Winter appears to have returned with a vengeance over the weekend. The high in Southern Maryland yesterday was forty-three degrees, and may reach thirty-four today. I’m not one to complain about the cold (except for a cold seat-of-ease; don’t they make heated ones?), and believe temperatures this cold should be accompanied by snow. My northern friends may cast eye darts at me, but I don’t mind shoveling snow. I find the cold exhilarating and shoveling an excellent workout. Of course, a good year of snow here is ten inches or so. We received at least three times that in 2010, but that’s a rare occurrence no matter how hard I pray for Buffalo, New York-like snowfalls.
I call Tampa, Florida home. “Haha,” you say. “It never snows in Florida.” I beg to differ, mon ami. In 1977, mere days before I left for Navy boot camp, a wicked nor’easter (so unexpected it wasn’t even named!) dropped nearly half an inch of snow on my neighborhood (just off 30th St and Fowler Ave). The snow had it made in the shade until the afternoon. I know! Unbelievable!
Before that, I lived in the Netherlands where I received my first impression of the fluffy white stuff. I remember walking around downtown Driebergen one night in the snow with my Dad at Christmas time and shopping for presents. To this day, I’m pretty sure I heard sleigh bells and a hohoho off in the distance, although that may have been wishful thinking.
It wasn’t until I completed boot camp and initial training, and reported to Naval Air Station Brunswick, Maine in October of 1977 that I understood all the hullabaloo about snow. Maine’s funny in Winter (notice I capitalize Winter – that’s respect – don’t anger Winter). It snows in October, then you don’t get any more snow for weeks and you think you’ve dodged an icicle. Then – bam! – it snows like hell is freezing over. It makes you cry. It makes you want your mommy. It makes you wish you were stationed in Death Valley (Yes! there IS a Navy base near Death Valley).
But, you adjust. You put on your big boy longjohns – two layers; your arctic sweatpants; your woolen trousers; three pair of LL Bean extra woolly boot socks; a turtleneck; a mock turtleneck; an LL Bean wool-lined flannel shirt; a sweater; another sweater; a scarf; a longer scarf; a fur-lined hockey mask; snow shades; a watch-cap; ear muffs; uh-oh, take it all off, you forgot your boxers…. Then you’re ready to walk to the outhouse. Haha 🙂 Just kidding (my Maniac friends don’t take offense) (insert ‘tears in my eyes’ smiley emoticon here 🙂
The trouble with wearing all that gear is that you just peel it off layer by layer as you labor and labor as you sweat and sweat while shoveling and shoveling the snow from your driveway. Or as you ski, snowshoe, ice skate, name-your-Winter-numbing thrill.
Where was I? Oh yes, October 1977. So, it snowed. Sweet! But, nothing much (see above) fell for a while after the October Surprise. Then, in early February, 1978, Winter returned. A Paul Bunyan Winter. A Blue-all-over Babe Winter. A Jolly Green Giant-in-a-parka Winter. W-I-N-T-E-R (one more letter and Winter would have the same number of letters as R-E-S-P-E-C-T).
Wow. And I thought the Winter of ’77 in Tampa was rough. Hooboy. It snowed and snowed and snowed, and the wind howled and howled and howled, and the power went off and on and off and on and off and off and off. And I had to go to work.
No. Seriously. In the Navy, they own you. Well, the taxpayer owns you. And taxpayers don’t take kindly to non-politicians wasting their hard-earned taxes by not going to work because of a little snow. Unless someone from the squadron comes to your room in the barracks, taps softly on your door, and politely encourages you to remain indoors for your safety and drink hot Irish coffee, you go to work. So I did.
I put on my boxers (briefs, actually 🙂 my Navy-issue, three-sizes-too-small longjohns – two layers; my Navy-issue two-sizes-too-large sweatpants; my Navy-issue all-weather (NOT!) cotton trousers; three pair of black Navy-issue cotton socks; a turtleneck; a partridge in a pear tree; a mock turtleneck; a short-sleeved shirt; a black, Navy-issue sweater; a black, Navy-issue scarf; a black, Navy-issue watch cap; a pair of big, huge, bulbous, seriously-insulated Winter boots; mittens the size of Lake Michigan; a pea coat; and a parka. Now, the parka.
Navy parkas are hand-me-downs. “Hand-me-downs?” you ask sincerely. Yes, hand-me-downs. From the US Air Force. The Navy gets all its winter clothing, or foul-weather gear, from the Air Force. “Why?” you ask. Well, the Navy’s money is used like this: Requirement>Budget>Procurement>build officer’s club>build barber shop>ask for more money>build ships>build aircraft>build hangars>build runways>build shore patrol HQ>build barracks>build uniform shop>ask for more money>build Chief’s Club>build morale center for enlisted men>>><<<<<. Uh oh. No money for parkas No worries; the Air Force will give us their foul weather gear; they don’t work on cloudy days or when the temperature drops below comfy-cozy.
The Air Force uses its money this way: build officer’s club>build golf course>build putt-putt golf course>build swimming pool at officer’s club>build theater>build wives’ club>build NCO club>build Enlisted Men’s club> build tuxedo rental shop>pay Miss Manners to teach enlisted men manners and proper pinkie extension for drinking tea>build more enlisted men’s clubs to accommodate the poor, wretched, forgotten, Navy enlisted men. Ask for more money to build airplanes and stuff. And tools.
When an Air Force guy gets a spot of caviar on his clothing, he’s required to donate the clothing to a Sailor, then purchase new clothing. Same thing with foul-weather gear, except the Air Force doesn’t use the foul-weather gear. They’re required to have it, Congress says so, but they don’t have to use it. So, it sits around in mothballs for a while until some Senior Master Technically Senior Sergeant remembers the deprived Sailors he noticed panhandling on Poverty Row while his driver drove him to work. He orders his men to give the foul-weather clothing to the Navy, then they all sit around all charitable-like, laughing, and sipping 40-year old scotch and telling war stories (NOT!).
Anyway, where was I? Oh, yeah. So, I donned my parka – the caviar stain embarrassed me but I Sailor’d up – and headed off to the hangar. And danged if I didn’t walk into a whiteout. No, not the type of whiteout the Air Force uses on computer monitors. This was a snow whiteout. The hangar is only half a mile away. I mean, on a clear day you can see forever! Not that day. I couldn’t see my boots. I couldn’t see my belt. I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face! I could see my breath, because I had the front of the parka rolled all the way out, and because panic makes you breathe hard and fast. My breath had to go somewhere! How was I to get to work? Where was the hangar anyway? Who would be stupid enough to work on a day like this? Who would be stupid enough to fly in this weather? Stupid me.
I stuffed my hands in my pockets – a big no-no in the Navy; it basically means you’re a no good malingerer, liable to skylark all day and hide out in the head to avoid work. I felt guilty then, and took my hands out of my pockets in case an officer walked by and saw me (remember my previous Navy post? Where I said I was the juniorest of junior Sailors? Yep. Still the case). Off I went. Nooooo tracks in the snow to signal the way; nooooo rope line to make sure I made it to the hangar and didn’t wander off the sidewalk and freeze to death (then someone would have had to write my folks about how I died in the line of duty, brave man, good man, bright future, huge loss to nation, many medals, etc etc etc; nooooo leaders to light my path with the purity of their benevolent awesomeness.
How I made it, I do not know. Apparently, ‘He’ had many more adventures in mind for me, or I amused ‘Him,’ I’m not sure which. By the time I made it to the hangar it was nearly sunrise. The officers would be waking up in a few hours and would need parking spots free of snow. I grabbed a shovel, girded my loins – buried somewhere under all those Air Force hand-me-downs, and headed for the parking lot.
“Where are you going, Shipmate?” It was the Command Senior Chief, Senior Chief Mike Glenn.
“I’m going out to shovel the officer’s parking lot, sir”
“Don’t call me Sir, Bill. I work for a living.”
“It’s Will, sir, I mean Senior Chief. Not Bill.”
“Okay, Bill. Put away the shovel and post topside to the Wardroom. For some reason, the Skipper says he wants you to make his coffee from now on.”
“Aye aye, Senior Chief.”
I didn’t ask questions. I didn’t look back. I didn’t malinger, skylark, or go AWOL. I ran my tail topside and made the Skipper, Commander Riffle, the best damn coffee in the whole darn United States Navy.
“Why?” you ask.
Hee hee: The Skipper had taught me how to make Navy coffee a week earlier.
But that’s a Sea Story for another time 🙂