All posts by Jim

A Fervent Wish

The front page of our newspaper this morning screamed of the idiot terrorist attack in New York City killing eight yesterday.

That doesn’t make for good breakfast reading.

Seeing the headline, i reinforced one of my wishes/hopes:

i hope every terrorist, every mass killer, every wrong doer just before they are about to die or, like sexual predators, think in that last instance, “i was really, really stupid to do this. Wish i hadn’t.”

i am afraid they won’t, but i still hope.

Ruminating, a Love Poem from a Long Time Ago

Occasionally, i will stumble upon something i filed out of place…no, not occasionally; actually quite often. Sometimes i remember this thing of mine i find. That happens frequently when it’s something i wrote. Sometimes i don’t remember. This one i remember what i wrote, but the date seems out of whack, earlier or later than when i thought i would have written such a thing. The situation for that time best remains personal, private. Still the idea of the poem and my lost time seem appropriate together.

Ruminating, a Love Poem from a Long Time Ago

ruminating while rustling through
old things in a drawer,
i came across an old watch
worn until time began to run past it:
tick tock;
it’s in the clock shop now;
the bespectacled balding man
said
he might put it in working order
in short order:
the watch holds memories.

went to an old haunt last night
after finding the watch:
people sitting around the piano bar:
no bellowing laughs,
all demure titters
appropriate for a piano bar,
titters for titillation:
sad, lonely.

walking home, taking a detour
along the beach;
deserted at night, the breakers
froth and roar;
removing my shoes,
tossing them over my shoulder,
i walk through the shallows;
the briny sea seems warmer
on my bare feet in the swirling sand.

my thoughts boil down to happiness;
you are the breakers on the sand,
the watch ticking quietly;
no titters for titillation,
pure unleashed laughter.

sand on my feet,
walking away from the froth, the roar,
respecting the immensity of the sea;
walking home, i glance at my wrist
to check the time
only to find the old watch is ticking
in the old man’s shop;
perhaps next week,
i will be able to tell the time.

 

Music of the Other Kind, Sunday Afternoon

As usual at the time, i thought it was a good idea when she told me she had bought tickets.

Then when later she told me we would have a late brunch at one of my favorite restaurants of all time before we went, i was even more okay with the idea.

But this morning, i looked at all of the projects lagging way behind, i was not thrilled at the prospect of spending my afternoon in frivolous pursuits. After all, i needed to go to the driving range and hit golf balls.

But, of course, we went as scheduled. i grumbled, hoping no one would notice.

After parking was damn near non-existent and after dropping Maureen off at the door, i drove around for about fifteen minutes before settling on the lone spot available about four blocks away. Walking to the restaurant, i grumbled some more, but the moment i walked into Et Voilá, the day turned to gold.

Sarah joined us for the brunch. It was her first time there. Et Voilá is obviously a French restaurant, but it stands above most. Their bread is imported, freeze-dried from Paris. It’s no so much it’s from France, but it is good and it does represent the attention to detail the owners/chefs pay to their food and service. The atmosphere and service is enough…well, enough to make a goofy old guy quit grumbling.

The meal was enjoyable but the next phase was even better. My grumbling gave way to concern. The reason Maureen and i were going to the symphony was she had seen the program in the arts section of the newspaper several months ago. The program featured a symphony, of all things, written by Wynton Marsalis. Wynton collaborated with the featured violinist ,to revise his piece which was a salute to the diversity of the fabric of our country.

A Short Comment on Belief

i’m old enough to comment on this, knowing it will not change anyone’s mind. Don’t care. Just wanted to put it out there.

Belief is just that. Even the atheists believe. None of us really know, we just have to believe.

i believe goodness, doing the right thing, caring, and forgiving may lose in the short term, but will always, always win.

That belief keeps me sane…most of the time.

An Anachronism’s Catharsis

This was begun as we flew back from San Francisco the Monday after Hardly Strictly Bluegrass. i have been trying to express well what i experienced this year and the following years. It is a great experience thanks to the Hicks family and Cy Fraser.

It happens every year about this time, the first weekend in October to be specific.

Often there are other major get-togethers, like homecomings and reunions, but those others always lose out if they conflict with this tradition.

It sounds innocent enough, if not oxymoronic. i mean who would expect a major bluegrass festival to be held in San Francisco? But it is big, and i mean big.

i must point out bluegrass is no longer the majority genre. Back when, 2007 when Warren Hellman started the thing, he called it “Strictly Bluegrass.” But it grew, and more than bluegrass was played. So Warren changed the name to “Hardly Strictly Bluegrass.” Now that Warren is gone, it seems to me there are more of the other genres than bluegrass.

We started coming here in 2009 when it was mostly bluegrass, or at least “country.” Bluegrass was the initiator but even that is secondary to this anachronism. To me, the “Hardly Strictly Bluegrass” weekend in Golden Gate Park is cathartic.

It amazes that so many people from so many backgrounds can get along so well. You see, the festival’s head count is estimated between 750,000 and 800,000 over the weekend.

So the chosen few head out somewhere between 7:15 to 8:00, driving down San Francisco’s steep Ninth Avenue through the stirring businesses including an all-night market where we used to stop and get ice and beer, lots of beer. But we are older now and the beer intake has decreased, and Alan has figured out the new ice packets work better in our coolers than ice and with bottled water, lots of bottled water for it can get hot in the hollow midday, and yeh, okay a bottle of wine or two. But for the past couple of festivals, we’ve skipped the market and continued down the hill straight to the entrance to Golden Gate Park.

Riding through the beautiful park with its eucalyptus, Monterrey pines, and Monterrey Cypress, trees originally planted at the park’s beginning in the early 1900’s, take your breath away with their majesty. The one sitting to the back right of the Banjo Stage is simply awesome (i think there is a photo somewhere of the Hicks and us underneath it in non-festival times).

Almost every year since 2009, the weather has been as good as it can get in Golden Gate Park. In one or two years, it has been cool and overcast. That, on the Banjo Stage in Hellman Hollow translates to bitter cold and harsh winds. i vividly recall Joan Baez announcing she was “freezing my ass off” on a particularly cool Saturday. But incredibly, it has never rained upon us during festival days.

Regardless, it is an escape from the negative for me. i spend four or five days with people who are so far beyond just best friends they give me peace. i am talking about Alan and Maren Hicks, their daughter Eleanor (and one of my favorite people on earth, another daughter), and Cy Fraser (Cy’s wife Julie died just over a year ago and we miss her being there). There are others who join us: kin, friends, friends of friends. We’ve had as few as six and as many as 20-plus join our stakeout.

The primary culprits minus Eleanor Hicks; from left Cy Fraser, Maureen, Goofy Guy, Maren Hicks, Alan Hicks, and about 250,000 of their closest friends.

i am not enchanted with the way college fraternities are run. But to give the system credit, i met some of the best people i’ve ever met in my life, especially my pledge group but all of the guys ahead and behind me with whom i experienced my life change. To call them “brother” is pretty much right on. And with this October San Francisco bunch, family is included. We are more than friends. We are family.

It is good to spend an escape with our family, my brothers.

Then there is the music. In our beginning, it was spectacular for bluegrass fans. Doc Watson, Earl Scruggs, the Stanley Brothers featuring Ralph Stanley, Helen Means, Emmy Lou Harris along the best bluegrass bands on the planet. There are also unusual bands, relatively unknown and inventive. A few are on the Banjo Stage but most, including some rock and new music acts on the other five or six stages spaced throughout the park.

Several of us wander to the various other stages, seeking out musicians we personally enjoy. A couple go to more stages. i normally stay in place although about three years ago, Maureen and i walked or rather navigated down the hollow through the masses to the Arrow Stage and watched the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band perform, which was worth the trip. But my travel is mostly restricted to the banks of port-a-potties and back. Except, of course, in the early morning when we stake out our claim at the Banjo Stage with Alan’s tarps, the beach chairs and variations thereof (regular camp chairs are too high and block the views of those thousands behind us), and of course, the ubiquitous coolers.

After laying claim to our territory – by late morning, the hollow looks like a quilt with tarps, blankets, and other devices for land claiming – Eleanor, Alan, Cy, and i, the early claimers, set up and wander back to the tents holding food. There is only one open early. Fortunately, they serve wonderful breakfast burritos. With that and coffee either there or from a nearby truck, we are set. We nap, we read, we meet those close by, and just talk until the show starts midday.

There are some un-pleasantries but very few considering the crowd. San Francisco is a most liberal place. Some attendees are a little too demonstrative, including a couple of the performers wearing their political leanings on their performance sleeves. Several festivals have coincided with San Francisco’s “Fleet Week.” The Navy’s Blue Angels perform their aviation acrobatics over San Francisco Bay on the Fleet Week weekends. A few of their stunts take them over Golden Gate Park. Steve Earle in Saturday’s closing act several years ago shot the bird to the Blue Angels as they flew over. Even though he said some words i won’t print here, i will not fault him. That’s his choice. That’s what freedom is about even if one doesn’t agree and personally finds it offensive. That’s why our military (unlike many others) are serving: to allow him to do those kinds of things. But it didn’t sit quite right with this Navy Veteran. Now when the Blue Angels in the crowd, there are a smattering of folks who copy what Steve Earle did.

It is the only thing i find really offensive during the whole weekend. Oh, there are people who crowd to the front late and stand up blocking views or talk loudly. But they are just being selfish and unaware. i understand and can endure their actions.

Because there are so many other examples of good, good people. There is the guy who sat next to us on the hill in one of the earlier festivals. He worked on ferries. Salt of the earth. Brought his fiddle. Played along. Pretty good. Old guy. My kind.

There has been the one thin, grey haired woman who stakes out a place up front near the center cleared for the song tent. She does this modern dance thing, moving swaying, rhythmically flowing her arms and legs through the air, to bluegrass, all day. Seven hours.

Once, there was this transgender (i’m pretty sure) behemoth dressed in leopard skin leotards, a pink tutu, and large bonnet. This person had long, thick blond hair with the roots showing. Not pretty. Tough looking. A bluegrass band was knocking it out. She was in the middle of the crowd. I don’t know who initiated it, but this person and an old country boy with a straw hat and bib jeans began dancing together. Kept it up for the whole set. Made you feel good.

There are white boys with long dread knots, shirtless, barefoot, shorts, dirty, with a dog, and blowing weed like there is no tomorrow being nice to folks as they pass by.

No fights. i’ve been to at least eight, maybe nine of the HSB’s, and i’ve never seen a fight.

i have seen people passing out. Most from over-indulging. A few with medical problems. Sometimes a combination of both. Know what? The people around them (and there are always people around, thick crowds of people around at HSB) immediately turn their attention from the band, their friends, and do what they can to help. People. Good people.

Every once in while, i will look up at gaze at the masses all around me for as far as i can see; i will watch the sea of moving humanity flowing into the park. People. Good people. All persuasions. Getting along.

So next year, i would recommend you check it out if you are so inclined. Hardly Strictly Bluegrass in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco the first weekend in October. Put your prejudices and biases in a bag and leave them somewhere. Enjoy good music, really good music and people enjoying really good music.

And if you do, check out to the right of the sound stage looking toward the Banjo Stage. There will be one tarp with three pretty women, three older guys, maybe more. The goofy guy will be one of them. You will be welcomed to join us.

Beautiful setting. Great music, my kind. People: individuals enjoying other individuals as well as the music. A show. What a show. All of it.

Family. Good feelings, a catharsis for me. i plan to be there for at least several more years.

 

 

The Good Ship Anchorage, Fighting Lady to the End

This post is actually a response to an email i received today from my long time and close friend Lee Dowdy. Lee received his doctorate in International Relations from Tulane. He and i worked as editor of the Castle Heights newspaper and annual respectively in 1962. Lee went to Duke and i went to Vanderbilt on NROTC scholarships. He fared much better than me. He had good study habits. Our families were so close they could be considered family, not plural. He saw an article in the Navy News Service and remembered i had served on the Anchorage. The story was about a U.S.  Marine rocket system successfully tested on the new Anchorage. It reminded me of a post i wrote about the USS Yosemite (AD 19) going down in a “SINKEX.” i have included the link to that  post at the conclusion.
Lee,
Good story, but unfortunately, it’s not my USS Anchorage (LSD 36), but it’s successor USS Anchorage (LPD 23). 
My Anchorage was decommissioned in 2003, lasting quite a bit longer than nearly all ships now, 34 years in active service despite some major problems. She remains the most decorated dock landing ship on the west Coast.
Her plant had bastard SSTG’s after a fire in a shipyard work building destroyed the originally installed generators. They were being worked in the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, shortly after commissioning when the building caught fire.
She also had two four-foot diameter screws to hold the flight deck in place that did not screw back all of the way in. This happened when i was first lieutenant in a San Diego maintenance period. A sub-contractor located under the Coronado San Diego Bay bridge took them off to sand blast and resurface the flight deck grit compound. But no one had considered the well deck walls which held the flight deck in place (with the four gigantic screws) would move inward when the three flight deck panels were removed. They did just that. Then when the sub-contractor tried to reinstall the panels (each was about 15 feet in depth, linking together and about 50 feet across the well deck) they were a bit too long to fit.
i know this as i had the duty in 1975 on a summer Sunday when they were attempting the reinstall. A 60-ton crane was lifting them off the pier to place them back over the well deck. All was going well and i went back to the wardroom to read. i was lounging on an installed sofa when i was jolted with a huge bang. i ran out and discovered the contractors after unsuccessfully lodging the last panel in place were lifting it up about ten feet from where it was supposed to go and dropping the huge panels, which must have weighed more than a couple of tons each, trying to drive them in place. They had made three drops before i got back to the flight deck and had them stopped.
i know they never fully reinserted the screws because i took Sarah aboard in 1998 when she was a fourth grader and had chosen a Navy ship for her topic in an assignment. It was a wonderful moment. They bonged me aboard as “Commander, Retired” accompanied by four bells while we walked down the pier. The CDO personally took us to all of the spaces. When we walked down the wing walls to the stern, which was my primary position as well-deck master in well deck operations, i spotted the huge screw in the overhead, hanging out with maybe only half of the screw threads outside of where they were supposed to be. The COD was amazed when i told him the history of the flight deck. i still don’t believe those nuts were trying to drop it in place by dropping it.
In spite of that, she did so well on her INSURV inspection for decommissioning in the mid-1990’s, the board recommended she remain active and she did so, going on at least two, if not three or four more deployments. After her decommissioning and some political haranguing with the Taiwanese, she remained in Pearl Harbor with the inactive ships until she was sunk as a target in a RIMPAC exercise in 2010. It took over six hours to sink her. The missiles couldn’t do it. Finally, the USS Bremerton (SSN 698) broke her back with a torpedo.
She was an elegant fighting lady until the end.
My two years were the best two in my career even though my personal problems had begun. As first lieutenant i did everything. Never stopped. It was great for a mariner. Art Wright was my captain for most of the tour and he was one of the best CO’s i had. Great memories.
Oh yes, the “HIMARS” rocket the current Anchorage tested looked a lot like the JATO rockets we fired while on a Caribbean exercise in 1984 while i was XO on the Yosemite. It was one of the craziest things in which i was involved during my sea time. Yosemite was simulating an orange force enemy for the main blue force. The JATO rockets, apparently unlike the HIMARS except in looks, were not much more than giant Roman candles. But we fired about ten or so (as i remember). The exercise did give us about five days in Roosevelt Roads Naval Base in Puerto Rico (and as usual, there are several sea stories about that stop).
It was also our underway period when we were in the eye of what eventually became Hurricane Diana as she began forming, yet another sea story.
Thanks to Wikipedia for helping me recall accurately…more or less.

A Sea Story (actually clean with no profanity: who’d thunk?)

Way back many years ago, there was a Naval Academy midshipman who became famous for his ship handling talent.

When he went on his third class midshipman summer cruise, he demonstrated an uncanny ability to stop the ship on a dime, make incredible maneuvers, and always get to and stay on station like a dime.

After he graduated from the academy and was commissioned, his legend grew. On every ship, he was immediately recognized as a superb ship handler and given every opportunity to demonstrate his remarkable skills.

About the time he was a department head, one of his fellow officers noticed just before this super ship handler took the conn, he would return to his stateroom for just a moment. The other officer and the superstar had parallel careers and served on several ships together before they both made admiral. Even then, commanding officers would ask the star to take the conn to demonstrate his amazing talent.

On one joint exercise, the two admirals were on the same flagship. On several occasions, the ship’s captain would ask the ship handling flag to show off his talents. Each time, the admiral would retire to his stateroom briefly. His fellow admiral’s curiosity could not be contained and he secretly asked the boatswainmate of the watch to follow the admiral to see what was going on before he took the conn. The boatswainmate reported back the flag officer would go into his stateroom, open the top drawer of his clothes chest and stare down into the drawer before closing it and returning to the bridge.

His fellow flag officer’s curiosity grew.

Then one day, the great ship handler had a heart attack and died on the bridge. His fellow officer after paying his due respects ran back to his buddy’s stateroom, ran to the chest and opened the drawer. And there the ship handler’s incredible talent was revealed. On a large sheet of paper was written:

Starboard — Right

Port — Left 

Channeling a Man i Never Knew

The photo in this post is not of my grandfather, Hiram Culley Jewell but of my great grandfather, Hiram Carpenter “Buddy” Jewell. He has a pretty remarkable story of his own (later). But i just had to include the photo where he is mentioned.

i am not into mysticism, spirits, and all of that kind of stuff.

i don’t disclaim it exists and occasionally am struck by some extraordinary story about the supernatural. But i’m inclined to believe that kinda stuff wasn’t intended for me.

Still thanks to a very wonderful counselor who helps me when i need it, i have found meditation a source of strength. So after my disclaimers, i’m really sorta open to that kind of stuff.

And then yesterday out in the third garage stall designated at the get go and remaining my workspace, maybe even more like my escape place, i channeled him. Or perhaps he channeled me. i’m not sure which.

But it happened. Even though i never knew him.

You see, this channeling stuff happened with my grandfather. He died in ’39. Tuberculosis. Right after my folks got married.

This channeling thing occurred while i was doing a chore put off too long. Hiram Culley Jewell didn’t talk to me. It was more of an internal thing. i felt him. Down deep inside me. My heart? My soul? Can’t really say. But for me, he was there.

i had burned off the old grease on our cast iron cookware and was taking them down to bare metal when we channeled. It reminded me of one of my parents last winter trip out here. My father was 86 and had limited time to drive his wife and himself out here in the fifth wheel with his Ford 150. He and i (with me mostly watching) took the cast iron skillets and pots down to bare metal in a way that would strike fear into the world of gourmet cooks. We, or rather he was using a propane torch to burn off the residual grease buildup.

As i looked over his shoulder and he blasted away at the skillet sitting on my workbench, we talked.

We always talked, mostly i listened and he told stories. My father was a great story teller later in life. His older sister, a elegant woman in appearance, was one of the best story tellers ever. i have always wondered if they got that from my grandfather. You see, i once thought i would be a great writer, follow in the tradition of William Faulkner and Robert Penn Warren. i no longer think that. i’m not disciplined enough and one of the worst editors in existence. But i do think i’m a good story teller.

But Daddy only told me a half dozen stories about my grandfather. Those were never what he thought about his father. They were stories nearly always funny. He and my aunt seemed to always be laughing when they told a story. But he just didn’t talk about my grandfather very much. He never said how he felt toward his father although i sensed he loved him. It was blatantly obvious my father had the greatest respect for Hiram Culley Jewell.

Hiram Carpenter “Buddy” Jewell, my great grandfather, 1844-1886.

Culley was a working man by fate. His father, Hiram T. “Buddy” Jewell died when Culley was ten. Culley and his brother Barbee were raised by different uncles, Newton and Thomas. i believe this is correct but am not sure which brother was raised by which uncle. However, my mother told me the uncle who raised Barbee believed in education and guided Barbee and his own children into college. The uncle who raised Culley didn’t believe in education. He believed in work.

Culley worked all of his life.

My father did tell me of his father having a work shed at their home at the beginning of West Spring Street. As we were working on the cast iron, he also mentioned Mama Jewell cleaned their cast iron by throwing it in the fire they always had burning in their backyard. They would pull the skillet or pot out after several hours and the vessel would be “clean as a whistle.” Then Mama Jewell would cure it on the wood burning stove in the kitchen.

Perhaps that was the connection that produced my sensation of channeling.

i was working. Granted my grandfather’s work was on a grander scale most of the time. Same for my father. But i was working.

Sometimes i think i was supposed to be a worker. Like my grandfather and father. But i wandered off that track. My mother told me after they took me to Vanderbilt for my freshman year, my father cried on the way home because he was so proud to have a child going to college. i wonder how the working man, Hiram Culley Jewell, my grandfather, thought of that.

Of course, it was different times, a world apart.

But while i was bent over that skillet in the bright sun of the Southwest corner, i could feel him, not my father Jimmy, but Culley looking approvingly at me working.

That was yesterday. i worked on things around the home the rest of the day. Last night, i ate dinner and sat in my family room chair watching sports just like my father did in his den on Castle Heights Avenue after a day of work. i kept thinking of that feeling of my grandfather being with me during the day, the workday.

i slept well.

oh to be young again

This one hit me as i was going over the weather, my schedule, and “to-do list” after my morning routine of making coffee, getting the paper, and setting the breakfast table. Just hit me. And once again, the question of why i have this need to write and make it public. Don’t know. Just flat don’t know why. But it’s there. It’s there.

oh to be young again
when
the answers were so pat,
when
one side was right
and
one side was wrong
and
oddly, the right side
was always, always
on my side;
oh to be young again,
when
i didn’t know what i know now
and
the path was clear to success,
to victory
to riches
to love, unbridled passionate love
lasting until the sun set on life
and
that path did not, did not
include screwing others
(with many meanings for “screwing others”)
to get on down that path;
oh to be young again
when
i knew i would conquer the world
and
be a hero, the good kind
for
the bad kind was to be reviled
back then
and
didn’t worry about
hurting someone’s feelings
by a forbidden word
or
being misinterpreted by a zealot
from
one of the many sides of a problem;
oh to be young again
when
i was not aware
of
the hate and meanness of ordinary people
for masses of other humans
with
different views, different hues of skin color;
oh i wish i were young again
when
i was blind to all of
the injustices all around me
and
life was simple
in
my little slice of the world,
but
now
i know
and
it is not pretty,
without answers,
but
oh how much, how so much
i wish i were young again.

The Morning Watch: Now i Know Why

As expressed in previous writings, my favorite bridge watch was the morning watch.

i was overjoyed when i was senior enough to fall off of the in port watch bill. In the capacity of a duty officer, i remained on duty on board my ship for 24 hours, more or less (another sea story for later). My first ship had three section duty sections, then four, and then when deployed and in refresher training at Guantanamo Bay, two, or port and starboard as we called it — but in “GITMO” it was only after returning from our daily training at sea around 1800 (four bells) and on Saturday and Sunday. At one time after qualifying for Command Duty Officer (CDO), i actually had the duty for ten days in a row as all of the newly reporting department heads were working toward qualification. Duty in port was a chore. On the ten ships i served upon, we found a lot of humor (more sea stories for later) to make it bearable. But it was still ashore, not at sea.

Unlike duty in port, i bemoaned my fate when i became too senior to stand bridge watches. They were one of the real joys of being a surface warfare officer. And the morning watch was often the best.

For Navy folks and sailors of all kinds, that watch became the four-to-eight, or 0400-0800; for landlubbers, that watch would be 4:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. even though the original “morning watch” was the only correct term because of the actual time.

When i was in, and Lord knows everything Navy appears to have changed since i was in, on and off from 1962 until 1989, the Navy “morning watch” was my favorite. It began around 0315 when the bridge messenger of the watch found his way to after officers country, walked down the passageway (no, we didn’t have halls), found the last stateroom on the port side (there were many other staterooms where i was berthed, but i remember this one better than most), found the forward rack next to the centerline, and tentatively spoke, “Mr. Jewell  (until i made commander, then it was “Commander Jewell”), wake up; it’s time to relieve the watch,” making sure i was awake before hastily exiting officers country as quietly as he could.

i would scramble up, and to the dim red light from battle lanterns used in “darken ship,” put on the working khakis i had laid out when i hit the rack the previous evening , dash my face with water from the metal sink in the stateroom i shared with two other junior officers (JO’s), and stumble forward to the ladder leading up to the O3 level and the bridge. My olive green hook-necked issue flashlight with its plastic filter on the lens guided me with its red beam (good for preserving night vision).

i would pass by combat and quickly get the picture of our operational status and “contacts” (other ships) information before reporting to the bridge. There i would walk to the standing OOD, salute and announce per protocol, “I’m ready to relieve you, sir.” The off-going OOD would salute and give me his interpretation of what was going on. Satisfied — and unlike many OOD’s, i would not spend a lot of time on this, especially on the morning watch — i would salute again and announce, “I relieve you, sir.”

He would return my salute and respond, “I stand relieved” while already heading to his rack for a few precious hours of sleep before reveille. The Boatswain Mate of the Watch would announce, “Mr. Jewell has the deck and the conn.”

There i would be in charge of metal carrying about 300 souls, mostly wearing dungarees, blue chambray shirts, and white dixie cup hats in nearly 400 hundred feet of length, 40 feet of breadth (beam we called it), and 14 feet of draft at near 3500 tons with 60,000 horsepower to the four-boiler, twin steam turbines and more firepower than most Middle Ages cities to wield its firepower to…well, not much really at that time of day.

You see, the morning watch was nearly always a quiet watch. Flag officers don’t get up that early to order formation changes. So if formation steaming was the situation, we usually just sat in place (relatively) for about three hours. i would have relieved close to 0345: bridge watches usually relieved a quarter hour before eight bells. Because of the morning mess, the morning watch was relieved by the forenoon watch early, around 0700 or six bells. This was to allow the off-going watch to eat breakfast before morning quarters at 0745.

But there was more. After i successfully shook off the rack monster to stand by the centerline gyrocompass, i could contemplate the world. i could stretch mentally and then get ready for the coming day. My next watch would be the first dog (1600-1800) after the workday. But on the morning watch, the ship and the world at sea would begin stirring. Around two bells (0500), i would wander over and through the hatch to the starboard bridge wing. The Boatswainmate of the Watch would bring me some coffee. i would hang over the gunwale (“gunnel” is the correct pronunciation), sipping my coffee, usually jawing with my junior officer of the deck (JOOD). The quartermasters around the chart table just inside the pilot house would begin preparations to shoot morning stars with the XO, the appointed navigator on the small boys.

Once on the starboard bridge wing, i could smell the coffee brewing in the galley, which was located on the first deck on the starboard side. Then the smell of bacon and fried eggs, usually scrambled because if it was more than a week at sea, the eggs would be powdered eggs, not too tasty but still great aromas around three bells (0530). It was a great way to start the day.

Somewhere in there, usually shortly after reveille, the captain would emerge from his sea cabin and ask what was going on. i would catch him up as he sat in his raised bridge chair on the starboard side. He would then ask if there had been radio messages that had come in during the night requiring immediate response. Again, i would brief him. After enjoying the view for a while, he would alight from the chair and head to his stateroom a deck below his sea cabin, and then on to mess in the wardroom — on larger ships, nearly always when the commanding officer was, in fact, a captain (O6), he had his own mess, and the XO was president of the wardroom mess.

Shortly afterwards, the relieving watch team would arrive. The relieving process would be repeated, and i would head to the wardroom for chow.

The most negative aspect of all of this is i love to sleep and being aroused at 0315 was not, for me back then, a good night’s sleep. So long about 1000 or four bells, i would begin to fade. When 1130  (seven bells) signaled “knock off ship’s work” for the noon mess, i would head straight to my stateroom. The rack monster was calling and it was time for a “NORP,” a previously told sea story but the acronym stands for “Naval Officer Rest Period.”

i’m sure i have many misperceptions and faulty memories around my bridge watches. After all, the last one was thirty-five years ago. Also, i am a hopeless romantic and tend to recall all the good things and not many of the bad. This romantic idea was with me even when i was the senior Naval officer at the Texas A&M NROTC Unit. It was a particularly dark time of my life, and one night, i recalled a leg-pulling sea story about how to simulate standing a “mid-watch” on the bridge. i remembered how those watches were so solitary and let me escape to the wonder world of the sea in the depths of blue, sea and sky. So i thought i would try to replicate a mid-watch in my new home, fit for a single man.

i set the alarm and awoke to it at 2315. i had a cup of soup and a cheese sandwich in the kitchen. When finished, i dug out my khaki combination cover and put it on. i tied two bricks to each end of a short cord and hung them around my neck. Then, i moved in front of the picture window in the living room, peering out on the street. It didn’t work. i was still miserable and Snooks, my Old English Sheepdog, was utterly befuddled.

But i don’t think my romantic tendencies mess up my recollection of the morning watch, at least not too much. One example is the views i got to see. Watching the sea, especially in deep open ocean, go through the transition from darkest of night to first light to dawn to daylight is a beautiful experience no matter the weather. It can be howling seas with rolling, white crested waves and screaming winds with ocean water and spray crashing over the bow. It can be gloomiest of mornings with thousands of shades of gray. It can be a cloudless star-clustered sky receding to a recognition of light on the eastern horizon to the sun slowly claiming the day and the sea turning deep blue with flecks of white spume. But my favorite would be the morning watch when the old sailor’s weather prognostication was in full view: “Red sky at night, sailor’s delight; red sky at morning, sailors take warning.”

This morning when i walked out to get the newspaper on the driveway, it was one of those warning moments at first light. My photo doesn’t do it justice: 

But i think it serves well enough (that’s a waning crescent moon with Venus below; the light at tree line is the just emerging sun). i wanted to go get my binoculars (i got some since A&M) and stand out there with them around my shoulder until it faded in coming daylight. But i figured the neighbors might talk.

Besides there was no ship deck below my feet. But for a moment, just a brief moment, i was back at sea on the bridge of an old steam destroyer, cutting through the sea. Alive, oh so alive.