You might have read some of this stuff from me before. i don’t care.
Monday. Again, i awoke way too early, even for me. Don’t know why unless it’s become ingrained from my near ten years of Lebanon Democrat column deadlines. Of course, the sea, oh, the marvelous sea, is also ingrained even though my last time on a ship at sea was thirty-three years ago. That morning watch, the 04-08 where i would be awakened by a boatswainmate, the messenger of the watch at 0315 so i could get to the bridge and relieve the OOD by 0345 and feel the day stirring and smell the coffee and bacon and eggs aroma wafting up from the galley to the starboard bridge wing, and hearing the radio communications among the squadron ships begin the chatter, and seeing first light creep up on the horizon, and the pinkness and the freshness of the new day dawning, and the captain coming out to sit in his oversized and raised chair on the starboard side for his first cup of coffee of the morning and swapping hellos because there wasn’t much usually going on at 0600 in the morning and how the oncoming watch came up early, 0700, to relieve me so i get the last breakfast in the wardroom before officer’s call and quarters and the beginning of the work day when i would start to fade around 1000 waiting until the midday mess to skip and hit the rack for a NORP.
Oh yeh, this early stuff is still with me.
Regardless, once again this Monday early morning, my brain started in low gear and was rumbling in third. I couldn’t find the clutch before four in the morning. This oft abused brain refused to shift back to idle. Like my Mazda 3 hatchback, my brain has six forward gears, straight transmission…er, standard. Okay my car buff buddies, keep me straight here. It may be okay to write this early, but it damn sure ain’t okay to do research for a faulty memory. It’s Monday morning for Christ’s sake, too early to look stuff up.
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One thought, which has occurred before is i am one hell of a lucky man. I have had a really good life. Oh yeah, there have been some surprises, some downturns i wasn’t expecting. In fact, there are a couple still smacking at me today. That ain’t right, by the way; ain’t right someone at seventy-three should still have downturns. After all, dealing with all of the growing old, dealing with all the…i was going to be polite and say “stuff,” but no: dealing with all the other shit is right on. Old age illnesses, parts breaking down, stiffness, going to one doc or another what seems like at least every week. Watch friends grow old faster, have worse things go wrong. Like dying. Still don’t know how my parents made it to their late nineties, not because of their health. My father was an incredible specimen of good health. My mother had some serious problems for almost forty years. But they were troopers. The thing about them i find amazing is their dealing with all of their generation of family and friends leaving them behind. Man, that is tough. i must get better at that if i am going to be one of those outlasting the others.
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Lying there this morning, i was reassessing what i’ve done. i do that often. Need to let it go. Move on. You know. It started with thinking about what a bad golfer i am, especially considering how much i play. Shouldn’t complain considering my age and the occasional good hole i have. Still do it, like all of the others…except maybe for Peter Thomas, the best golfer i’ve ever played with. He’s the one who taught me i shouldn’t bitch about my play, instantaneously or long-term unless i hit some 300 golf balls a day, every day, for more than a decade. Then i can bitch. Got a long way to go.
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Nah, i really haven’t done much. i had the potential somewhere back in the dark ages. Then i didn’t grow up. I remained just shy of five-seven. Stopped the vertical thing around junior high. Kept expecting to be six-two, 180. Didn’t happen. As most of you know, i have not grown up in other ways as well. Still, in spite of a checkered career for assessment, i made it to commander, and as i love to repeat, my last operational CO, Captain Frank Boyle on USS Yosemite gave me what i consider the ultimate compliment, calling me, not a seaman, not a sailor, but a mariner, something he and i knew at that stage of our time on ships was the real compliment (He was too, a mariner). Got to spend 14 out of 22 years on ships, nine or eleven, depending on the way you count ’em. i’ll take that even though i would go again if they still had steam ships without all of the GPS and computers they have today.
And i was a good sports editor at The Watertown (NY) Daily Times before that gig was cut short because of the need to take care of my family financially. Don’t regret it, but i did love it while i was in it.
Hadn’t made a lot of money. Don’t miss it, although i would like to make Maureen feel more secure and there are a bunch of people i would like to go and see. Maureen would like to go see places not seen before. i would like to go to old places (that aren’t gone or drastically changed) or to old friends, but money is a little to tight to cover all of those dreams. Still okay.
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i admit i’m a goofy guy, even brag about it. i really don’t do too many more goofy things than most folks, but i don’t mind my goofy antics being broadcast and am pretty honest about my goofiness. Don’t believe in fooling folks.
i don’t know where it comes from. My parents were great parents but they certainly weren’t goofy. Probably the depression and the war and religion of the time kept ’em straighter, non-goofy. Daddy loved to tell stories, even some on himself, but that was about it.
Perhaps, just perhaps, i might get my goofiness from my Uncle Bill Prichard, my mother’s youngest sibling and only boy. He could be real goofy, but man did he have a laugh. Like him, i might have become a pilot for a war. Uncle Bill, he flew mustangs out of England. Man!
In Navy OCS, those aviators enticed me to join them in the air (SEALS did too; why, i don’t know), but i was a passable swimmer, not a real good one, and i wasn’t sure i could get through that requirement, so i demurred. But i also had had that at-sea moment, and the decision to go surface really wasn’t that difficult.
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So i went to sea. If you don’t know, i am trying to write a book about that last operational tour. It’s about the first women as officers or enlisted to spend extended out of port time as members of a ship’s crew or wardroom. And of course, it’s about me. You see — and i may have told you this before as well — i loved the sea from the get-go. In the book, i included a letter i wrote to my wife of a month, Maureen, which began shortly after we left Mayport, Florida for an eight-month deployment to the Indian Ocean. The letter concluded about ten days later in the early morning of the day we stood into Rota, Spain. i bragged about communicating with the sea. Yeh, “bragged” is the right term. After all, i loved my new wife with absolute gusto (still do) and i wanted to impress her.
But yes, i did feel that incredible old lady, the sea, and i communicated. Perhaps that’s a little to mystical or hokey for many. But in 1963 on my third class midshipman cruise on the USS Lloyd Thomas (DD 764) (in the NROTC scholarship program from which i unceremoniously but no less dramatically left like a rock the next spring), i walked to the port life-lines amidships on the ASROC deck between the forward and after stacks. It was 2210 or thereabouts, after taps because the crew’s movie in the DASH hanger had been a long one. The wind was off the port beam and blowing the roar of the boilers from the stacks away from me. i could see the white foam rolling down the side of the ship. The bow wave was lapping at the sides. The sea was dark, the deepest dark blue that exists. The moon was on the port side. i stood there. To this day, i swear that lady, the sea, floated out and grabbed me, down deep in my gut, and i could feel her talking to me. i was hooked, even though i was too goofy to know it.
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So i think yes, i have had a good lucky life and can deal with the bumps in the road when they keep coming even though i’m registered old and they shouldn’t hit me now. But you know what? That’s life. It ain’t, as my friend Dave Carey once told a group of senior officers in our seminar, it ain’t easy. Life isn’t supposed to be easy. It would be damn boring if all went smoothly, everything went our way. We are supposed to deal with problems cause humans, in case you haven’t noticed, all of them, cause problems. It’s an adventure. Deal with it. Laugh at it.
So now, i ain’t working…well, i ain’t formally got a job. So what am i supposed to be doing? i think giving back is my job. i want to tell those younger than me what happened, what was different, and how we/me dealt with it right or wrong, so perhaps, just perhaps, they can learn from my good moments and my bad. Listen to my views of the world and what it has been and what it should be and what it hasn’t been, what it is, and what it shouldn’t be.
But it seems i’m over the hill. Those younger dudes don’t listen to me. Too old. Oh, they nod their heads like they heard me. But they weren’t listening really. They just keep on their way, probably mumbling about that crazy, goofy old man rambling about the good ole days, even some of those good ole days were pretty damn lousy, just like theirs will be. Sort of feel patronized in a way. Oh, many folks my age or near it, they read and agree…as long as it doesn’t cross their locked and loaded, lines in the sand, refusing to budge views of the world and all of their opponents, demons really.
So i’ll just do my thing and hope, not optimistically, but hope a few folks might learn a few things from my ramblings and modify their way of doing things just a little bit for the better.
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One sort of political comment, or cultural, or something. This must be prefaced by noting i don’t consider myself a racist or a bigot or prejudiced at all. There may be people who choose to think i am because of the color of my skin, where i come from, the way i talk. i know i cannot write anything here that even hints of disagreement with any political, religious opinion that won’t get slammed. i will point out when attending Vanderbilt basketball games from 1962 to 1964, which i did with amazing loyalty, every home game, without fail except that part about not studying on those nights and flunking out (one F, 14 D’s in four semesters, a record i think), but to the point, the pep band would play “Dixie” and the student body would stand and sing as almost one because there would be a half-dozen or so of me and my brothers who would remain seated, and when berated and denigrated by those highbrow rednecks around us, we would proclaim we didn’t root for losers.
But i do feel the need to make an observation about this take down the statue thing. To leave them there and recognize it was a much different time in history. There were many things wrong and we couldn’t do it right so we had this awful war among brothers, white and black as folks call us i think wrongly and killed each other with abandon. We started on a path of improved but not perfect equality. There were clowns then and clowns now who were too damn selfish to admit equality was just that. But doesn’t destroying statues, taking down crosses, defiling others symbols of belief, all of that kind of thing, seem just a bit like ISIS, Al Qaeda, even Hitler, destroying history. i mean, it really doesn’t mean a whole lot to me. i’ve got my sea i can see from my hilltop or dip my feet in if i drive about 15 miles or my memories, oh my memories. i’m probably not going to miss those statues in the South, but it does seem we are incapable of dealing with each other reasonably. It’s my way or the highway, it seems. Well, i don’t think anyone is going to take my highway. Navy steam ships are gone. Sportswriting the way i lived it is gone too. Religion, that ole time religion, good ole Methodist stuff, seems to be gone also. Tolerance, understanding, communicating, compassion is only on one side of the line or the other. Seems like that golden rule, you know “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” is passé, or even obsolete.