“This is for you.” The elderly, white haired man sitting in the guest chair in my office said as he slid a medium sized cardboard box across the top of my desk.
It was a normal looking box. Not too big, not to small. I picked it up, it was light in my hands, I turned it this way and that. I looked for any markings that might give away what was inside, but there were none. I sat it back down on my desk, looked at my friends and said “What’s in it?”
“Guess you’ll have to open it to find out, Skipper-doo.” He answered using a nickname that only he could pull off.
I opened the top drawer of my desk, pulled out my small, Sabre three blade pocket knife, and opened up the medium blade. The stainless steel cut easily through the packing tape and when I was done, I put the knife away.
I looked into the man’s eyes for any clue as to what he was giving me, his face was as blank as a piece of printer paper. I shrugged and opened the flaps and stuck my hand inside. Course, stiff packing paper greeted my hand. I pulled it out and threw it away and reached in the box again.
` It was soft, yet stiff. Curved lines and smooth edges were traced by my fingers. It felt familiar. I plucked out the present. Dark, navy blue fabric filled my vision. I turned it around and saw the word USS Austin, LPD-4 in gold stitched across the front and under the name and above the ships call letters was a gray stitched silhouette of my ship. I was holding one of my ships hats in my now shaking hand.
I looked up at the man in the chair. My mind was racing with memories and my eyes leaking with nostalgia as I smiled at him. “Captain, where in the world did you get one of these?” was all I could muster.
“You like it? You want it? It’s yours. Don’t worry about where I got it from Skipper-doo.”
Over the next thirty minutes we sat talking about things only sailors understand. Mid-watches, sunsets on the Atlantic one night and sunrise on the Mediterranean the next morning and endless hours of doing gator squares, or trying to fill in the quiet hours of the evening just lying on the deck reading a good book. We spoke of liberty calls, dolphin and whale sightings. We shared our pains of endless work hours, bloody hands, sore muscles and broken hearts. Tall tales filled the room spun by two masters of the sea with all the landlubbers forgotten and lost in the cloud of memories.
I put the hat on. Took it off, adjusted the band and put it on again. The Captain left with a slight hitch in his step and a smile on his face. I sat at my desk and put my feet up and a smile on my face.
The rest of the day my mind wouldn’t let me forget a single moment of life spent at sea for the United States government and my service to the fleet.
It is a rare thing in my life when I receive a gift that makes me time travel. And over the course of the past couple years I’ve received two. Both of which I keep in my office where I can see them on a daily basis. They help me remember a time when I wasn’t so tainted, so disillusioned with life and its many pitfalls, when I was able to move my body without pain and when I knew I was the master of my world.
Those days are long gone. Beaten out of me at the harsh, cold hands of experience, but you know, the one thing that I still have and the one thing that has not left are the thoughts, experiences, joys, travails and life I once had.
A life I didn’t even know I was lucky enough to be involved in. Which sort of makes me appreciate where I am now in my life.
Who knows, maybe thirty years from now, if I’m still alive and kicking, someone will hand me a toy train or a photograph of who and what I am today and I’ll get misty eyed all over again.
Have a great week.