New Palestine: Abner Moses’ Sea Stories

i am trying the new “improved” word press way of formatting my posts. i do not like, Sam i am. i am going back to the new one if i can, if i can, Sam i am, although i’m not Sam but my grandson is Sam and that is all right by me. But i will need to consult with the multi-media genius who helps this electronically challenged old man to get me back to where i want to be. Then, i had an epiphany while working through a cold at least abetted by fifty-four holes of golf in two days, or at least it was some kind of awakening, and it all makes no difference to you except i rededicated myself – for about the 467,386th  time to quit screwing around and writing. 

So i started looking at my stuff. i’m still working on my book, Steel Decks and Glass Ceilings, but found several things i want to put out there, eventually under the umbrella title of “New Palestine.”

It is a rambling thing — hell, after all it’s mine and therefore of course, it has to be rambling — with the central focus of a town in Middle Tennessee and the folks who are there or come from there.

A warning: Although the town itself resembles my hometown of Lebanon, initiated by some thoughts i had about my experiences there, and several of the characters come from some impressions and crazy ideas that crossed my mind about some characters actually in that town, these stories, this and the other stories about “New Palestine,” are in no way Lebanon, Tennessee and none of the characters in the story have any connection to folks in Lebanon except they generated my ideas for the stories.

One of the central characters in “New Palestine” is Abner Moses. You may have read at least one story here containing one of his tales. Abner grew up in the town, got in a bit of trouble, joined the Navy and had a successful career, retiring as a Chief Warrant Bosun. He returned to Lebanon and told a lot of stories to a salesman who came into to town on business on a regular basis.

A number of stories are Abner’s “sea stories,” several of which, like this one, i heard during my own Navy career. Here is one:

Abner Moses and the Pious XO

“Newport was different then,” Abner observed to no one in particular although Ratliff knew another tale was coming whether he wanted to hear it or not.

“You talking ‘bout Tennessee?” Ratliff queried, knowing full well the old Bosun had left Tennessee for his beloved sea stories and was launching on a Navy tale.

“Hell no, Ben,” Abner Moses grumbled, “I’m talking ‘bout Rhode Island: the real Newport. At least it was back when I was up there in the fifties.

“When the young Culpepper boy started OCS, it still was pretty much three towns in one, but the uppity side was getting the upper hand: just no one knew it.

“By the mid-eighties, even the Navy was uppity. Damn shame.

“But back in the fifties, it was good and different. Hell, when i first got up there, they didn’t even have enough pier space for the cans even nested back then. We all were out there in the bay, the channel really, moored to buoys.”

“Hold on, Ab,” Ratliff implored, “I ain’t got enough Navy in me to have a clue as to what you’re talking about.”

“Hell, Rats,” Abner apologized, “I plumb forgot. I’se sorry but sometimes when I get to talking about those times I forget where I am.

“Cans is what we called destroyers. Tin cans. Nesting was putting one ship outside another at the pier , which allows you to get more ships to the pier.

“Okay?”

“Okay,” Ratliff nodded reaching for his coffee.

And Abner Moses began his sea story:

Back then, the world operated at a different pace, even a different rhythm, and the Navy sure as hell was one sight different from what it is today.

Took care of people, even the ones that couldn’t cut the mustard elsewhere.

Lots of things were different.

But even then there were folks that were gonna fix the world.

I was on a can back then, actually she was one of those early diesel destroyer escorts. She was a good ship with a good crew. Course, damn near every crew said that about their ship. The Morton. We were moored to a buoy. There was pier between the Naval Base and the town. That’s where the liberty launches would ferry us to and from the ships.

Had a bar right there at the head of the pier. Leo’s. Smart boy runnin’ the place. Had a big neon sign in the front. When you landed to go on liberty the seaward side of the sign read ‘Leo’s First Stop.’ When you was comin’ back from liberty, the shore side read “Leo’s Last Stop.” Boy had to make a mint. Damn near every sailor stopped on his way off the ship, so he could get a little oiled before getting serious. And every damn sailor stopped on the way back from liberty for one more before catching the liberty launch.

Back then, there weren’t no stigma to a sailor drinkin’. Fact is, guys that could toss it down were sorta admired although not being able to hold your liquor gave you a bad name too.

Cussin’ wasn’t quite so accepted in polite society back then, but sailors were sailors and cussin’ weren’t so much a way of life as an art form.

But even the Navy had its porcelain saviors. The XO on the Morton was one. He was a lieutenant commander named Harley from somewhere up in New England. Poor sum bitch was gonna save the world. He mighta pulled that off, but he started by trying to stop the Morton wardroom from cussin’.

Now on a ship like a regular can, he might’a had a chance. But the Morton had three warrant officers, including me. But i was fresh off of being a chief boatswainsmate and still a little tentative in the wardroom But those other two old salts weren’t gonna give up their inalienable right to cuss. Cause they were sailors first and officers second.

But the XO was Mormon, misplaced on the east coast from Utah by the Navy’s assignment whims, and he was gonna wipe out cussing come hell or high water.

So we had officer training in the wardroom one Wednesday afternoon, something about damage control. When the training’s over the XO gets up and starts a speech.

“‘Profanity is the scourge of the earth,” he says in about ten different ways. Then he says, “And there’s not one situation, when a regular word would not be a better choice than a profane one.”

The old gunner warrant, who was sitting at the back of the wardroom table, raises his hand.

“‘Okay, gunner,” the XO says with exasperation, “What do you want?’

“‘Well, XO,’ the old gunner drawled, ‘I don’t wanta be disrespectful or nuttin’, but i gotta differ with that last thing you said.’

“‘Go ahead, Gunner,’ the XO said, giving away the floor and obviously thinking he would have a good counter to whatever the gunner had to say.

“‘XO, we had a geedunk run the other morning…

(Rats, a geedunk run back then meant a Navy roach coach…, er, I’m sorry, it was a mobile canteen van would come out to the end of the pier in the mid-morning and mid-afternoon, and the ships would have boat parties come get snacks for the crew.)

The gunner went on, ‘Well, we collected up the money and the orders, and Seaman First Walker got two shit can tops to haul the snacks back. He boards the motor whaleboat and the party hits the roach coach.

‘They gets loaded up and start back to the ship, but the bowhook has let go of the bow line before the coxswain had started the engine.

‘So there’s Seaman Walker with one foot on the gunnel and one-foot on the pier, slowly doing the splits with a shit can top full of geedunk in each arm.’

‘So what’s your point, Gunner,’ the XO prods wishing to get this over.

‘Well, XO, Walker looked around at his predicament and said, “I’m fucked,” and there ain’t no other word that could ‘a described his predicament any better than that.’”

“The XO looked just sorta fed up for a second and then he said, ‘You all get out of here.’”

1 thought on “New Palestine: Abner Moses’ Sea Stories

  1. Jim, I loved this tail. Just about finished “A Pocket of Resistance” and loving every page. Keep at it, you’re doing a great job.

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