The world has turned a bit crazy on this old man. The response to my book has been very gratifying, taking on a life of its own. At my advanced age, i am back in business, or at least one of the 786 varieties of business i’ve experienced. It’s called work. i have mixed emotions about all of it, good and bad.
Tonight, i should be hitting the rack, even though it is over an hour before taps. You know, 2200, when the boatswainmate of the watch purses his lips to his boatswain’s pipe and sings his “attention” tune over the 1MC and declares “Taps, taps, lights out! All hands turn into your bunks! Maintain silence about the decks! The smoking lamp is out in all berthing spaces.”
The small black dog of our new neighbors is still out declaring the night is his, unaware the bobcats, coyotes, foxes, hawks, owls, and Southwestern rattlers are likely to assume his yapping is indeed mess call.
Such night sounds are now an annoyance. i recall my time in the nights of my great uncle’s farm on Hickory Ridge. We called him “Papa” ’cause our two had passed before we came along. On my times spent there in the tin roof farmhouse with the windows open and a fan running somewhere, night sounds abounded. They were good. We slept soundly.
Sleeping in that small bedroom in between Aunt Corrine and Papa’s bedroom and the front room was similar to sleeping on my ships. Sounds of the farm animals and birds of the dark and crickets and, if lucky, the rain on the roof, if as expected, provided an omen of safety. Sleep followed. Sounds of the fire room boilers and forced draft blowers and the whine of the turbines and the auxiliary blowers brought comfort. But when there was a scream in the fields from a predator taking prey, or the winding down of engines and blowers, i would awake and leap into action to make things right…or at least attempt to make things right.
Which leads me to think, at a time the old man should hit the rack, of moments of peace. Like the morning watch.
The morning watch was considered a four-hour watch. it wasn’t. The bridge’s messenger of the watch would descend from the pilot house to after officers quarters on the main deck to carefully prod and quietly call at 0315 (hopefully not to wake the other officers in the shared stateroom) the oncoming watch officer awake. The officer, asleep to the tune of the boilers’ wheezing and the turbines’ whining, would arise, throw on his work khakis and the olive green all-weather jacket, splash his face in the small stateroom sink, grab his red lens flashlight and move forward, then up the ladders to the O3 level, checking into Combat (Combat Information Center or CIC) to get a status report and then to the bridge to have the off-going OOD brief him on the current situation with contacts (other vessels), weather, and upcoming events, when completed with “I relieve you, sir” and “I stand relieved,” and the boatswainmate of the watch announcing Lieutenant Jewell has the deck and the conn,” and the off-going officer would strike below, and the new OOD would be there in the dark with the black sea and the uncountable stars and maneuvers with other ships events minimized, and the night was quiet and the contacts were few, and one could walk out on the starboard bridge wing to watch the spume of foam roll down the ship’s waterline and look to the end of the universe in the skies, and smell the eggs and toast and bacon and coffee from the galley below and pour another black coffee and hang on the wing wall to find peace. Then, the stars would start to fade, the night sky lighten, and a glow appeared on the eastern horizon, and the sun would rise, and the radio would crackle with someone on another ship calling “Delta Whiskey, this is Alpha Sierra; radio check, over,” and one would respond, “Alpha Sierra, this is Delta Whiskey, Roger, over;” and Delta Whiskey, this is Alpha Sierra, Roger, out,” and the relieving OOD would approach and the earlier relieving process would repeat, and the off-going OOD would descend the ladders to the wardroom where he and his JOOD, CIC watch officer, and perhaps the Engineer of the Watch, would replace the earlier diners except the captain and the XO who would stay for another coffee and chat with the watch standers while the latter ate their scrambled eggs and bacon and toast and more hot coffee, and there would be a moment of quiet and the lieutenant would reflect upon his three-plus hours of watch and realize it was his respite.
…respite, much like the peace Papa found when he called the cows at 0400 (although he just called it milking time) and led the milk cows to the barn and milked them with his lightning smooth hands and filled the milk urn and fed the hogs in the sty and walked back to the house as first light, then dawn streamed over him.
And folks, i have, in my time, experienced the respite, the peace of both. i wish you and i could share that kind of respite today.