My recent travels and an article in the newspaper about a court trial generated some memories about a special friend and his pride and joy. i have told at least one, if not all of these stories before, but they have been lost with the great website provider crash a couple of years ago. Regardless, i love them and will tell them again and again. Earl Major was a special person in my life.
John Sweatt, Earl Major, and i are the only career Naval officers i know who were in our generation from Lebanon, Tennessee.
John was my mentor/protector/coach at Castle Heights and later gave me perspective in my grind of Officer Candidate School in Newport, Rhode Island. He remains a hero to me.
Earl was six months and one school year ahead of me at McClain Elementary and Castle Heights. We played ball together, baseball and football. We shared counselor roles at Tennessee Boy’s State. He and i were best friends until he went to Auburn on an NROTC scholarship and i went to Vanderbilt on the same scholarship. Earl carried it through to graduation. i found a different route, therefore welcoming John’s time and support at OCS.
But after Earl left for Auburn in 1961, he and i didn’t even communicate until 1973. When i reported to Destroyer School for department head training in Newport, Rhode Island. Earl was also there for the same course. We reconnected big time. He and my wife at the time and i became a trio of fast friends. This led to the first Porsche story.
Earl was a single lieutenant commander. Now having experience of that position, i know it is one of the best in the world. Bachelor Earl arrived in Newport in a 1967 Porsche 911. It was a dull orange and one incredible car:
Near the end of the six months of Destroyer School, the command put on a graduation ball. It was a big thing. The event was held in the “Marble House,” the other Vanderbilt mansion besides the famous Breakers. My wife purchased an evening gown and i checked out my dinner dress whites. Then Earl and i talked.
“I don’t have a date for the ball,” he said.
i marveled. Newport was famous for meeting women. i had met one of the most wonderful women in my life when i met Kathy McMahon, now Klosterman. The Tavern, Hurley’s, and a couple of other places were great meeting places. But i sensed Earl wasn’t too keen on the ball, so i just mumbled something about being sorry.
“Oh, no,” he said, “I’m fine with that. In fact, the reason I was calling is I am going to New London. They have a scrap yard there with old liberty ship hatch covers. I’m going to get one and refinish it for a coffee table.”
“Wow,” i responded, “What a great idea.”
Then Earl admitted “I’m calling because a hatch cover won’t fit in my Porsche. I was wondering if we could swap cars for the weekend. You could have the Porsche to go to the ball and I could take your wagon to New London. I’ll get you a hatch cover for $25 and we’ll call it even.”
Hmm, let’s see. i loan Earl my 1970 Toyota Corona station wagon and get a liberty ship hatch cover, and get to take my wife to a formal dance in Porsche 911.
“Okay,” i agreed.
Being very fond of his Porsche, Earl offers to drive to our Navy housing at Fort Adams on Saturday morning and proposes we trade cars there and drive across town to the Navy base to be sure we are okay with my driving the Porsche and Earl driving the station wagon. Good idea, especially if you are the owner of the Porsche.
Saturday morning, Earl arrived at our housing unit as promised. We swapped keys and agreed to meet at the base exchange. As we walked to each other’s cars, Earl advised, “Remember, you should always keep the RPM over 3000.” He forgot to clarify that requirement as for being on the highway.
Earl jumped into the Corona and took off. i got into the Porsche feeling like a Le Mans racer, opened up the roof panel, and started after Earl.
Now the route from Fort Adams to the Naval Base takes you through the heart of Newport, the centuries old town with narrow streets. i dutifully tried to keep the RPM over 3000, shifting continuously and scaring the hell out of at least two dozen New England drivers. i nearly wrecked the Porsche and killed myself on at least a half dozen occasions through the narrow streets for about five miles, vroom, vroom all the way. i finally gave up figuring the Porsche was not worth my life.
When i reached the exchange, Earl asked me if the car drove all right. i told him of my experience. He apologized, telling me about the 3000 RPM limit being for highway driving.
All else was a success. The liberty ship hatch cover has undergone a bunch of transitions and is now Maureen’s work table in our front room, holding a sewing machine and serving as a platform for Maureen’s textile art projects. i think about Earl every time i pass that room.
The Porsche 911 was beautiful car. And Earl was a beautiful human being.