Monday, May 23, 2011

The Maiden

A new experience for most of us aboard the Waccamaw was sailing with a female shipmate.  Women were just beginning to enter the historically all male sanctuary of the Merchant Marine, and many of the old timers did not like it.  Some of the younger fellows did not like it, either.  Except when sailing as fare-paying passengers, women aboard ship were looked upon as evil omens, and it was commonly held that nothing good could possibly come from having them aboard a ship at sea.  But times were changing, and Miss M, the second mate, was already on board when I joined the Waccamaw.

Miss M was 30 years old and unmarried but not maidenly.  Besides her work, the activity that she pursued most involved soliciting lascivious attention from her shipmates.  As the only woman aboard, she had a more than ample audience—or so it would seem.  Most of the men had absolutely no interest in this sort of behavior.  Instead, they had families to support with wives and children whom they loved and cared about.  There were a few exceptions to this rule, of course, but only a few, and they ranked among those who made the Waccamaw the Wicky Wacky, as Captain Rigobello would nickname the ship.

Miss M, however, made the mistake of acting as though everyone wanted to play her game.  To this end, she would carry on in ways that would now be considered harassment.  In the early 1980s, though, it was just regarded as pesty and juvenile.  Her nonsense would continue as long as it was tolerated; patience and politeness did nothing to dispel it.  She only stopped and left one alone when she was bluntly told to stop.  This happened on more than one occasion.

Of the three third mates who served with Miss M aboard the Waccamaw, two successfully rebuffed her advances verbally in front of witnesses.  Both were married men; I was one of them.  Afterwards, she modified her behavior and left us alone.  The other third mate, young and single, reacted more forcefully.  Impulsively, he made a fist and took a swing at her.  Fortunately, she ducked and he missed.  He agreed afterwards that it was a good thing that his punch fell flat.  If he had hit her, she would have had grounds to file a grievance, and he could have been fired for assaulting a woman.  Miss M got the message, though, even without a bloody nose, and afterwards she left him alone, too.

Miss M’s best performances always came when the Waccamaw was conducting an at-sea refueling of a Navy ship.  Once the two vessels were alongside of each other with the hoses connected and the oil flowing, Miss M would walk out onto the bridge wing where she would perform in full view of the Navy crews.  Leaning back against the gyro compass repeater, which stood about four feet high, she would begin preening.  She would tilt her head back, let her long reddish hair tumble down, and comb it through and through many times.  She would square her shoulders, thrust her chest forward, wiggle her hips, and dance slightly in one direction or another as she carefully combed her long hair.  With quick, nonchalant glances toward the Navy ship, she would check up on her audience and make slight adjustments to her performance.  To those of us aboard the Waccamaw who had witnessed this act many times, it became old.  With each Navy ship that came alongside for refueling, however, there also came a fresh audience to entertain.  Typically, when the refueling for each Navy ship started, only a small number of personnel would be watching Miss M.  As time went on, though, dozens and dozens of young men would appear on the Navy ship, binoculars in hand, and watch the show.  And the show continued as long as the refueling operation lasted.

These performances took place when Captain Aspiotis was in charge.  He laughed at Miss M’s antics and turned a blind eye to the fact that she was not doing her work.  But when he went on vacation and Captain Rigobello took command of the Waccamaw, things changed.

The first refueling operation with the new boss was a memorable one.  Miss M went out on the bridge wing, took up her customary position, and started her act.  She stood no more than three feet away from Captain Rigobello.  Unlike his predecessor, however, he did not see anything amusing in what she was doing.  Intervening immediately, he spoke to her in his quiet but firm manner.  His remarks sent Miss M scurrying into the bridge.  Red in the face, she got busy with her work, stayed out of sight, and never again put on her show for the Navy.

The scriptures tell us very clearly, “I, the Lord God, delight in the chastity of women” (Jacob 2:28).   While Miss M’s routine of entertaining the troops aboard the Navy ships did not violate the letter of the law of chastity, they did seem to violate the spirit of the law.  Those of us who shared the bridge duties with her all sensed that something about these performances was just not kosher.  The whole show seemed inappropriate, unprofessional, and unvirtuous.  What woman with any sense of decency would want to set herself up as an object of many dozens of young men’s lustful fantasies?  This and other rhetorical questions were repeated often aboard the Waccamaw.  No one had a ready answer, though.

One day, several of the deck seamen were discussing this subject after lunch.  They were all family men who went about their work diligently and never caused any trouble.  One normally quiet fellow named George became particularly outspoken.  George had several children, most of them daughters, and he thoroughly disapproved of Miss M’s behavior.  He belonged to the Greek Orthodox Church, he explained, and the values and morals that the Church taught were important to him.  He wanted his children to grow up with these values and morals.  They would enable his children to be good Christians, to stay out of trouble, and to lead good lives.  What Miss M did aboard the Waccamaw was an affront to everything that he believed in.  Unlike Captain Rigobello, however, George was not in a position to put a stop to it.

Being much younger than these gentlemen, I was only recently married and not yet a parent during my time aboard the Waccamaw.  Nonetheless, I completely agreed with them. Now, however, as the father of three sons and one daughter, I agree with them all the more.  Like the one seaman who sought to instill values and morals into his children, my wife and I have gone to great lengths to achieve the same result.  While acknowledging that no one is perfect because “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matt. 26:41), we have striven to teach our children to “cleanse [them]selves from all filthiness of the flesh” (2 Cor. 7:1).   What a shame that Miss M had not acquired these values and morals!

Her lack of values and morals was conspicuous, and her propositioning of several of the married men—the two third mates and others as well—constituted a direct attack on their marriages.  She sought to undermine one of the most fundamental of all moral precepts.  She had no respect for the sanctity of marriage, procreation, or the family unit.  Even more than the heavy drinking or the wild parties or the bar fights or the drug abuse, her attempts at home wrecking met with a strong sense of outrage.  It was the stuff of which soap operas were made.  It had no place among family men who were working far from home to support their families.  They had no interest in this “filthiness of the flesh.” It threatened everything that they valued most in life, and they did not believe in it.

When the Waccamaw returned to the United States, Miss M went on vacation.  Being readily available with the required license, I took her place as second mate.

Months later, Miss M came back to visit.  She was wearing a diamond ring, having become engaged to Mr. G, a former cargo officer of the Waccamaw and one who had succumbed to her less than maidenly airs.  The wedding needed to be delayed, however, until Mr. G divested himself of his original marriage.  Then Miss M would become the new Mrs. G.

The other men, who had voiced such strong disapproval of these goings-on, rotated ashore as their assignments on board were finished.  While aboard the Waccamaw, they had “let virtue garnish [their] thoughts unceasingly” (D&C 121:45), and they went home to their families, still held safely intact by church-taught values and morals.  These fellows enjoyed the best reward of all.

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