Most of what we know about history, at least very early history, was passed down from generation to generation, orally. Before there was written language, there was storytelling. If it were not for that, much of our history would have been lost to time.
Granted, just like the game played as children, “telephone”, much can be changed in the telling of a story from person to person. But if you think things can’t be changed in the writing, translating, etc of a story, well…we’ll talk about that some other time.
My grandfather was a master storyteller. He had a deep, commanding voice and when he spoke, people shut up and listened. I don’t know if it was always that way, or if his time commanding other sailors in the Navy had something to do with that, I can just tell you that’s how it was from the time I can remember. I never knew my grandfather before he was a Naval officer. He had retired from the Navy long before I was born.
I was born on his birthday, 59 years apart. He and my grandmother were in Taos, New Mexico on the day of my birth. Apparently, he had told people for months that I was going to be born on his birthday, even though my due date was two weeks later. Ever impatient, I came early. All 5lbs and 13 oz of me, ready to get started. My Dad had to call around to a few places, and someone ended up having to search for my grandparents in the desert in order to give them the news.
After my grandfather left the Navy, he and my grandmother bought an old dairy farm in Raleigh, NC. He went into business with her brother and started what became one of the largest commercial construction companies on the east coast. Never one to be idle, my grandfather. They also worked the farm, though not in its original capacity as a dairy farm. They did have cows, chickens, horses, a vegetable garden for their personal use, and plant and flower gardens galore.
My grandfather was a city boy, born and raised in Brooklyn, NY. I think he wanted to show everyone that the city boy could run a farm, and run it well. I also think he didn’t want to raise his children in the city, even though he loved it with all of his heart. His own childhood there turned out well, but wasn’t without its ups and downs. But that’s a story for another time.
One of my grandfather’s favorite things to do was to regale those around him with war stories. He was a WWII veteran and boy oh boy, did he have some stories! Quite honestly, it wasn’t just war stories he liked to tell, really, he just loved to tell stories.
His war stories stand out I guess because he could make anything sound like the most interesting thing in the world. He brought you back to wherever he was, made you feel like you were right there with him. There’s one story in particular, that I probably heard 50 times at least, about one of two typhoons he and his crewmates lived through (barely) during their time in the Pacific.
At this point during the war, he was second in command on a submarine. Apparently, the sub was above water one seemingly bright and sunny day, and my grandfather and some of the other squids were up top, enjoying the weather and probably doing other things as well. As is wont to happen, the beautiful day quickly changed. The ocean swelled as the winds quickly picked up and the submarine began to bounce across the waves like a child’s paper boat.
My grandfather recalls, with great gusto I might add, because at this point in the story, he’s all worked up, talking very loudly and gesturing wildly, how he is the first to reach the hatch. And of course, the damn thing doesn’t want to open! So he’s fighting with it, with the help of another crew member, and they finally get it open.
By this time, the waves are crashing over the submarine and they are all holding on to whatever they can for dear life. My grandfather is essentially shoving sardines into a tin can, one at a time, yelling at them, “Down the hatch!”
Word comes up the ladder, literally, that they must dive, and quickly. The submarine is not meant to ride out a storm of this magnitude above the ocean. My grandfather, 2nd in command, refuses to go down the hatch until his last squid is down before him.
Once the last crew member is down, chaos is already ensuing below. He decides there’s no way he can get inside in time and properly seal the hatch. So this crazy man closes the hatch from the outside.
He rode out the storm on top of a fucking submarine.
Obviously, they did not dive. The storm was almost over before it started, thank the gods, or this writer would have never made her entrance into the world.
I remember asking him once what the hell kind of John Wayne shit he thought he was pulling. His reply?
“That guy? He doesn’t have shit on a street kid from Brooklyn, girly. Savvy?”