, zoo trips, & yummy seafood for Nonnie. Papi is always smiles ear to ear when he gets to visit his RedSox, but their last trip included a trip to the Groton Submarine Base.

Papi was in the Navy for 18 years, the first 16 years of my life. For me, I mostly remember going to three different kindergartens & moving almost every 2-4 years. I remember saying goodnight to & kissing a photograph of your Papi on the refrigerator. I remember celebrating Christmas when we could be together as a family, which often meant we didn't celebrate on the 25th. I remember stepping up & helping with my four younger brothers & sisters. I vaguely remember climbing down into the dark, cool, almost mythical submarine so that Papi could show us around. I remember seeing the world- well, at least the USA. That was life as a Navy Brat.

Then all of a sudden that life was done. During my sophomore year in high school, Papi retired from the Navy & our family moved to southern New Jersey to begin life as civilians. That was almost twenty years ago, but the Navy will always be a big part of your papi's (& my) life.

While Nonnie & Papi visited, I thought it would be fun to show you & Daddy a little about that life. We traveled to Groton, the Sub Base where I was born. Just outside the gates is the Submarine Force Museum. It's home to the Nautilus, the world's first nuclear submarine. It is the only submarine museum operated by the US Navy, & it's only a little more than a thirty minute drive from our house. Admission & parking are free.

Outside the museum are historic submarines & other artifacts.

"Hey! These are not yellow!" you exclaimed. I had been singing "we all live in a yellow submarine" to try to hype up our trip that morning. Needless to say, you were a little disappointed with the color scheme the Navy had chosen for their submarines. I think they could learn a lot from your sense of style. You were semi interested in what was outside, but we had promised you that morning that you would be going in a submarine. You could see the Nautilus from the outside, & you looked at it with longing. "Please can we go IN the submarine now?"

I'm not sure what you thought you would find once inside the submarine (maybe candy & butterflies?), but we were pleasantly surprised to find that inside the museum building was a million things you could touch. This briefly distracted you from your dream of walking inside the submarine. Sure, there were pictures & maps everywhere, but there were also switches & steering & periscopes & a phone. You were in heaven, as was Papi as he acted as your tour guide.

Then we got to go inside the real submarine. There's not a whole lot I remember from the tours of Papi's submarines I did when I was your age. I do remember climbing down a long ladder (& being fearful of falling to my death) to get inside. Imagine my surprise as we found stairs leading down into the Nautilus. "Stairs are a lot more convenient for the public," the Naval officer said as I looked at the stairs in disbelief. I gave a sigh of relief that I wouldn't be trying to get you down that ladder.

We were given to devices for the audio tour, but I didn't really use mine much. Mostly I just listened to & watched Papi. His eyes were twinkling as he pointed out the small quarters of the ship & told us stories of his days on submarines. I was struck by the tight quarters. The living spaces in our home felt like a mansion in comparison. 

After our tour on the oldest nuclear submarine, we headed on base & toured a modern one (Papi has some friends in high places). You weren't able to join us. Only small children of those who work on the submarines are allowed to tour the boat (Thank God! After touching everything in the museum it would have been exhausting to prevent you from touching the real buttons & switches inside the boat). Instead you & Nonnie headed to the Navy Exchange, a shopping area. 

Papi, Daddy, a Navy friend of our family, & I toured a Virginia-class submarine (we were so fortunate that the officer on duty gave us a tour). It's a nuclear powered fast attack submarine. We entered the ship the familiar way, via a long ladder (amazingly, twenty years later, I was still petrified of falling to my death).

For the next hour there was so much to look at & listen to. I listened & watched as our guide showed us the different aspects of the boat, but I mostly watched & listened to your papi. His eyes lit up as he saw the innovations of the new ship & reminisced about how he did things twenty years ago. It was incredible to see how much has changed over the years, but yet, how much has stayed the same. I loved hearing about his days as a submariner as much as I loved seeing his excitement in sharing it all with us. It was an experience I will cherish & remember forever.

After our tour, we headed for lunch at one of my favorite restaurants (Valentino's) from when I was growing up. Then we drove to our old house, the house I had spent more time in than any other I've lived in. It was a literal drive down memory lane. As we drove back home that day, my heart was so happy. I feel so fortunate that Papi could share that part of his past with us, & that I could share that part of my past with you.

I love you so,

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