It’s been a crazy week for me here in the heart of the south. Between the demands at work and the inclement weather I have not really had the time to fulfill my desire to ride my new bike to the ends of the earth. Now, with the weekend upon us, I have just a small window on Sunday to do some riding. But you know, like all my blogs, things start off in a place they shouldn’t. This blog is no exception. Currently the temperature is a balmy 60 degrees, the sun is shining and the birds in the trees are chirping what I can only assume is a mating call. I don’t want to be sitting here on my porch, I hear the road calling me louder than the cardinals in the trees, but I can’t just blow off my self-imposed goals simply because I want to be doing something else. Discipline must be maintained.
So I am disciplining myself instead of caving in to my baser desires. I wouldn’t be happy with myself if I didn’t at least try to communicate with you wonderful folks out there. Besides, a very odd thing happened to me today. And by odd, I mean strange, and by strange… let’s just say my past jumped up, grabbed me by my goatee and slapped me in the face. Now, many of you out there, my dear readers, know I spent time in the United States Navy onboard the USS Austin LPD-4 from the years 1985 to 1989. Those were four turmoil filled years. A lot of pain, joy, sadness, laughter and insanity filled those days and I am fast approaching yet another reunion of my shipmates. As a matter of fact I’m planning a road trip to this falls event. I’m not nervous about the trip or even the people who are attending for the first time. I’m excited.
It is not a nervous excitement nor is it an anxious excitement; it is the type of excitement that fills one with longing. Today that longing grew exponentially. You see a few months ago at my primary job, the job where I get to pretty much play with toy trains all day, we hired a new guy. This new guy is younger than me and quite capable of doing his job. He also understands that humor is a vital necessity of daily life where you are dealing with the public. We have gotten along quite well. This guy, hmmm, let’s call him “Johnny”, yeah, that fits, Johnny has a girlfriend who he has spoken very highly of over the past months and today when he told me that his girlfriend and her parents were coming to visit I was a bit shocked. Johnny also told me that his girlfriend’s father is a big train fan and retired from the Navy as a Chaplin. For those of you who don’t know what a Chaplin is, he is sort of like a priest/minister/pastor. The military likes to make sure these guys are around for all sorts of reasons. They do help and come in handy in a lot of cases.
To hear that Johnny was dating a Chaplin’s daughter was bit of a shock but to find out this guy was retired Navy was more of a shock. You see, most guys, especially in this area, have served in the military, mostly Navy and Marine and you get used to meeting them and talking about different experiences… experiences you may not necessarily want to share with a Chaplin that is. So when Johnny brought his girlfriend and her family in my office, I tried to be on my best behavior. But something about the guy struck me as oddly familiar. I couldn’t immediately figure it out so he and I just spoke of trains. Real trains and toy trains. I showed him some of the latest models I had gotten in and that would be operating on the layout, I explained the difference between “Scale” and “Gauge” to him. I even broke out some of the private pieces that don’t normally see the light of day because they are fragile.
Then, during a break in our conversation, the Navy was mentioned. The flood gates opened. Sea stories abounded. Johnny and his young lady friend were lost as archaic terminology bounced off the bulkheads of my office. I held out my hand and introduced myself by my Navy title and the Chaplin shook it and introduced himself by his title. It was not long before both of our stories started to sound a bit too familiar, that is when I mentioned my ship. The USS Austin (LPD-4), the look on the Chaplin’s face was a bit shocked and he quickly mentioned he had served aboard my ship… our ship. I gave him my dates of service. He gave his dates of service on her. They overlapped.
We stood there dumbfounded, staring at each other. My co-worker and his lady friend were just as astounded. The next twenty minutes quickly disappeared as we relayed different accounts of our years and experiences onboard a machine that influenced us for our entire lives. A machine which was more alive to any man that served on her than a real human. My entire body filled with goose bumps as tales of Mediterranean cruises from a different century filled the room with woven memories. Long forgotten men we both served with manifested themselves in front of our eyes and took on their youthful appearance and attitude. Ghosts filled my office and made it hard to breathe pure clean air let alone form a cognitive thought. I don’t believe these feelings were singular in nature. Scary magic was happening to the both of us and it was rubbing off on the innocent who had no idea what strange MOJO was working. We cut our conversation short and I invited Chaplin Hill to the reunion of the Austin crew which will be in August in the city for which our mistress was named after.
I didn’t get a confirmation from him, nor did I get a rejection. I hope to see his face amongst the crowd of men who filled my youth with so many incidents, accidents, joys and sorrows.
Is it August yet?
Have a great week.