It was during the Second World War, and it was my father’s second time in the water following a torpedo attack. Just moments before the crewmen off watch were sitting down to their evening meal. The sound and force of the torpedo exploding sent everyone flying. My father had succotash all over the front of his shirt. Little things like that tend to stick with you.
In the following minutes, men attempted to rush to damage control stations and assume their parts in fighting for the ship’s life. Before most made it to their stations, the tanker was in flames, and the order was passed to abandon ship.
My father was not among the ones who made it to a lifeboat. His life now came to depend upon his abilities as a swimmer. Not having a life jacket proved to be a blessing as he swam beneath a burning oil slick; the life jacket would have been a liability. Eventually, he was picked up by other survivors in a lifeboat. But, it would be almost a week before they were rescued by a passing vessel.
The memories were not mine. They were my father’s. For some reason one afternoon, he decided to tell his nine-year-old son about how to survive the sinking of a tanker. His descriptions were vivid, and I discovered that they abided with me throughout the years. That and an aversion to succotash.