I 'm walking on South on route 9, hitch hiking my way back to the base. It was in the middle of July and the sun fading. I figured there’s no problem for a sailor hitching a ride, especially if he’s wearing his whites.
A pickup stopped and took me five miles. Then an elderly couple stopped. “So where ya headed, sailor?” the old guy said.
“Lakehurst.” I said.
His wife smiled. “He reminds me of Chuck, let’s give him a ride.”
“Hop in,” the old man said. “So whatcha doing in Lakehurst?”
I’m going to a service school.” I said, closing the back door
“Service school, what's that?” the old man frowned.
“Meteorology. I'm studying to become a weatherman.”
Our son was in the Navy in 43, he never made it back from the Pacific.
“School!” he frowned. I thought sailors served on ships.
“I’m studying to be an Aerographers mate.”
“Aero…what?” he said.
“Weather school.” I answered back. “I’m learning to be a weather man.”
After about five miles, he pulled over.
“This is where we turn off, son,” the old lady said, then squeezed my hand with moist eyes. “Take care of your self and God bless you.”
“Thanks for the ride folks.” I walked toward the setting sun.
I no sooner walked a few steps, when a semi stopped. “So where ya headed swabby?” the driver hollered.
“South Jersey, Lakehurst ” I said.
“Jump in. I’m going to Phillie. I’ll drop ya off at the circle.”
The trucker squinted and furled his brow. “Lakehurst huh, what's doing there?”
“I’m going to weather school.”
“Weatherman… ya know, I’m learning to forecast the weather.”
“Oh, I gottcha, weatherman. No shit, I’m an old dog soldier myself. Spent some time with the big Red A in France in 44.
I leaned back in the seat and welcomed the breeze rushing through my hair. I must have dozed.
“Okay kid, here’s where I turn off, take care of yourself.”
I started down the dark highway. I turned to the hissing of air brakes turning I and saw a bus, with no inside lights. At first it appeared to be draped in black. The door opened
“Hop in,” He said. “This one’s on me.”
I got into the empty bus.
“So where ya going mate?” the driver said with a big wide grin reflected by the dash lights.
“Lakehurst.” I said.
“I’ll take ya as far as Lakewood, I’m on a ghost run. I have to drive this empty bus down to the terminal for a special run. I’ll let ya off a few blocks from the terminal. I’m not suppose to have any passengers.”
“Thank you.” I said.
“Lakehurst Naval Base” he said. LTA right kid?”
“Don’t tell me there’ve putting those Blimps back into action. I thought after the war the Navy scraped them.”
“Yer right.” I said. “Its a service school now, for Aerographers mates.” His nameplate read Charles O’Connor.
“I did a hitch in the Navy” he said. “Served on a wooden bottom—“
“Wooden bottom,” I interrupted. “Ya mean a mine sweeper, must have been scary.”
“Yeah, depends,” he said with that wide grin.
“So how ya doing at school?” he said changing the subject.
“I don’t know" I said, hunching my shoulders “Things aren’t really working out.”
“Not working out. Like what?” he saaid glancing in the rear view mirror.
“It just too hard, its simple as that. I’m looking to leave and apply for sea duty.”
Nothing was said until we reached Lakewood’s main street.
The bus slowed and pulled to the curb. “Wants some advice kid?” he said tipping back his hat.
“Sure, go ahead.” I said.
Why don’t ya back and gets into those books, pick a guy ya can study with, ya know quiz each other back and fourth. Give it a shot,” he said with his thumb up. Maybe things will work out, Stay away from the sea kid, its no fun, I know.
I convinced my room mate Homer Pruitt to study with me. He had a problem too comprehending the big books.
We both passed our final examinations.
I thought about Charlie O’Connor many times. I really wanted to thank him.
On the way home, I stopped at the bus terminal and asked the agent. He peered over his glasses with a puzzled look,
“O’Connor, there’s no Charlie O’Connor working here. There used to be---I’d say about fifteen years ago…yeah Chuck O’Connor. He went down with his ship, the Skylark during the war. He was a local boy too. Look over on that far wall sailor you’ll see a plague with a group picture. He’s the tall guy in the back row with the big wide grin, giving the thumbs up.”
“Well that’s the story Jack whether you believe or not that’s what happened, and that’s how I ended in San Diego, as a weatherman.”