Our tug just powered past the old ship docks at the Marcus Hook oil refinery, which is located about ¼” south of Philadelphia, if you were looking at a Pennsylvania road map.
I took a moment and soaked in the view as we slipped by with our 13500 barrel barge. The Sun refinery has 5 ship docks and 3 finger piers for the barges to offload or load their cargo. This place is especially interesting to me because ship dock #2 is where the S.S. Eastern Sun was moored the night I boarded her for my first trip to sea. That was 36 years ago and I remember it like it was yesterday. Correction, I remember it like it was this morning. Those first couple days made a big impact on me. Those memories are seared into my brain.
Over the years I have been to these very same docks, many times, but for the last 10 years or so I have been working elsewhere, so seeing dock #2 tonight brought back a load of memories.
I still get a momentary knot in my stomach when I think back to the night my Dad drove me to those docks. 18 years old just months out of high school, and I had no idea what I was in for. It’s probably a similar feeling my oldest daughter had, and will have, when she thinks back to the day she boarded a plane for a one year stint in Dublin, Ireland, to get her masters degree, and she had no firm plans on where she was going to stay. OK, not the high point of my parenting, but it all worked out as she has graduated and is living the life in Washington, DC.
Anyway, it was a hot and humid August night, typical for the Philadelphia area during that time of year. It was so humid, you almost struggled to breath. My Mom used to describe the air as “thick.”
Waiting in my living room with both my parents, all of us staring at the clock, dreading the moment I had to get in the big family buick and leave home for the first time in my life. Before that time a trip away from home meant a 2 hour drive to the Jersey Shore. Now I was heading for a ship that was going to Texas! This was a big deal.
My Mom didn’t make the drive to the dock, so my Dad and I made the 15 minute trip, basically in silence. Every once in a while he’d say something like, “Did you remember your work boots?” Then minutes of silence, and then, “You have money, right?” Man that was a tense drive.
Finally I get to the foot of dock #2, and my Dad points to the gangway and says, “Just head up there and ask someone where you should go.” I grabbed my duffle bag, that my mom packed for me, and since the thing weighed almost as much as my skinny frame did, I was in a full sweat by the time I got on deck of the ship.
As a parent, I often wonder how hard that was for my Dad to watch his son, who weeks ago was going to High School dances, climb up that gangway and walk out of sight. As a parent, I now know that answer. And my Mom, guaranteed, she was a wreck.
All that seems like just yesterday. As I look at that dock today, it hasn’t changed. But wow, a lot of water has gone under that bridge since that humid August night.