Leilani Henry – special peek into her father George W. Gibbs, Jr’s journals, Easter 1940 Admiral Byrd’s III Antarctic Expedition

by Carol Devine on April 20, 2014

Leilani Henry is The Antarctic Book of Cooking and Cleaning’s second guest blogger. We’re lucky to get this window into an early Antarctic expedition’s little-known history through her father’s unique story.  Leilani contacted the ABCC shortly after the book came out, she was researching her own Antarctic book. It was a terrific surprise to learn her father George W. Gibbs, Jr. was a mess attendant for Admiral Byrd’s III Antarctica expedition (1939-1941). Leilani transports us into this remarkable man’s journals and to a special Easter meal she made that connected her to his culinary history. A fantastic part of this book project has been meeting individuals such as Leilani and previous guest blogger David Mantripp. We have the fortune to visit and further weave this beautiful tapestry of Antarctic history, shared humanity and stories of trailblazers such as Leilani’s father. He was the first person of his race, in the world, to step on the continent of Antarctica.

An entry from the diary of George W. Gibbs, Jr. from Leilani’s book.

March 24, 1940 Homeward bound via Punta Arenas
Today is Easter Sunday 1940 and the sea is terribly rough.  This morning is so rough until the cooks had to put out boiled eggs for breakfast.  Lat. 58°54.3 South, long. 74°43.3′ West. Then came lunch we had deviled eggs and sandwiches.  This is one Easter we ate eggs because we couldn’t get any thing else not because it’s Easter.  Last Easter, this time, I was en route home after four months in Cuba fleet aboard the U.S.S. Philadelphia.  This Easter returning home after four months in the frozen Antarctic continent.  Tonight is much better at sea and also very beautiful.  We had one square meal today.

by Leilani Henry

Who wants kitchen duty? Not me. Rarely does it capture my attention. In Girl Scouts, you rotate duties while camping.  Everyone gets a chance to prep, cook and clean.  During some yoga retreats, it’s a privilege to be in the kitchen.  It’s a practice of becoming well-rounded and willing to serve.  Even in the spirit of personal development, I find being in the kitchen a challenge.

Leilani giving a presentation on her Antarctic trip to George W. Gibbs, Jr. Elementary School in Rochester, MN 2012 courtesy of Leilani Henry

If there is any way to trade out culinary tasks, I trade.  And I’m not alone.  Many scientists look down on kitchen duty. They wish to focus on their all-important scientific work. They are happy to do other tasks and prefer to avoid cooking and cleaning. I know the feeling. The truth is, someone has to do it.  It’s wonderful if those in the kitchen enjoy it.  They may even give it meaning. Wendy and Carol eloquently do this in the The Antarctic Book of Cooking and Cleaning.  Their weaving of story, recipes and  pictures inspire me.

My father gave it meaning, too.  As a 3rd class mess attendant, George W. Gibbs Jr., served in the galley for the United States Antarctic Service Expedition, 1939-41. He sailed with Admiral Richard E. Byrd on the U.S.S. Bear. He prepared, cooked and served food to the 80-person crew aboard the legendary 68 year old wooden ship.

It’s early in the year, 1939. President Franklin D. Roosevelt asks Admiral Byrd to lead a U.S. expedition to the South Pole. The USASE is a joint expedition with Byrd and the U.S. Navy.  Roosevelt’s orders are to build two bases in Antarctica called Little America III-with an East Base and a West Base.  It’s the first military voyage to the continent in almost 100 years.  Gibbs is selected from 2000 applicants. At 22, he’s in perfect health. His military record shows experience at sea. He has a solid commitment to the mission, and a zeal for service.

GW Gibbs Jr onboard the USS Bear near the galley, courtesy Leilani Henry

The job is tough – repetitive work, long hours on rough seas. Most of the crew are aware that being on this ship is enough to warrant respect and comradeship.  When you do your job well in the galley, you grow in the eyes of your shipmates.  Back in the U.S.A., segregation is alive and well.  So, while George experiences some name calling (for being black), it’s normal for that era. The Navy offers African Americans and Filipinos  jobs only from the lowest ranks, regardless of skill or talent.  Maybe part of my disinterest in the kitchen stems from remnants of the Jim Crow era.

Journal Entry-George W. Gibbs, Jr.

April 18, 1940 En route Valparaiso S.A.  Today we are well on our way and with 2/3 (of our trip) behind us.  We expect to arrive on Sunday April 21.  Tonight finds us still with good weather although she is still rolling.  Oh well this is the Bear.  There are two Naval officers aboard U.S.N. who at times make this cruise very hard for me and if it wasn’t for the Captain aboard here, I would certainly be put ashore on arrival or at least another U.S.N ship.  But for his sake and mother’s, I will try to stick it out, at least until I get home.

In spite of any hardship, George loves this Antarctic adventure.  He’s in search of his right livelihood, his true potential, regardless of his race. His questions about how to contribute his talent to a segregated society, weigh on him.  Regardless, this expedition is a stepping stone for the rest of his life.  After 5 months on the Bear, my father reflects during some time off on how to accomplish his goals.

Journal Entry-George W. Gibbs, Jr.

April 21, 1940 “At the dock Valparaiso, Chile.  We were underway until ten o’clock this morning, and then the Bear came along side the pier in Valparaiso, Chile.  Liberty started after lunch and most everyone went ashore.  Tonight I am staying aboard.  I wrote a couple of letters and listened to some very good American and Chilean music.  I consider what I have done a swell liberty, so good diary and sleep tonight.  A heart to heart talk tonight with a White fellow tonight made me realize I can’t study and work too hard.”

I learn first hand how the men aboard the ship appreciate my father’s work in the kitchen.  Seaman Anthony Wayne, a shipmate who lived until October 6, 2013 at 98 years old, tells me during an interview:  “Your father was good natured. I used to steal sandwiches off a plate he had stacked with food, for the officers.  I was outside and constantly, always hungry. George knew this and never complained when I grabbed one.”

In 1940, Anthony thinks George’s job is cushy because he’s in the kitchen.  From his perspective, working outside with sails and ropes in the cold is the worst job. For the entire six months of sailing, Anthony is only inside to sleep, eat and take short breaks.  He feels George has it easy because his hands get to stay warm.

Everyone has his or her perspective.  According to George, he worked as hard.

Journal Entry-George W. Gibbs, Jr.

December 3, 1939 “Today was another one of those rolling and rocking days.  Water is coming all over the side of the ship.  It is awfully hard for me to write at all tonight.  The dogs are howling as usual, there is so much work to be done aboard on my station, until when I was asked today what was my next move, I didn’t know what to say.”

There is joy in this Antarctic sailing adventure.  The smallest things stand out.

Journal Entry-George W. Gibbs, Jr.

Feb. 3 1940 “En route for magnetic South Pole.  I was up early this morning as usual.  It really has been a very beautiful day with occasional icebergs floating in the ocean like small sailboats, which is really as asset to the Antarctic.  If being a month on here wasn’t so monotonous, I could really appreciate Antarctica.  This morning I awoke thinking it was Saturday, but last night we crossed the 180 meridian and today is Sunday.

Tonight I helped the ships cook make an apple pie and everyone liked it, it was my first since I made one for my girlfriend in Philadelphia.  Ross Island was sighted.”

U.S.S. Bear Navy stock photo from Gibbs files

My father’s writings say little about the actual work of a mess attendant.  I’m curious about his silence around the details. Perhaps he wanted to forget his long, arduous tasks. Maybe writing was a break from hard work;  perhaps a chance to enjoy and reflect on the expedition’s purpose. What does it mean to participate in something that has the support and admiration from much of the world?  How does it feel to be, as Roberta Kanefsky, daughter of a shipmate, observes “the astronauts of their day”?  How do the United States citizens feel about the accomplishments of Admiral Byrd, Officers, Crew and the 40 men who winter over on the Continent?

USASE was one of the most successful trips of its kind and the least documented. The U.S. entered WWII a few months before the Ice party is picked up, in late March 1941.  They only have time to load the men, sail back and be shipped off to military service in the South Seas.  Shackleton’s crew faced a similar reward.  They served in WWI immediately after their epic experiences.

While growing up, I have no idea of my father’s extensive culinary background.  Both my parents are excellent cooks. I love my mother’s Chocolate Bavarian pie and Pistachio Nut Cream Cake.  My father’s egg nog is extraordinary. My mother, Joyce does most of the cooking.  She has visions of them starting a restaurant.  Instead, George falls into a traditional family role, (he’s a generation older than Joyce).  He decides he’s done with kitchen duty.  I’m not clear on what’s behind the family scene, but it takes me my whole life to appreciate the art and attention needed to cook.

On Easter 1993, I prepare my first lamb roast, during my parent’s visit.  It’s a huge hit.  I receive high praise from my father.  He goes on and on for years about the meal.  Even though I know he loves to eat, I still wonder why it stands out for him.  Until my research into his background, I’m clueless that his opinion is from direct experience. He retired from the U. S. Navy after 24 years, as a Chief Petty Officer.  Not only a foodie, but a professionally trained chef.   I now appreciate my father’s praise and my culinary roots. Much to my surprise, Antarctica continues to bring light to life and people in infinite ways.

Leilani Henry is writing a book about her father’s expedition, her own research and visit to this continent, and the changes to the Icy Continent. Her blog is http://j.mp/icetrip.  Please contact her through www.beingandliving.com or LRH@beingandliving.com.

Everybody Eats: International cookbook by Carlin Saunders, age: freshly 15 and wise

by Carol Devine on April 18, 2014

What a terrific surprise to receive a copy of Carlin Saunder’s new cookbook, Everybody Eats. Carlin’s mother actor Sarah Stevens sent us a copy. It’s brilliant.

Foreword
We’re all human beings. We may look different, speak different languages, have different ideas, and live on opposite sides of the planet, but when it comes down to it we’re people, unique but equal people, and it would do us well to always remember that.
There are certain things that draw us together, certain things that happen to everyone no matter where or how they live. We’re all born, we all have family, we all laugh, we all love, we all die, and we all pay taxes some way or another. There’s something else that brings us together, though. Everybody eats.
This cookbook takes foods from all over the globe, and puts all those recipes in a single cookbook. A mere sampling of the planet’s foods, but perhaps enough to get a small taste of everywhere. Perhaps enough to show that we really are not that different, after all. Our food is, though. Carlin Saunders.

by Carlin Saunders

Here’s how the story goes: “Good Morning Carol. The cookbook is for Carlin’s Grade 9 Food and Nutrition course. He has been working on it for many hours over the past two weeks.  It displays his usual humour peppered in his descriptions of the World cuisine. Carlin was intent on curating recipes from each continent, “except Antarctica, of course, as there is no cuisine from there”, he said.  Well, imagine my excitement being able to share with him that we have ties with an author of Antarctic Book of Cooking and Cleaning.  Carlin was very curious as to HOW we know the leader of an Antarctic expedition team…”

Carlin’s recipe global collection includes classic Poutine from Canada and Loso na madesu, a dish of beans and rice from the Congo.

He included a special recipe from The Antarctic Book and Cooking and Cleaning – they’re all special and loving collected, curated, tested and shared by Wendy. I asked Sarah to remind me how old Carlin is, Sarah said it was his fifteenth birthday. Wise, talented young man with a global mind.

And last but not least, his adaptation of Wendy’s Spiced Tea comes as the last page of the book:

From Everybody Eats p 41, Carlin Saunders

Thank you Carlin. We love and share the spirit with which you made this book. Happy 15th and many more.

Carlin Saunders 6'2

ps I wonder anyone ever made Poutine in Antarctica. Well, it is genius. Especially late night. Vive poutine et le monde.

Carlin Saunders Everybody Eats, 2014