I heard my mother begin to gather up my reluctant brother and sister in the living room next door. Off went the TV. Up went the howls of protest.
“Good luck with what?” asked my father. “What are you guys up to?”
Dad had a little bit of glitter in his eyes, too. He still had a smile on his face from the lovely roast dinner and his Sunday night at home with the family. He’d been working long hours and hadn’t had much time for a home life, so tonight had been special.
I worked up my courage and replied, “I want to take a girl to the movies this Friday. I asked Mom and she says it’s okay with her if it’s okay with you.”
I took a deep breath and repeated myself word for word, adding in a rush, “I’m all caught up with my homework and I haven’t been late for curfew one night this week. Not once. You can ask Mom if you don’t believe me.”
“It’s okay.” Dad threw up his hands, as if I’d got the drop on him in one of his old Hoot Gibson movies. “Take it easy. I believe you.”
To my utter amazement, Dad didn’t have any objections to my going to the movies with a girl. Not if Mom didn’t. “I don’t see why not,” he concluded.
I was amazed because lately Dad had been pretty strict with me. He thought a firm hand and careful watching would help me do better at school, where I was failing miserably.
Now he was showing a softer side.
“I remember my first date with your mother,” said Dad, absentmindedly twirling the empty coffee cup round his forefinger. He had the same sort of dreamy look on his face that Mom had had just a few minutes before, when she had stood with her back to the sink and talked about their first date.
“I was home on leave,” Dad said, his head cocked slightly to one side as he remembered, “just off the Halsey Powell, our old tin can. Back from Korea. We’d taken her through the canal with a skeleton crew and docked in New York. She’d been stripped down for possible decommissioning by then. The scuttlebutt was she was going to be mothballed.”
“Who? Mom?” I asked. I hadn’t been paying complete attention, detecting as I did that a Navy story was coming on. It was an automatic reaction on my part. How my dad loves to dust off and tell an old Navy story, was what I was thinking, and here it comes.
“No, no, no, not your Mom,” replied Dad quickly, trying to stay with his Navy story through thick and thin. It occurs to me that I inherited my literary tenacity from him.
“Ah!” quietly sighed Dad. “I remember.” He filled his lungs deeply and exhaled with satisfaction, as if the perfumed trade winds from some exotic South Seas Island were blowing through the kitchen. Dad had done two hitches in the United States Navy, joining up the first time when he was barely seventeen. (He’d lied about his age to get in. It occurs to me that I inherited my tendency to lie about my age from him, too.) He was from Texas, born twenty-thousand leagues from the sea in any direction, and he hadn’t been on a large craft since I was in swaddling clothes, unless you counted the ship that brought us to New Zealand. But one of Dad’s main characteristics, as far as I could tell (if a son of fifteen can really tell anything about his father) was that he was a sailor. A man of the sea. In another life he might have been a Columbus, or a Cook, or a Magellan.
“What a voyage that was!” he continued. “We’d been off the Korean coast lobbing shells at Commie installations, and hadn’t had any shore leave for more than three months. You can imagine how restless the crew was, and I mean restless! Well, the wild frontier port where we docked was known throughout the Seven Seas for it’s loose morals and tight ...”
His eyes shone in the half-light of the kitchen as he began his tale. How he loved reliving his old Navy days, which, now that I think about it, might have been a difficult thing to do in New Zealand in 1968, there being so few Navy buddies around to relive them with. I quickly calculated that Dad didn’t have a single Navy buddy within six-thousand miles, unless there was one stationed at Tonga.
He smiled and said, more to himself than to me, “But I promised your mother I’d keep that one for later.”
Too bad, that one sounded like it was going somewhere interesting. The first time I ever recollect feeling that way about one of Dad’s old Navy stories.
To be continued…