John and I went down the Mississippi together (click "Fit 1" "Fit 2" & "Fit 3" in the Categories listing to the right of this page). And before that, way back when we were young seamen starting at the bottom, we sailed together on Getty's oil tankers, then homeported in Delaware City, Delaware.
We both started in the galley, under a Filipino Chief Steward named Ebon. Back in those days, seagoing jobs weren't so easy to come by; and Ebon could remember when they were even harder to get. He worked us pretty hard (though he wasn't a bad guy) and if we complained, he'd remind us of his own early days, when crowds of hungry men were waiting on the dock ready to take any job in case a man was fired. Twenty men for each job, he'd exclaim! In those days, he told us, you shut up and did your job if you wanted to keep it - we young men didn't know how lucky we were. While neither John nor I, in our youthful cockiness, could quite get on board with this notion, we respected Ebon and got with his program. He had high standards and believed in doing a good job.
Not that he was without his quirks. My duties included carefully cleaning all the food storage areas every month - dry storage, chill box & freezer. As any sailor knows, these are large areas, the chill box and freezer each being sizable rooms, and dry storage occupying half the ship's beam. Cleaning them meant taking out or moving each item so the shelving could be soogied. The many wood gratings from the chill box and freezer were taken out on deck, scrubbed, and allowed to dry in the sun before being put back. It was a lot of work.
When it was done Ebon would inspect, and he wasn't shy about pointing out shortcomings. I learned to do it right the first time. After Ebon was satisfied with the galley, the Captain would also have a look - he inspected the entire ship every month - and Ebon would accompany him around, visibly nervous that the Captain would find something to complain about.
One month Captain Brigham, with a somewhat misplaced sense of humor, decided to poke fun at Ebon. Near the end of his inspection, at the foot of the ladder leading out of dry storage, he suddenly looked down and started stamping his foot as if he'd seen a cockroach. Ebon jumped about a mile, looking around for the roach, which didn't exist. The Captain thought this was funny as Hell and had a good laugh. Then he went chuckling about his business.
Not so, Ebon. The phantom roach had upset him. So he had me do the entire job over again - chill box, freezer, gratings and all! The Captain got a good muttered cussing from me that day.
The photo above is of a ship called BEAUJOLAIS, formerly NEW YORK GETTY - a sister to the DELAWARE GETTY, on which John and I first served under Ebon. The ship is gone now, her life played out - but the friendship between John and me has endured, and is better than ever. It will never be scrapped! In a world full of shifting realities, an old and firm friendship is a precious thing, and I'm very grateful for it.
Have you been blessed with such a friendship in your travels? Look around - maybe a lifelong friend is joking with you right now. Nationality, culture, even religion needn't be a barrier to deep understanding and lasting friendship. If you have such a friend, you're lucky!
Can you tell us about a friendship that has survived the swirling currents of our profession? Please respond in the Comments section!