Saturday, April 4, 2009

Carnival of Genealogy - Uncle, Uncle

I have never participated in this before and, despite being a writer, I have always had a difficult time with creative writing "assignments" (I do better when I select my own topic), so please bear with me. ;-)

My precious Uncle Jon and I almost shared the same birthdate. Jon Bartlett Wood definitely had the Sagittarian wanderlust! Born on December 10, 1945, Uncle Jon was a young man when he joined the Coast Guard, and then later became a merchant marine.

For me and my sister, this meant presents from places we had never heard of or even imagined existed. We did not see our father's favorite (and eldest) brother often, but when we did, we were always thrilled to have him at home.

He once brought us t-shirts from Trinindad & Tabago. Both my sister and I had no idea where those places were, but we loved those shirts!

Uncle Jon enjoyed pulling pranks, but was able to do it so endearingly that you could not help but love him. He tormented my father to varying degrees during their childhood but never with malice. I recall stories of my Uncle Jon telling my father to jump as high as he could, then pulling his legs out from under him while he was in the air!

When Uncle Jon visited, he would give us not just gifts, but attention. He knew how to make us giggle by playing all sorts of "I got ya!" games, or he would sit quietly with us and share a coloring book. I will never forget his version of The Wizard of Oz Tinman - a seamless blend of a rainbow of colors, all done perfectly inside the lines, but with unconventional colors.

One Christmas, Uncle Jon brought me a Barbie house - the kind with 3 floors, a cardboard back with a different background for each level of the house, and an elevator you could pull up by a string.

We would not see him again after that Christmas.

Uncle Jon was a crewmember on the SS Marine Electric, which departed from Norfolk, Virginia, on its way to Massachusetts on 10 February 1983. The 34 crew members were bringing up a cargo of granulated coal.

The ship was, it was later determined, unseaworthy, yet kept in service anyway (as were so many other ships). The ship had holes in the deck plating and hatch covers, but sailed anyway. Fake inspection reports showed the ship to be in good shape, but those hatch covers had never been tested by inspectors.

The SS Marine Electric sank and 31 of the 34 crewmembers died during the day of 12 February 1983.

My favorite Uncle was among the 24 dead recovered.

I was only 9 years old when he died. Uncle Jon was 37 with no wife or children, but a big family with his parents, 3 siblings, 2 nephews, and 2 nieces, as well as grandparents still living.

Jon Bartlett WoodThe "Deep Sea Detectives - Ship of Doom" episode that aired on the History Channel in November of 2004 was difficult to watch, but we watched it nonetheless. It is only a small consolation to know that this tragedy helped make the entire merchant marine system safer for sailors, but it hurts to know that it took this kind of event for unseaworthy ships to finally be scrapped!

There is a monument to sailors at Bourne or Buzzard's Bay, and my Uncle's name is mispelled on it. For some reason people always want to throw an "h" in his name. :) I have not visited the monument; I was in Onset last year, but I don't think I could see it.

For us, the untimely loss of Uncle Jon is still one that hurts. He was fun, loving and generous to us, even though he only had the opportunity to see us a handful of times in the short 9 years I had to know him.

The first photograph is Uncle Jon and me, taken in 1978. The second is probably 1982 or 1983, with my beloved Barbie house in the background.

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