“How's this look, Dad?”
My son was bent over the table, the can of primer in one hand and the result of an hour of hard work lying on the bench in front of him. It was the hood to the trunk of the classic car we were working on. Right now, parts to the thing were scattered all over the garage. The back section, the front section, and the hood, even the two doors had yet to be sanded down and primed. I had already pulled the engine and had it bolted to the engine mount so I could take the thing apart. It needed everything: new valves, points, plugs, wires—the whole thing. The car had sat in a junkyard, forgotten till I spotted it one afternoon
I wanted something me and my son could work on together, something that he could get involved with. Restoring a classic car, one that I would pass along to him when he was old enough, seemed like the ticket. So far it was working. I was hoping that this would be the beginning of a long line of projects we could do together. He and I spent the time I was home together in the garage, sanding, painting and cleaning the old clunker that my ever-loving wife had said would never run.
“Looks good. You ready to start on the hood?” I asked. I watched as my only child moved to where the hood leaned against the wall. He crossed his arms over his chest and turned his head sideways as he appraised the piece. “It's in pretty bad shape,” he said finally, his golden eyes, the same shade as mine, already twinkling with the thought of a new challenge.
“You did pretty good with the back panel. I think you can handle the hood. What color are we painting it? We haven't settled on anything yet.”
I turned my
attention back to the froze-up engine, but kept close watch as my boy
maneuvered the hood into the middle of the floor, where he laid it down flat.
He stopped and ran a hand through his dark, short yet curly hair. Another habit
he got from his old man. He was at that stage in life where he wasn't a boy any
more, but he wasn't a man yet either. He was so much like me at that age. The
same tall and lean build, the same golden hazel eyes, the same dark curly hair.
I could only hope I could raise him with the same wisdom and values my father
had taught me. Thinking about my father, I stopped, realizing I was twisting
the ring he had given me on my eighteenth birthday. It had been his and when I
got my appointment to
“How about red?” he said, interrupting my thoughts. For a second I was lost, having forgotten that I had asked him a question.
“Cherry red, fire-engine red, what shade were you thinking of?” It was going to be his car one day, why not let him make the decision on the color?
“Candy apple red. Way too cool.”
“Well, it's gotta be primed before we paint,” I said. My son just grinned and gathered up the rags and sand paper he needed to start.
I couldn't believe Dad trusted me to sand and prime his pet project. I mean jeez, how many kids get to restore a classic 1960's model sports car, a Shelby Cobra of all things? Most kids might get to wash Dad's car. I was getting to help put this thing together. Maybe if I was lucky, when I finally got my license, he might let me drive it. Hey, a kid's gotta have a dream right?
I liked working on the car with Dad. He taught me a lot, without lecturing like most parents do. He'd show me how to do something, then turn me lose with it. I sanded and primed both the front and back panels on my own, as well as the trunk hood. The front hood was going to be a snap. I settled down, damp sandpaper in one hand, working the loose peeling paint off the hood. Candy apple red. Oh yeah, that's the ticket. Dad was gonna look so cool riding around in this thing. The junior officers on base were gonna be so jealous.
This was the longest time Dad had been home in a while. I knew his job kept him away for months at a time. I wished he could get a job that didn't keep him away for so long. I missed my Dad when he was gone. Mom always worried about him until he came home. But he was a commander in the Navy. Pretty soon he'd make captain. My dad, a captain. Pretty cool, huh?
Granddad had been a captain in the Navy and soon so would my dad. I wanted to carry on that tradition: Navy officers, going back three generations, if I joined up. I hadn't talked it over with Dad yet. I wasn't sure what his reaction would be. This was as good a time as any to talk about it. I started high school this year and I had a lot to work on if I was going to try and get into the Naval Academy.
“Hey Dad, can I ask you something?”
“Anything, scout. Ask me anything and I'll try to give you an honest answer.”
Scout. He always called me that. Most kids didn't like nicknames—they thought nicknames were for babies. Dad said not to think of it as a nickname, but to think of it as a code name. How many kids have a codename? “I think I know what I wanna do after high school,” I started. That got his attention. He stopped tinkering with the engine block and looked over at me.
“Oh? What's on your mind?”
“I think I wanna go to Annapolis, like you and granddad,”
Dad froze. I watched a slow smile spread over his face. “You need to be sure. You can't just show up and say let me in. You have to keep your grades up and you have to pass the physical and a number of other tests. Nobody can buy you in. My dad had a Medal of Honor, so it was a little easier for me to get in. You're gonna have to work for it.”
“I can do it. I know I can. I really want to go to submarine school, just like you did.”
“Just like me, huh? Well, just so you know, it's a commitment. You can't get half way through and decide it's not right. You have to be right for Sub school. If you don't have what it takes, no power on earth can buy you a seat. You have to feel it in your heart, to know it in your soul. It's a life long commitment, and you have to understand that in the end, that is a price you could end up paying.”
I had already thought about that. I did feel it in my heart. It was something that called to me. I wasn't sure I could even put it into words. If I tried to explain how I felt, most people told me I was too young to know what I wanted. But I knew, somehow, this was what I wanted, and nothing else really mattered. “I know. I can handle it. Dad, this is something I really want.”
My dad smiled at me. “Good to hear it. That's the way it should be.”
The candy apple red car sat in the garage, protected under the car cover. We had finished the car a few weeks ago, two days before he actually shipped out. We hadn't even taken it for a test drive yet. I walked around the front, visualizing the sleek lines, the round curves, and the mirror-like polish of the custom paint job. I wasn't ready to deal with it yet. Dad had only been dead a week. He'd been critically injured when one of the diesel engines on the sub he was serving blew up. Dad was transferred to Bethesda, but there wasn't much anybody could do for him. For two weeks, Mom and I took turns at Dad's bedside. I grew to hate the hospital, hate the smells. I hated watching them draw blood and run tests that wouldn't do any good. I promised myself if I ever got stuck in a hospital, the second I was able to walk, nothing was going to keep me from leaving.
I already missed him. All I had left of him was his pictures, the car and his ring. The ring was sized for someone with bigger fingers than me. Mom asked me if I wanted it resized, and I said no. I'd grow into it. In the meantime, I twisted the ring round and round on my finger, almost as if by touching it, I could be closer to Dad and know he was watching after us.
I heard the garage/kitchen door open and Mom came into the garage. She put her hands on my shoulders, standing behind me. I was as tall as she was and everybody kept saying I was still growing. At this rate I was gonna be as tall as Dad, and he was just over six feet tall.
“I've asked your Aunt Mary to move in with us. I have to meet with some investors, and then I have to go to Taiwan. I don't want you staying by yourself.”
“I'll be fine Mom. You don't have to drag Aunt Mary into this. I can take care of myself,” I said.
“Mary is having just a rough a time of this as you are. She lost both her father and her brother to the Navy. She wants to be near you. I thought you liked Aunt Mary?”
“I do, but I don't need a babysitter. You don't have to worry about me. I'm fourteen, Mom. I'm not a kid anymore,” I tried to be convincing but my voice chose that moment to crack and I lost an octave. Stupid hormones.
“Of course you're not. I just prefer to have somebody here with you. I can't put this trip off any longer. Mary needs the distraction. She can send you off to school and met with any of your teachers if need be.”
“Mom, I'm joining the Navy as soon as I graduate high school.” I gushed out before my brain could tell my mouth to shut up.
Mom released her grip on me and took a step backwards. I turned, seeing the fear in her hazel brown eyes. “You can't mean that. Please, don't make me mourn the both of you. Think of how your aunt's going to feel. You're too young to be making this kind of decision, especially now. Give it a few years.”
Dad had understood. He never questioned why I wanted this. I wasn't just so I could be the third generations of Cranes to join the service. How do you explain that the sea calls to you, that she speaks to you like nothing else? I'd do anything to be close to the sea. Dad said he felt the same thing, that the only thing that pulled him back to land was Mom and me. Whether or not I ever found a woman who did the same for me wasn't something I worried about right now. I wanted to serve my country, like my Dad and my Granddad had.
“I don't have a few years. If I plan on getting into Annapolis, I have to start now. I've already talked it over with Dad. Besides it's not going to happen tomorrow. I've got four years of high school yet. I can't enter the Academy till I'm at least eighteen. Since I'll graduate after I turn eighteen, you'll have me around for another four years.”
Mom just stared at me, and I could see the tears welling up in her eyes. I wrapped my arms around my mother and just held her. She was crying and it broke my heart, feeling her trembling in my arms.
“I can't stop you, I can only hope you're making the right decision,” she managed as she buried her head into the side of my neck.
“Me too, Mom. Me, too.” Everybody had to start somewhere. Everybody had to have a beginning. This was mine.
I can't believe I let Jiggs talk me into this. A bunch of high school freshmen had no idea what they wanted out of life, much less if they wanted to join one of the Armed Forces. Jiggs had been doing most of the talking, but I was watching the assembly. I stood behind the podium, looking out over the crowd, watching as the kids filled out to head to their next class. One young man sitting along the bottom row of bleachers caught my attention. He was a tall, wiry youth, with dark curly and a very intense gaze. He was watching me with a very curious expression. I leaned over to Jiggs. The boy looked familiar but for the life of me, I could not figure out where the devil I had seen him before.
“Jiggs, you see that young man in the front row?”
Jiggs Starke focused on the one I was pointing out. “Hellfire Harry, looks just like Crane's boy,” Jiggs sputtered and I suddenly remembered. Ambrose Crane was killed a few months back in an accident onboard his sub. I knew he had a son, but I couldn't think of his name. The young man stood up and without hesitation, he walked up to the podium.
“Sir, do you have a minute?” he asked. I could tell he was a tad more nervous than he was showing. He wore a ring on his right hand that he twisted back and forth, a nervous tick if ever I saw one.
“That's what we came here for. Commander Harriman Nelson,” I held out a hand to the young man. He took it in a firm grasp.
“Lee Crane, sir. I want to talk to you about joining the Navy.” I shook the young man's hand, feeling the beginning of something new in his touch.