Where to begin? Starting an on-line journal is in many ways the very definition of chutzpah. To presume that what you have to say would be of interest to others (let alone of value) is no small matter. But that is exactly what a writer does. She or he is willing to lay bare their very soul and in so doing “Stand naked in a cold water universe” to quote one of my Jesuit friends from the sixties. In all candor, it’s a lot easier to do this in my eighties than it would have been in my thirties or forties. My views of myself and my writings have changed dramatically. More and more I find myself in agreement with Flaubert when he wrote that “The art of writing is the art of discovering what you believe”. These columns are every bit as much an exercise in self-discovery as they are opinion pieces.
The Esther Williams Trophy is one of two trophies that have circulated among ships of various navies, after originating in the Royal Australian Navy. Initially, in 1943, the trophy was a joke between two friends, Lieutenants Lindsay Brand and David Stevenson (later the RAN's Chief of Naval Staff), serving in HMAS Nepal, an N class destroyer attached to the British Eastern Fleet. Stevenson wrote on a photograph of Esther Williams, "To my own Georgie, with all my love and a passionate kiss, Esther"; Brand (aka "George") put the screen idol over his bed. The photo was taken to another ship by a fellow officer, and the "trophy" was then circulated by officers among some 200 other ships including in United States Navy, Royal Navy, and Royal Canadian Navy ships in Asian watersThe original photo became the "trophy copy" to be kept in a safe location. A "fighting copy" was displayed where officers from other ships could attempt to steal it or take it by force, often with a good deal of roughhousing between the officers of the ships involved.
More times than I care to admit, I was more fool than father when it came to raising my sons. This next story illustrates that point perfectly.
Middle son Rob was a Sophomore in high school when it dawned on me that perhaps it was time to have a conversation with him about ‘the facts of life.’ He was starting on the basketball team, becoming something of a clothes horse and when the phone rang at home (you remember land lines), more and more frequently, it was a young lady on the other end of the line. All signs, I deduced, that it was time for The Talk.
As a child, I had a reoccurring dream. It always started the same way. I was on a conveyor belt, flat on my back. The belt was moving at a slow, steady pace toward an opening that I would fall through. Once I tumbled down the hole, I would be in a new situation. There would be new people, new surroundings and some new challenge to be dealt with. The next night would bring another dream, but always with the same beginning.
Seventy five years later I remember two things about those conveyor trips. First, I was never afraid of what awaited me once I fell through that hole. In fact, I couldn’t wait to begin the night’s adventure. The second thing I remember is that while on the belt, I wasn’t alone. There was a presence there that assured me that all was well, regardless of the night’s enterprise. This entity was never seen, only felt, but the assurance given was such that there could be no doubt as to the truth of it. It was this assurance that gave me a spirit of adventure as I tumbled down the hole. I knew that I would always awake and that there would be another new challenge the following night. Such is the power of faith. At some point in time, around the age one starts to school, these dreams stopped. The conveyor belt prologue ceased to be and my dreams became a pastiche of my daily life with one exception, my fever dream.
Demons; we all have them. As I write these words, mine are bouncing around inside my head questioning my choice of words and insisting that I am the reincarnation of a three toed sloth (Pigmy at that!) far better suited to napping than writing. I should mention here that demons can be quite prescient and will use that ability to push you into certain actions and behaviors. Still, I press on.
I am writing this entry for two very important reasons. First, to exorcise my own in the moment and secondly to let you know that I know about yours. I say ‘in the moment’ because they always return. If I have learned nothing else in my eighty plus years, I have learned that. The little devils always return. As a result, I have developed a strategy for dealing with them that I will share with you in a bit. But first, let’s talk about yours.
The first time that I heard the term Fewclothes Boys was in the Little Rock, Arkansas train station. We had taken our annual vacation trip from Kansas City south through Missouri to Arkansas. Arriving just after dark at my Uncle Frank’s house, we were told that he and my uncles Lynn and Tom were at work and would not be home until after midnight. Dad decided that he and I would go down to the Rock Island yards and surprise them.
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