Going into the service does lots of things for a young man from small-town America. One of the most important is introducing him to the great variety of humankind we share this nation with.
In boot camp, I met my first person from the state of Washington, learned some of the slang of Italian-Americans from the steel mill towns of Pennsylvania, and had to learn how to pronounce a Polish kid’s name containing almost no vowels.
In Radioman’s School, I met even more types and got to spend a much longer time around them. One of the more interesting was a guy from Texas named Shaw. Shaw was maybe what Texans are supposed to be, loud, proud, brazen, feisty, and fearless. He was one of those people you had to like but you also had to get some time off.
There are two things I remember most about Shaw. First, he loved to drink and fight. I was in trouble only once in the Navy and it was being too close to a fight Shaw provoked after an evening drinking beer at the Enlisted Men’s Club. On the way back to the barracks Shaw provoked a fight with a Marine and since I was with him I got called before the Captain’s Mast as well. Shaw lost his drinking privileges for a while and the Captain didn’t hold me responsible for anything.
One Saturday evening Shaw went into Baltimore and hit the sailor bars. He got into a fight but made it back to the base. Next day he walked into the head while I was shaving and his face was scabbed up in a few places. He was checking out the wounds in the mirror and said, “I don’t know who that guy was but he was wearing Poll Parrot shoes.” One of his scabs was shaped closely to the outline of the famous parrot.
The other story about Shaw involved his girlfriend back home, Peaches. Seriously, Peaches. I don’t know how long they had been going together but Peaches was definitely worried about her man in Navy blue. Besides the almost daily love letter Peaches sent Shaw a bi-weekly care package of pralines and other Texas pleasures he shared with the guys in the company. The bizarre thing was, once a month Peaches sent Shaw a $20 bill that was expressly for the sole purpose of spending in a Baltimore love parlor.
I’m sure Peaches wasn’t representative of most if any, Texas teenagers of the 1960s but I will bet that more than one lonely sailor in that barracks hoped Peaches had a sister.