Have you ever wondered about the girls who married us? Did you ever think about what it must be like to be saddled with a life partner genetically linked to men with hydraulic oil, diesel smoke and salt water in their veins and a childlike faith in adventure they can never shake? We should be eternally thankful that God made girls who could put up with us.
I married a Norwegian girl. A little homegrown, metric built, blue-eyed blond... Pretty little thing when I married her 35 years ago and a beautiful full-blown woman now. We've wrinkled up a lot of bed linen in all those years but I wouldn't trade her for all the oil in Saudi. She never made me grow up. I think the secret to long range marriage is not trying to change the person you love.
We are going to return to Bermuda for our 35th. wedding anniversary. Last time I was in Bermuda was in the mid 60s when Requin dropped the hook.
Everything was sky high except rum and coke... That only set you back fifteen cents. You could get blurred vision and a head full of buzzing bees for a buck.
But one thing stands out in my memory... You could wear loud shirts.
When I was nine, my mom died and I went to live with an aunt who did her damnedest to round off my sharp edges. Kids from East Tennessee aren't securely bolted to the planet. At nine, I was full of fleas, devoid of social grace, with a distinct adversion to combs, soap and water, proper manners, and brussel sprouts. My taste in literature was limited to Red Ryder funny books and Popular Mechanics. I later learned that these qualities were what they looked for in diesel boat sailors.
My dear aunt wore herself out trying to saddle break a kid who knew that his life's path would not take him to a whole lot of places where putting your elbows on the table or failing to put your napkin on your lap, really mattered.
My first contact with the submarine force came when I saw Operation Pacific at the Tivoli theater in Chattanooga. Cary Grant blew up a lot of Japs. At the time, blowing up as many Japs as possible was a good thing... Owning a Jap car would not have made you very popular. Little did I know sitting in that dark theater, sharing popcorn and a box of Black Crows with my best pal, that someday I would call one of those iron monsters home.
Once my aunt took me to J. C. Pennys to buy me a couple of shirts for school. They had this printed flannel shirt. It was made so that the fabric looked like irregular pieces of spotted pony hide... Brown and white and black and white horsehide had been laced together with rawhide. It was just the kind of shirt Red Ryder would have worn after his Saturday night bath, when he and Little Beaver would have gone into Dodge City to drink whiskey and pat saloon girls on the behind. To a ten year old, it was the most magnificent piece of clothing in the world. To my aunt, it was a tasteless rag fit only for white trash and totally devoid of any socially acceptable feature. I dream of that shirt to this very day. Somehow, I feel Cowboy and Old Gringo would understand.
It was hard to learn about women. There was no such thing as sex education in the 40s. No kid had direct access to Masonic ritual, the plans to the atomic bomb or nekkit lady information. Outside of Renaissance art and National Geographic pictures of buck nekkit women up the Orinoco river, nude females were a mystery.
Once camping, a kid unfolded a little piece of paper that was the insertion instructions out of his older sister's box of Tampax. We knew that somewhere on this tiny slip of folded paper lay the key to unravelling the entire mystery of human reproduction... But, damn if we could figure it out. We knew we had a schematic diagram of the unknown but we studied it like the Dead Sea Scrolls and came up with zilch. Not good for a future boat sailor. I would later learn how to read complex drawings and that the equipment we were trying to master could not be adequately understood from a piece of paper the size of a bubblegum cartoon. Life deals future sub sailors a lot of setbacks before you reach New London. But well, I'm wandering again... Back to the subject.
Bermuda is a place where a man can wear a totally tasteless shirt and fit right in. I can remember tourists wearing shirts that would make a vulture shoot his lunch.
I have ordered a catalog from a place called 'Paradise on a Hanger'. They sell "Aloha shirts"... "Aloha" is the Polynesian word for "Wild-ass, bark at the moon, totally tasteless."
(Editor's note - No one ever figured out how to use 'Dex Armstrong' and 'good taste' in the same sentence.)
These folks sell stuff you can only view through welders goggles. Radioactive prints of tropical flowers, bright parrots, pineapples, palm trees, even one with asorted surface craft... These people have elevated tacky tastelessness to a level only understood by blind Hindus, Zamboanga chief petty officers and smokeboat personnel. They even make them in 3X for lads who have spent a lifetime loading retirement rations.
The kid is going to get his socially unacceptable shirt and take his bouncing bride to an old liberty port... Drink a little rum and chase her around a two hundred dollar a night beach cottage. It doesn't get any more diesel boat than that.
(Follow-up editor's note - Finally figured a way to write the sentence... 'Thirty-five years ago, Dex Armstrong had the good taste to marry Solveig Nordvik in Hamar, Norway.').