Overnight duty

“Can I have your cookies?” asked Buddy, wide-eyed, from across the narrow table that wobbled slightly on its steel center post.
We were at chow during his Cub Scout pack’s recent annual encampment, held this year on the Battleship New Jersey, our largest and most decorated battleship, now a museum.
I let him steal my cookies. I knew he was excited to be there. He had asked about the overnight with his pals for weeks. I hadn’t actually been looking as forward to the stay as him, though. Despite the rare one-on-one time, I dreaded the crowd and the tight quarters.
The evening, as they say though, flew by. After squeezing with our gear (two pillows bungeed to a rolled-up sleeping bag) down the hatch to the berthing deck, we explored, herded through the chow line and the tour, stood at attention for the retreat and evening headcount, and put a bit of work in for Buddy’s brand new dog tags.
I could tell he was enjoying the whole thing, because he listened during the tour and actually asked questions.
It was Lights Out before we knew it. He curled up on the steel bunk three feet above mine and promptly passed out. Just before I did.
Reveille arrived in a blink. It caused me a few moments’ twitching through some old memories, but he got up and gathered his gear, then went up to the mess deck and cheerfully tore through his powdered eggs. Then he had a go at mine. I was glad that I had only wanted the coffee (I never liked them anyway).

As we rolled over the Walt Whitman Bridge on the way home, he picked out the ship at its pier up the river. “That was really cool,” he said to the window.
He was snoring a minute later.
I considered how the whole event had been more than worthwhile. Both the bit of military color and the experience of seeing something that historically significant up close were as valuable for him as anything he could learn in a classroom. I’ll be glad to start talking to him about history, and take him to the places around us that are important to our country. Hopefully, he’ll remember this for a while.
I just hope he hasn’t discovered a taste for powdered eggs.


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