Logbook for Grace
Robert Cushman Murphy
“We even had roast turkey, except that it was penguin instead of turkey, and it wasn’t roasted.”
When my husband proposed he did not get down on one knee, did not break out the ring in a well-choreographed flourish, did not affirm his love for me in verse: between bites of ribs, with barbecue sauce still on his lip, he said, “It’s a foregone conclusion, right? Do I have to actually ask?” Our Valentine’s Day usually involves a delivery pizza and the director’s cut of Apocalypse Now. (Occasionally Das Boot. In the original German. Woo.) In the sevenish-eightish years that we have been together, Scott has written me a grand total of one love note. It read, “Buy cat litter – S”.
Logbook has upped the ante in our house. Bob Murphy, a young naturalist in the employ of the American Museum, was just four months married when he set sail on the whaler Daisy, one of the last Yankee whale-ships to cruise around the Horn. He promised his young wife (Grace, natch) that he would keep a log for her during his travels, and log he did. And log and log and log (and log). In total, the original Logbook was more than 400,000 words – pared down to just 370 pages for this edition. Which, you have to admit, is still quite a love letter.
Murphy is romantic without being smarmy, observant and witty, though occasionally naive. (One of his fellow sailors is temporarily stricken with a severe case of “blue-balls”, which he dutifully reports to young Grace, and I in turn dutifully reported to Scott while he was trying to sleep. He was not amused. I, on the other hand, chuckled for a good long time.) Murphy’s positive attitude throughout the hardships of a nine-month whaling voyage is an inspiration, and his descriptions of whaling under sail are on a par with Melville.
But Murphy’s dedication to Grace’s log is not the only tear-inducing bit of romance in this story: before Murphy set sail, his young wife prepared a “letter bag”, with letters from herself, her family and his, his colleagues and former instructors among others, and carefully cataloged them for his journey. Not just by date, but by event as well (e.g. “For Bob’s first visit to the penguins”, “For Bob, when he worries about his wife”). Needless to say, the two were together for the rest of their lives, by the time of Murphy’s death having enough great-grandchildren to fill three whale-boats.
Scott and I are certainly not trying to populate whaling ships. But someday maybe he’ll write me a love letter, too. Maybe: “I love you. Buy cat litter – S.”