Tuesday, February 28, 2012
David "Mike" Paulsen
April 16, 1923 to February 28, 2012
He loved boats. He told me stories of boyhood summers spent sailing around the Massachusetts coastline with total freedom. Occasionally sleeping on the beach next to the boat. Knowing this piece of his past, his fierce independence, his resourcefulness, and his encyclopedic knowledge of the ocean, the coastline, and boats makes perfect sense.
He taught his own children to love boats too. My dad tells stories of spending the day out on the little Boston Whaler with his brothers, water skiing, fishing, and going really, really fast.
When I was a child, we would go on evening "cocktail cruises". Load up the boat with cheese and crackers and drinks and cruise around the bay enjoying the "luminous luminous", the way the evening light fell so that it lit up all the boats and the water just right. The prettiest time of the day. Cocktail cruises usually included a stern warning not to get too close to that ledge or that buoy or this side of that island no matter how small of a boat you are in. Or maybe a recounting of the time they had to get home from dinner in PEA SOUP FOG, using landmarks and navigation buoys and handwritten instructions prepared by him for just such an occasion.
Later, he would teach me to sail, first on a Sunfish, then on a sailing dinghy and a Rhodes 19 daysailer. I was the jib man, the centerboard attendant, and the one responsible for jumping from the bow of the boat to the dock, painter in hand, then turning around and grabbing the front of the boat to keep it from hitting the dock (not that it ever needed it, so expert at landing sailboats on dock was my grandpa). It was the only place I ever felt comfortable in my own skin as a teenager.
We spent countless afternoons sailing around the waters and islands near their summer cottage in Maine. When I struggled to tie the sailboat to the mooring, hanging over the side of the dinghy in choppy seas one blustery afternoon, and the boat started floating away toward the rocks, he expertly maneuvered the dinghy around, grabbed the painter, tied it up to the ball, and took us back to the dock. We walked in silence back to the house, me with hot, angry, embarrassed tears stinging my eyes. I sat down on the porch, a ticked off teenager, while he rummaged around in the basement. A few minutes later he appeared on the porch with a long piece of old rope. He looped it around the porch railing and said "Practice tying bowlines until you can do it with your eyes closed."
I will never forget how to tie a bowline. And yes I can do it with my eyes closed.
He also loved airplanes and used to look at the contrails crossing the sky over the ocean. "That's a 747 headed for Paris" he would say, with total confidence. Or "That's a DC-10 on it's way to New York". I don't know how he did it, but I have no doubt he was right. A tribute to the power of being still and observing the world around you. He didn't need GPS or Google to know things. He just knew.
He was a loyal family man, married to my grandma for more than fifty years. Once, about a decade ago, I walked into the living room to find him gazing happily at a picture of them taken in a tender moment decades earlier. My grandma was smiling, my grandpa had his forehead against her cheek. They looked like they were laughing. I can't recall exactly what he said when he noticed me in the room, but it was something about how much he loved my grandma.
He used to feed a group of nearly a hundred wild ducks on his front lawn every morning and evening. He carried a scoop of corn out to the trough saying "Come ducks! Come ducks! Come ducks!" And the ducks came. Dozens of them. They would all try to get in the trough at once. It was a flurry of feathers and quacking and fighting that left the lawn covered in feathers. Later he switched to seagulls, which could be fed from the comfort of his rocking chair. He taught the laughing gulls to fly in graceful loops around the flag pole by flinging a Cheez-it cracker into the air for them to catch as they approached the porch. One huge fat grey-winged seagull he named Bubba (because he said "buh-buh-buh-bup") would come right up onto the porch for crackers.
Charlie remembers him fondly as "the Great-Grandpa who flew airplanes." I will forever treasure the memory of them sitting on the porch together, sharing a grilled cheese sandwich and talking about flying airplanes in World War II.
He passed away this morning, surrounded by my grandma and my aunt, his oldest daughter. He leaves behind a legacy of family, independence, loyalty, and integrity. And stories, so many wonderful (and familiar!) stories. I feel grateful to have known him for so long and will miss him.