Monthly Archives: February 2016

A Pocket of Resistance: Uninhibited Elation

i had promised i was going to see my nephew’s identical 5-month old twin boys before i left Signal Mountain. i saw their four-year old sister Allie on her birthday at Happy’s house.

TOD_farm
The Duff Estate

This afternoon, i drove out in the glorious winter sunshine past the town of Signal Mountain to Walden, a town on the eastern border of Signal Mountain on what i call the back way down down the mountain to Dunlap. Tommy and Abby Duff have a small farm on Corral Road in a mix of old farmland and new development. i wove around the road and, of course, passed their house, requiring a u-turn.

Tommy opened the door and ushered me in to meet Allie, who hugged my knees until i hugged her back. I also gave their older daughter Olivia a hug. Then i looked down on the floor to look intently at Max and Culley Duff, my grand nephews, or whatever the correct term is for the grandsons of my sister.

max-culley
From Tommy’s Facebook post.

Max and Culley were beautiful infants when we were here for Christmas. But now, they are enchanters, personalities developing, sitting up, getting ready to stand up, then walk, then rule the world. Now, they are content to hold each other’s hand, which in itself could capture your heart.

i held Max for a while. He laughed and pulled at my mustache. Then Tommy brought over Culley, and i had one on each knee. Tommy took photos. In most, Allie is at my side.

 

And here they are:

boys-1 (1)
Just the four of us: Max, the goofy old guy, Culley, and Allie

 

boys-2
Max: Who is this goofy looking old bald guy?
IMG_0526
Max: I didn’t think it was that funny. Culley: You have to remember he’s Crazy Uncle Jim

 

boys-4
Culley: Can we hold hands? There was a moment not captured when the two of them had their hands wrapped around my thumb.

 

boys-7
Culley: I’m trying to avoid this crazy dude. Max: Daddy, is this nut really our great uncle?

 

boys-8
Max: You are kidding, right? Right? Culley: He’s really not too bad, Dad.
boys-9
Culley: Do you really think we could take him out? Max; You go low and i’ll go high. We’ve got him.

A Pocket of Resistance: Going home soon

It is late Friday morning. In the early part, there was a trace of snow on the rooves (old secondary spelling: therefore, i will use it since it’s a lot like me).  It’s gone now.

In the past day and a half, we’ve had bits of sunshine, clouds, cold, high winds, rain, sleet, snow, and now real sunshine. For the rest of my visit, we had one day of almost all sunshine, another total of ten minutes, cloud cover, and rain and sleet.

friday-office-2So this morning as my sister rests and my brother-in-law runs errands, i chose this spot as my office for the day. The firewood stack is outside one window. A lone hemlock is prominent looking out the other window. Both windows let the sunlight filter through the pines, bare gray oaks except for green moss and vines.

There is a sense of peace, dignity. It’s a thinking corner, someplace to contemplate, someplace to write.

Martha and Todd Duff have a beautiful home. It feels good to know she will be able to enjoy it fully, not soon, but fully. That and sitting by these corner windows thinking about 70 years together with my sister makes my presence here worthwhile.

A Pocket of Resistance: King of the Cowboys

On Facebook today, Christine Ransom Phillips posted a photo of Roy Rogers and Trigger in their prime. I shared the post with some of my fond memories, and the responses have been nearly all favorable with one exception.

But i have a shared memory that will go a long way to show what kind of man Roy Rogers, nee Leonard Franklin Slye, really was.

This memory was the legendary JD Waits’ story he told to Maureen, my mother and father, and me at our home in the early 1990’s when JD brought over his wife, Mary Lou, and his mother, Wanda Pearl for dinner.

Wanda Pearl, in her early 80’s, adored Roy Rogers for as long as JD could remember. So when she came to visit JD and Mary Lou from her home in Houston, JD thought she would be pleased to visit Roy’s Museum in Apple Valley. She was.

RoyRogersperformingKBFAs the two arrived as the museum opened, no one else was there. But as they entered, there was Roy in full cowboy regalia. He gave Wanda Pearl a personal tour of the museum with JD tagging along behind. After the lengthy tour, the three of them walked outside.

As they were getting ready to leave, Wanda Pearl turned to the King of the Cowboys and asked, “Mr. Rogers, would you mind if my son took a picture of you and me together?”

Roy took off his white Stetson and replied, “Why little lady, I would be honored.”

Wanda Pearl still has the framed photo in her home.

JD also turned me onto Roy’s CD, “Roy Roger’s Tribute,” a collection of Roy’s hits song solo, with Dale, or the Son’s of the Pioneers. Roy sings with a bunch of country music stars, and his son has a tribute song. Naturally, the last song is Roy and Dale singing “Happy Trails.”

i listen to it a lot. Sarah and I during her middle school and high school years would put in the car CD player and sing along until we reached our destination. If you have never heard it, you should at least listen to the songs.

A Pocket of Resistance: Bridge Watches on a Destroyer, circa 1969

The opening, in green, was written last night with the expectation of concluding this post then. But the day caught up with me and finished with my edit only half-way through. My sister continues to improve. But there is a long road ahead, and it is raining again tonight. i reread the poem.

It is dark, with rain outside. i lie back in a recliner, my sister’s in her family room. i need to be near in case she needs someone in the middle of the night. The day was not harrowing, but it was tense and difficult in many ways. i should be sleeping. Tomorrow is the day we will have a good inkling of what is to follow. Right now, it is just a guess. Just a guess.

But i’m not sleeping. i need to rest my anxious mind. i often do so by remembering being on the sea for amidst the chaos of watch standing, administrative duties, doing the other jobs, going to sea was always calming for me. Three hundred souls wrapped in floating metal riding on the sea.

So tonight, i found a version of what i wrote about watches. i’m not even sure if this the current version. One or two versions have been published here before.

But i read it, and i found solace, calmness, remembering the sea and living away from the rest of the world.

Bridge Watches on a Destroyer, circa 1969

I. Sea Detail:

engineers man their stations
in the bowels of the tin can
hours before sea detail is set
with the sun arising
while
wisps of vapor mist off the harbor waters;
the bridge is manned,
while
the OOD begins his check-off list
while
captain and the xo huddle in the wardroom
over coffee, small talk
as if getting underway is no big deal
while
the boatswainmates
shinny up the six crisscrossed mooring lines
removing the rat guards
and
remove the dressing off the lines
(not ropes, you landlubbers: lines)
while
first division forward and third division aft
unrig the bird nests around the bollards
while
the bridge is manned in white sparkling purity
with dixie cups and garrison caps,
enlisted wearing black oxfords
while
the officers and chiefs gleam noble white
down to their toes
while
the boatswainmate’s pipe hits the high note
before he passes the word
over the 1mc;
while
the women and children stand on the pier
while
shore steam and phone lines are secured
while
the public affairs officers and the brass,
act like they are responsible
while
the boys on board get the work done
while
the pier master from port ops
hustles about with
line handlers from the other ships\
standby to let go
when it’s time to get underway;
springing on line three,
slacking four, five, six,
port ahead slow
until
the bow nudges toward the pier
and
the stern swings out
and
the conning officer
with deft touch
at the right moment
backs all engines
and
the order is received
to let go all lines
when the last line;
falls from the dutch bollard
to the water;
one prolonged blast for underway,
three short blasts for backing down,
the pipe again
and
“shift colors”
and
“underway”
while
the ship backs into the channel,
swinging the bow
to stand out
while
the women cry
and
the brass walk away
and
the ship is underway;
standing out the channel,
sailor men all in a row
on the forecastle
and
fantail:
dress whites with dixie cups,
impressive in their splendor
while
the men on the bridge
take the bearings on navigation points,
receive the radar fixes from combat,
plot the track and report:
“navigator holds us on track,
fifty yards from center of channel;
nearest shoal water
six hundred yards from port beam”
while
the bridge watch stands
taut and erect,
ready to respond to helm and lee helm orders,
while
the boatswainmate of the watch
makes his pipe sing
before passing the word
while
the conning officer shoots the range
nervously checking over his shoulder,
making small degree course changes
for the helmsman to steer
while
the captain stands behind
the conning officer’s right shoulder,
confidently checking
while
the xo, the navigator bends over his chart,
or
in less tense moments
checks the formations
on the forecastle and fantail
for correctness
until
the sea buoy is cleared
and
the boatswain pipe shrills
its song again
and
the word is passed:
“Secure sea detail;
set the normal underway watch.”

 

II. Midwatch (0000-0400)

the thin steward in his official white frock
timidly whispers,
then murmurs almost fearfully,
“get up, get up, sir; midwatch;
time to relieve the midwatch;”
the oncoming OOD
can see the steward beyond the flashlight’s red rays,
and
is pretty sure the Filipino is grinning at the thought
of waking him from a sound sleep
and
will grin again when he makes up
the rack in the morning,
before turning it into a sofa
by lifting it up into the bulkhead.
before departing the stateroom –
they, these stewards, are careful
in awaking the oncoming watch
since one once rustled the shoulder of a burly lieutenant,
catching a foot in the temple
from the violent awakening –
so the OOD struggles to rise
with the ship rolling:
“’bout ten degrees, steady,” he thinks,
knowing it’s a good sea
for the midwatch;
the red lighting for darken ship
casts eerie shadows
as he lift his legs into watch khakis,
fumbles with the shirt buttons,
splashes his face with cold water
from the stateroom sink before
unsteadily lurching from after officers quarters,
to head forward,
up the narrow passageway, dimly lit red,
to the wardroom;
the speckled gray-haired xo and the hulking, bald captain
sit in their appointed places of rank
as they do nightly at twenty-three fifteen,
to relish mid-rats:
midnight rations which might be
soup from the noon mess
or
stew from the evening mess;
or
perhaps tonight,
tomato soup with a grilled cheese sandwich,
the oncoming OOD leaves them waiting for the off-going watch
before they all hit the rack
while
the new OOD stands alert, semi-comatose on the bridge,
binoculars hanging by a halyard from his neck,
olive green foul weather jacket keeping him warm:
in control for four hours
of pretty much nothing
unless
there is sea traffic mucking up his quiet time
or
bad weather in an open sea with no evening stars

III. Morning Watch (0400-0800)

one sleeps hard in the middle of the night
until the messenger taps upon the metal rack
and says,
“morning watch relief, sir,”
and
the junior officer rustles awake,
jumps into his khakis
before taking a leak
in the red-light washed head
to stumble down the passageway,
up the ladder
for the short three-hour watch
and
relieve the OOD
and
take the conn:
steady course, steady speed;
no contacts
because the battle group
is calm
before the flag
arrives upon his bridge
after a substantial breakfast
to kick things into gear
with exercises and formation changes,
but now,
the OOD
hangs across the bulwark
of the starboard wing
to the aroma of pancakes, eggs, bacon, coffee
wafting up from the galley below
until
the murmur of first light
suffuses the night
and
yields to the coming dawn’s
pink glow on the eastern horizon
until
the reliefs show up
after a quick breakfast
and
the relieved dash to the wardroom
for a late breakfast:
a draining watch
which will catch up around
ten hundred hours
and
the junior officer will struggle to make it
to the midday mess
where he will hit his rack
to recoup.

IV. Forenoon Watch (0800-1200)

the gray ships scattered precisely on the deep blue green.
tinny radio commands
accompanied by signal flags hoisted
half-mast for understanding,
two-blocked for receiving and understanding,
hauled down for execution,
while the extra signalmen
stand tall on the signal bridge
with white dixie cups
at a jaunty tilt atop their heads ,
converse with their counterparts
on the ships close by in semaphore
and
combat and the JO’s scamper to find their maneuvering boards,
fourteen-inch squares of paper pads
with a paper-wide circle with spokes extending
to use their compasses and parallel rules
to calculate course to station
and
the OOD takes the conn
and
relays to the lee helmsman
to kick up the speed to twenty knots;
right standard rudder to three  one five
and
the wake spume aft, a highway of white
to the horizon of the blue-black sea
and
the other ships appear pell mell
in some macabre dance of destroyers
heading to station;
when there,
the OOD barks
left standard rudder to two two zero;
all ahead standard, turns for 15 knots;
and
the helmsman obeys
and
the lee helmsman sends the speed
with the engine order telegraph
to the watch standers
in main control in the bowels of the engineering spaces below
and
the ship falls into station
like a horse reined into a trot;
and
the OOD checks his position
and
smile if he was no more than 100 yards off.

 

V. Afternoon Watch (1200-1600)

in relieving the watch it seems
the day has slowed down;
the captain and xo take their chairs, starboard and port respectively
and
the OOD, knows the xo will soon tilt his head back and sleep
and
the captain will talk of small things or perhaps career decisions
until
combat reports a contact zero four zero, ten miles,
on course two seven zero
and
the OOD begins to watch when the starboard lookout reports
contact 084 relative, hull down
and
the OOD spies it also
and
he knows it will pass close astern if you both
retain course and speed
and
the OOD knows he is “privileged”
and
he knows these Mediterranean merchants will
do what they please,
so
he watches with caution
knowing he is obligated to maneuver
to avoid a collision
and
the proper thing to do is slow
turn to starboard
to pass astern
and
he slows, turns starboard to pass astern
by a large margin
and
the captain says,
“good job.”

 

VI. First Dog (1600-1800)

16-18 they call it now,
the oncoming watch, officers and men,
knocked off the working day early
changed into clean khakis and dungarees
and
head to the bridge
for the short watch.
quiet time; the sea seems to cooperate
even though grey is becoming the tint before sunset:\
the navigator may have problems shooting evening stars.
before the meal time
cutting the work day short,
but making it longer
with the two hours on the bridge,
usually quiet as the other ships
are knocking off, relaxing
before the evening meal on the mess decks
and
in the wardroom.

VII. Second Dog (1800-2000)

the second dog watch,
or
what the new-fangled sailors
have come to call eighteen-to-twenty,
climb up the ladders
to the bridge from the quick evening mess;
after all, the off-going watch needs a hot meal
and
while relieving the watch,
shades of gray:
no blue, no brightness of the sun,
gray ship on a gray sea
with a gray horizon under gray clouds
define your world
and
the OOD settles into what should be a quiet two hours
on the port bridge wing, arms akimbo,
one draped around
the gyro-compass repeater:
staring abeam at the dull, fleckless sea
to the horizon, lines of gray variation;
feeling the wind stir,
watching the low dark clouds
looming close to the sea;
the sea itself stirring:
wavelets forming with
white beginning to
flick at the top
when
on the horizon,
the low cloud projects a finger down
while the sea responds
with a finger  pointing up,
all a swirling, growing,
until they touch,
until the sea and sky join
in a water spout;
until the gray
becomes an ominous seascape,
a water spout;
yet the bridge watch is not perturbed
standing on the port bridge wing
as the storm rushes past
on the  horizon.

VIII. Evening Watch (2000-2400)

as the watch relieves,
the carrier prepares for flight ops
and
the destroyer is ordered to lifeguard station
five hundred yards dead astern
in the wake of the ugly thing with flat decks
and
the motor whale boat is swung out on its davits
manned with the rescue team;
although it could be no problem with a good wind;
any wise OOD knows it is dicey
steaming dead behind that behemoth
that doesn’t understand superheat
or
alerting the lifeguard destroyer what happens next
and
sure as shit, just as the watch settles in
without the required signal,
the carrier starts a turn to port
and then
announces a new course one eight five degrees to port
from the current course
and increasing speed from five knots to  twenty-five
and
the OOD calls the captain who is watching
Roy Rogers, the evening movie in the wardroom,
on the sound powered phone
while he’s telling main control they need superheat
and
ordering the helmsman “left standard rudder”
and
the lee helmsman “all head full”
and
he’s so relieved he got it all right
except for the swinging of the motor whaleboat in the davits
with the lifeguard team on board
except the carrier
with the aviator trying to qualify as flight ops OOD
begins a turn back to starboard one nine zero degrees
and
slowing to five knots
and
the OOD calls the captain again
and
warns main control of the slowing,
promising to fish tail the ship
while the engineers come out of superheat
and
finally,
the carrier steadies up
and
the OOD and the bridge watch
watch the aircraft pass directly over them
to catch the tailhook
and
none take a dive in the drink
until
flight ops are secured at 2200
and the watch can wait for their reliefs,
partake of midrats
and
hit the rack.

A Pocket of Resistance: Why?

Entering the second week and a new phase of my sister’s recovery, it has been a hectic time: eight to twelve hours in a hospital room each day, chasing down doctors, nurses, and techs; now getting the home ready for Martha’s return, and various and sundry other errands.

Being an old mariner, coffee participated along with me. The hospital cafeteria serves Starbucks. i am not a Starbucks fan. The coffee i have in their shops is bitter, and i don’t drink the foo foo stuff. i must confess the Starbucks coffee in this cafeteria wasn’t bitter.

For me, coffee is meant to be black, nothing added. i also find independent coffee shops to be the best. i like the atmosphere and the people. My favorite is Donny’s Cafe. Beginning as a rolling kiosk outside a bike shop on the way to work years ago, it has grown into a small diner attached to the bike shop. Donny, a former professional bike racer in Spain, is one of the nicest people i’ve ever met. He is also a terrific philosopher.

But i digress (surprise, surprise). The point was to be: i drink a lot of coffee, not as much as i used to drink on ships, but still a lot. The “lot” grew with this assignment. i have visited the cafeteria many times.

My coffee trips have produced a puzzlement. On most of my trips, the cashier punched the magic buttons and i paid $1.85. But on the third or fourth cup, the amount went to $2.25, same cup size, same coffee, forty cents price difference. i paid the new amount and said nothing.

i figured inflation.

The next trip the price returned to $1.85. i was puzzled but happy. i liked the coffee more when it forty cents cheaper.

After several more trips, i went back the next day, and i was charged $1.75. “Certainly getting better,” i thought.

And the next trip? Back to most frequent $1.85.

This morning, i arrived early. Martha is scheduled to get out of the hospital today, and i wanted to be there early to get as much information as possible on the requirements once we get her home.

i stopped at the cafeteria, got my coffee. The tally was $2.27.

i already had decided i would just pay and not ask questions, figuring i might get a cashier or two in trouble. i have no idea how they rang up different four different prices for the same cup of coffee. Don’t want to know.

i’m just glad i will be making coffee at Martha’s house for a few more days.

A Pocket of Resistance: Darkness in the White Snow

i am sitting in Room 205 at the CHI Parkridge Memorial Hospital. My sister Martha dozes in her hospital bed next to me. The Chattanooga day is damp and cloudy with rain on its way in the afternoon. But it is not quite as cold as when i arrived, and my sister’s condition is improving.

i should be writing my Tuesday column as the deadline is tomorrow morning. But i was doing an internet search to get background for the column item when my fat fingers hit the wrong key and one of my poems from several years ago popped up.

Two thoughts occurred to me. One, i am very glad our technology has given us GPS for travel directions. It has made my driving less stressful and getting me to a lot of places on time when without it, i would have been woefully late or completely failing to arrive. But i sort of miss the crazy routes and by-ways i no longer see because my errant turns have been eliminated, errant turns that led to discovery of places i liked. Two, my errant travel has been replaced by errant wanderings around the internet and my computer, usually caused by fat fingers hitting the wrong key, taking me to places i have not been in a while, like this poem.

Of course, i re-read my poem, if it is okay to call it that — i’ve never really considered myself a poet, but i just can’t narrow down a genre that fits: free verse?  i am, by far, my best and worse critic. i hope you enjoy it:

Darkness in the White Snow

in amongst the revelers, experts of the slopes
the old man found himself alone
in powder the first day after the night storm:
family had departed for duties;
the friend to join him had demurred:
the old man was alone
in white white.
He drudged through day one alone,
fighting through the powder,
feeling the muscles ache,
stiffened by age;
no running through the hills or
on the beach;
he left the slopes early,
taking a nap;
rested, he visited an old haunt:
like the newspaper man he was at heart,
returning to a bar
just like the old days
except there was no newspaper;
the stories were his, not reports for newsprint,
shared
with the old gent tossing down old fashions with the best of them.
day two, on the second run downhill,
the old man decided
to cut his trip short,
dedicating the day to old times:
he hit the slopes early:
perfect.
He rode to the top;
skied, skied
even better than he could remember:
he had always hit the slopes
like a linebacker,
but
this day he conquered the longest runs,
flowing gracefully down the gradient
on newly groomed slopes of elegance
of white on white
until age caught up
and
he fell ingloriously,
rolling erratically down the slope.
picking himself up, he thought:
“time to go,” and he went;
packing, he decided to have one last brew
at a local bar across the street
sitting there, he reveled in aloneness,
before he caught the van
to the cavernous airport,
much like the old bus depots
he had spent waiting in his youth;
SLC the code called it;
and
he caught the plane,
leaving aloneness behind him:
Time had stopped in his aloneness;
he wandered around in his mind
as he moved
down the slope,
onto the barstool,
into the terminal,
onto the plane;
he dreamed of her, a reality,
but
something he could not touch;
when he saw her in his dream,
he saw the past,
even while swishing down the slopes,
he would feel the old dog with him,
the ports of call,
the realities of ships at sea
a long, long time ago
and
they all seemed to fit
with the image of his muse,
which he had long abandoned
for cynicism.
on the plane ride back,
he looked out the small port
at the black sky,
realizing
she had been there
in his mind,
and
would likely be there for a long time,
someone he could not touch,
could not have
except
as old men have young friends,
and
he wondered
if he could be good for her,
which
he realized
was probably all that really mattered.

 

A Pocket of Resistance: wild horse

wild horse

he roared up from the heart of the South
with a vengeance unsheathed,
spitting fire and brimstone
drinking hard, playing hard, living hard
with a lust for living, loving, and women;
he had come out of decorum, religion, and ethics
to go to sea
and
it all went away;
he did not distinguish from good and bad,
just grabbed what was there
and
reveled in what he had,
what they had
when he was part of a they.
he was just him
not out to hurt anyone,
coming a’roaring from the heart of the South
with a vengeance unsheathed,
spitting fire and brimstone
drinking hard, playing hard, living hard
with a lust for living, loving, and women
and
the sea life turned him
into a vagabond, a gadabout,
jumping from ship to ship,
sea to sea,
liberty to liberty
working hard, playing hard, living hard

and

then the years rolled by
diminishing
his roaring from the heart of the South
with a vengeance unsheathed,
spitting fire and brimstone
drinking hard, playing hard, living hard
with a lust for living, loving, and women

until finally

he left the sea,
settling down, more or less
with no more roaring from the South,
no vengeance unsheathed,
no spitting of fire and brimstone,
drinking socially, playing for fun,
the lusts of his life dimming, dimming,
giving some thought to
decorum, religion, and ethics
he had been taught growing up;

and

he became an old gentleman of the South
who could not return home
because he had learned too much,
but
turning into a raconteur,
telling his stories to all who would listen
about
his roaring from the heart of the South
with a vengeance unsheathed,
spitting fire and brimstone
drinking hard, playing hard, living hard
with a lust for living, loving, and women

and

the listeners just smiled politely,
pretending to listen.

A Pocket of Resistance: Good Ship Gone

Tonight, i participated in some email banter about a super bowl pool. i commented on my pick of number 19, the hull number of my last ship, the USS Yosemite (AD 19). One of the emailers asked if it was still afloat. In my response, i included the below, written when i learned of Yoyo’s demise in 2003, with my answer in the negative. i was not thrilled to get orders to her in 1983, but she was one of the best ships i had of the eleven at-sea assignments. From 2003:

USS_Yosemite_AD-19_1988

Yosemite: Good Ship Gone

The news came, as expected, from the Commanding Officer, a man who has Navy blue for blood in his veins. I did not call him “CO” or the aviator term “skipper” – he would have chopped off my head with that insult. I called him “Captain.” Without fail. I now call him Frank and a friend.

The USS Yosemite (AD 19), destroyer tender par excellence is gone.

The Navy radio message, the means of communicating throughout my Navy career, was the bearer of the news, forwarded by the Commanding Officer in the new mode of communication: e-mail.

The message subject was “SINKEX,” as in gone. That means she was sunk as a target in a Naval exercise. Since the message came from a destroyer squadron commander, I hope it was a surface ship that shot her down.

And I mean down. Two thousand, three hundred, and forty fathoms. That’s about 14,040 feet. Deep.

It is right that she went down that way, and hopefully it was shells from a gun mount, not a missile, but I suspect the latter sang the final hymn, read the final prayer for the good ship Yosemite.

Sailors use the feminine gender to describe ships. There is probably some politically correct group out there trying to neuter the tradition. That it is sad because Yosemite and the other ships I served on were true ladies of the sea, elegant, practical and fearsome in their different ways. I loved all of those that carried me as part of their wardrooms.

Yosemite was special. I confess I had to learn to love her. I went to her to serve as executive officer in 1983 for the sole purpose of attaining the necessary qualifications to screen for command at sea. I did not like tenders: they did not go to sea enough. They did not land amphibious troops and equipment; they did not fire guns and missiles; they did not hunt submarines. They did not scream around at twenty-seven knots with the spume of a rooster-tail off the stern and the wake as wide as a four-lane highway extending to the horizon. They did not belch landing craft out of the stern of a well deck in rolling seas.

But Yosemite had been there when I first met the Navy in 1963. She was the flagship of Cruiser Destroyer Force, Atlantic Fleet, tied up at Pier One in Newport, Rhode Island. I was a midshipman on my way out of NROTC because I didn’t have good study habits nor good sense at nineteen. She seemed massive and imperturbable as I walked passed on my way to my destroyer and an eight-week cruise.

She was in Newport when I came back from deployment on my first ship after being commissioned from OCS in 1968. Her deserved reputation was such that we would figure out ways to get our repair work to her, rather than to take it to our “parent” tender.

And she was my last ship, the penultimate tour for me and the penultimate step toward my never achieved goal of command.

She could wheeze out fourteen knots with her four hundred pound boilers, but we steamed at ten knots most of the time. The fact sheet lists her top speed as nineteen knots but that was several tons and numerous years before I became her “XO.”

She steamed like a champion for my tour. We deployed for seven and a half months just a month after I reported aboard. She was the first ship with women as part of the crew who spent extended periods out of port (Most before had transited from port to port and provided repair and maintenance services pier side or moored). She provided repair availabilities for destroyers and cruisers while anchored off Masirah, Oman, and she accomplished in four days what normally took two weeks back in the states. She did that for fifty-five days, took a break and then did it again for forty-five days. She had a crew of 900, including 106 women, and a wardroom of 44, six of whom were female, and gave me a completely different perspective of women at sea: the Captain said it best when he announced, “We don’t have women on this ship. We don’t have men on this ship. We have sailors on this ship and we are going to operate that way.”

She was given a letter of commendation for being a member of the Indian Ocean Battle Group, an unheard of honor for a repair ship.

She steamed as a member of the orange force in a Caribbean exercise, something tenders do not normally do.

She was in the middle of the eye of a developing hurricane, eventually escaping to the northeast before the winds and seas reached full hurricane strength.

She was proclaimed the best repair organization in the Atlantic Fleet.

Her crew was an amalgamation of old sailors, repair personnel who had seldom spent any time at sea, and young wide-eyed men and women, learning how to be sailors. The first lieutenant was the best boatswainmate I knew in twenty years, even though he had outgrown the title. The doc was so new he didn’t know how to salute or how to dress in Navy uniforms. He has become the godfather of my daughter and one of my closest friends. And there was this special woman, the operations officer, a lieutenant, who was one of the best officers with whom I served. And there were many others who had an impact on my life.

She was commissioned in 1944, the year I was born. She was decommissioned in 1994.

It is fitting that she went down the way she did. She spent her life supporting the fleet. She was sunk supporting the fleet, providing one last service.

And she and Davy Jones will sleep well together.

A Pocket of Resistance: Ghost Story

once upon a time, in a place far away, a time long ago,
us’n boys were old enough to drink beer
after obtaining it illegally from the store man way out in the country,
and
pee on the side of the roads with the cigarettes we couldn’t smoke at home
hanging out the sides of our mouths:
oh, we thought we were grown up
but
young enough to still believe in ghosts
or
at least some of us still believed,
and
there was a run-down log shack out on Hickory Ridge Road,
on the corner of a rock road they now call Crowell’s Lane
and
the baseball players were goofing around in a 1953 sludge green Studebaker,
when they decided to mess with George:
they told him the shack was haunted by the black man who died there

but they were young and in the South in 1959;
so it ain’t likely they said “black man”
but, as i recall we did use the proper term of “negro,”
not the now infamous slur

and
they dared George to go into the shack to check it out;
not knowing the plot, i felt sorry for George,
and
volunteered to go with him into the haunted shack,
so,
like the dunce that i am,
i asked him if he would like me to go with him;
somewhat frightened it seemed to me, he agreed
while my buddies urged me to let him go it alone;
i did not
and
when we crossed the threshold of the log hut,
the old Studebaker peeled out, gravel flying,
and
George and i were alone in the country, sitting on the threshold of a ghost shack:

a half century later, i do not recall the meat of our conversation,
but
i remember after the boys returned in an hour or so laughing as they picked us up
and
i realized George was a great guy
and
i learned more about him than i would have ever known
had i not joined him in the dare to enter
the ghost shack.