Friday 21 Oct 2016

Old Ironsides
AJ Robinson

There are many great memories of my Dad that I carry with me; and visiting "Old Ironsides" is one of them. I used to think it strange that most of those memories revolved around water and the ocean, and sailing, but that was the kind of guy he was. He lived for sailing. My mom always said, "If there's no ocean in Heaven, your Dad's not staying!"

Well, as it happens, there's a great piece of American naval history sitting right in Boston Harbor. For my Dad, that made it doubly good; he loved history almost as much as he loved sailing. I definitely got those genes from him! The USS Constitution is the oldest ship in the U.S. Navy, and yes, it is still considered to be on active duty. Once a year, they take it out around the harbor to let it stretch and bend a bit.

So, when I was quite young, maybe about five, my Dad took me to see it. At first, I was a bit surprised when I saw the ship. After all, its nickname was "Old Ironsides." So, why didn't it have sides made of iron or steel? My Dad told me not to worry; the guide would explain everything on the tour. He was right; the tour guide explained that the ship got that nickname after a battle with the British. Their cannonballs didn't go through the ship's thick hull; they bounced off! The hull was so tough; the other sailors were convinced the Constitution had to be made of iron.

As we strolled about the deck, my Dad told me the stories and history of the ship that he'd learned over the years. By the time we got below deck, and heard the guide talking about the crew's water rations, I was convinced my Dad knew more than the guide ever would. The guide spoke of how each crew member only had a certain amount of water each day. They could wash with it, drink it, or use it for the clothes. So, needless to say, the crew members were a fairly dirty lot most of the time. My feeling was, they were pretty lucky. Just think, not having to wash, and not having your mom around to yell at you about it? To a little boy, it sounded like paradise.

The guide showed us the cannons and other weapons they used. Then he got into the harsh discipline of the old navy, and suddenly the prospect of being a sailor didn't appeal to me. My dad pointed out that the modern navy didn't use the cat o' nine tails any more. That made me feel better, and so I decided that maybe the navy wasn't such a bad idea after all. I asked my Dad if I could join the army first, and then go into the navy. He laughed, and told me that maybe I should pick one career and stick with it. Right then, seeing all that history, and hearing about the bravery of the ancient sailors; I wanted nothing more than to be a part of it all.

Combining the gimlet-eye, of Philip Roth, with the precisive mind of Lionel Trilling, AJ Robinson writes about what goes bump in the mind, of 21st century adults. Raised in Boston, with summers on Martha's Vineyard, AJ now lives in Florida. Most of the time he writes, but sometimes he works at Disney World to renew his fantasies and get a few dollars more. AJ writes, with insight and passion, about his family and his dog. His liberal, note the small "l," sensibilities often lead to bouts of righteous indignation, well focused and true.

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