Fun in CT

May 1980

When my farmer and I were in Connecticut we visited Mystic Seaport. It is a restoration of the famous whaling and ship building community as it was at the height of its prominence during the great clipper ship day of the 1850’s. Located on the Mystic River, whaling ships were built in the harbor, and businesses supplying the ships flourished in the town.

Going aboard the old fishing schooners and whaling ships revealed great wooden pens in the holds storing the catch. The sailor’s quarters were extremely primitive and absolutely no one had any privacy.

The galley (kitchen to us landlubbers) was small and had no counter space. To cook in it would be frustrating. There was a continual scarcity of fresh water. Flour, sugar, salt pork, molasses, beans, rice and vinegar were the only supplies. The guide didn’t mention if the sailors ate fish and I forgot to ask. Probably, they were too sick of the smell to eat them.

When the whaling ships left port the barrels for holding the oil from the captured whales were not assembled in order to save space. Each stove’s position in the barrel was indicated by a Roman numeral carved in the wood. They were then put together at sea, secured by iron rings and bottoms put in. After being filled with whale oil the top circular lid was adjusted and the oil safely stored for the rest of the voyage.

Sometimes the ships left port with old oil barrels filled with water, but the sailors didn’t like the taste the remains of the whale oil gave the water.

In the chandler’s shop, a general store for all shipping supplies, navigation instruments, ship’s lanterns, sextants, chronometers, compasses, and seagoing charts were on display. Here I met Charlie Zuccardy, an age compacted man dressed in sagging tan pants, blue plaid shirt, and a scruffy beige colored sweater. He was working as a guide and told us his story.

“I was born on April 23, 1885 in Italy. That is the birthday of William Shakespeare and Shirley Temple, too. I came to America at the age of seven and my father died soon after wards. We were so poor my brother and I had to help Mom keep our bodies and souls together. We kids scrounged firewood and coal from along the railroad tracks to keep our house warm.”

“We lived in New London, Connecticut,” Charlie said. “Eugene O’Neil, the playwright and I were playmates. When I was about fourteen I met and talked with Mark Twain. I married at the age of eighteen and went to work in the Palmer & Son Shipyard in Noak, Connecticut to support my family. I became a ship’s joiner and did a lot of cabinet work until I retired at the age of 71 in 1956.”

“Not working was hard on me and after seven years of retirement I came here to work seventeen years ago.” Charlie looked with pride at the ship and continued, “Then my wife died. We’d been married 62 years and I almost went out of my mind grieving. All purpose in my life was gone. I walked the streets. I couldn’t stay home. All was dark and life held nothing for me. Finally, after two years of deep despair, I sorted out my thoughts. What I found helped me back to life.

Now I want to tell as any people as I can so they can rescue themselves if they, too, are discouraged.”

As Charlie talked he had looked shriveled and an aged 94 years. Now he straightened his shoulders and with eyes glowing he came straight to the core of his truth.
“Everyone has troubles. You can’t expect to go through life without trouble. To me the troubles of life are like being out on a river rowing a boat against the tide. If you give up and quit rowing you drift out to sea. But if you gather all your strength and keep on rowing the tide will finally change and you will make it ashore. So don’t ever give up. Don’t be discouraged.”

And my farmer and I took his advice with us back to the plains of Kansas.

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5 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    John Zuccardy said,

    Thanks much for posting this. This was my great grandfather. He worked at the Mystic Seaport right up until his death at age 98.

  2. 3

    Ann Zuccardy said,

    I am touched and thrilled to read this. Charles Zuccardy was my great grandfather. Thank you for sharing this beautiful story.

  3. 4

    annzuccardy said,

    I am honored and thrilled to read this. Charles Zuccardy was my great grandfather and this is exactly how I remember him. Thank you for sharing your grandmother’s beautiful words. What a lovely gift for me and my family!


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