Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Porter Perkins

Henry Porter Perkins always went by Porter, except when he went by Cy. He was a hunter and a gatherer, a schoolteacher, a builder of custom wooden speedboats, a naval engineer on the U.S.S. Biloxi in the Pacific Theater of the Second World War, a nuclear engineer, a carpenter, a talented accordion player, and an amateur historian.

As a child of poor farmers, he hunted game and gathered berries in the Maine woods. He was color blind, though he did not know this until he entered the Navy, and he would sometimes return home with no berries but with red juice all over his hands, and he would receive a verbal thrashing for eating the berries he could not see in the leaves.

He married just before shipping out in the Navy, and his daughter was born to his young wife a few months after his departure.

When the Biloxi broke down in the Pacific, he crawled through hundreds of yards of pipes and engines and grease until he found the broken piece. Then he spent three straight days machining the replacement out of a block of steel on a lathe.

He saw the original flag-raising on Iwo Jima. He stood in the devastation that was Nagasaki only weeks after its destruction and had dinner with a Japanese family.

A few years after the war he moved to Pittsburgh with his family and became Porter Perkins from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

He designed and built the beautiful grandmother clocks in our house. After retirement he built his own house on Dauphin Island in Alabama, a gorgeous three-story wooden house on stilts.

He wrote and self-published two books. One was a memoir of his time in the war called A Bilge's Eye View; the other, A Vertical Slice of America, something of a cultural history.

He traced our family history back to Henry Perkins, who sailed to America in the 1630s. Henry Porter, my grandfather, was the 11th generation of his family in America, and I am the 13th. I am Mark Porter Perkins.


I have relocated and renamed my blog for a variety of reasons. For one thing, LiveJournal makes me feel like a tween. The design options are enormously limited. Though I am clueless about such things, there were a few small things I wished to tweak and could not. I can also link my Google identity to my blog, which has a nice unified feel to it.

I cannot migrate my old posts and comments here right now. There are a few programs for doing so, but it seems that LJ changed their code earlier this year which has screwed with all those programs, and no one is updating them. I hope in the future to move the five years of posts at LJ here, but for now you'll have to swing back to the old blog for those posts.

I chose the name Porter Perkins in part because it links me to my family history in a way my first name does not. Additionally, finding a markperkins.anything domain is impossible, whereas porterperkins is always available.

I shifted, you'll notice, the title of my LiveJournal to the subtitle here. It is, as I have said, from Willa Cather's My √Āntonia, a great book.

So here I am. I will probably tweak some minor design issues over the next few months, and I will probably be posting here a little more infrequently as graduate school begins. Thanks for reading.


'It makes me homesick, Jimmy, this flower, this smell,' she said softly. 'We have this flower very much at home, in the old country. It always grew in our yard and my papa had a green bench and a table under the bushes. In summer, when they were in bloom, he used to sit there with his friend that played the trombone. When I was little I used to go down there to hear them talk--beautiful talk, like what I never hear in this country.'

'What did they talk about,' I asked her.

She sighed and shook her head. 'Oh I don't know! About music, and the woods, and about God, and when they were young.'