From birth to meeting a first friend, through ten years of school, dozens of jobs, and hundreds of heartaches and heartbreaks to semi-retirement, but what a never-ending fight.
My life till now.
(The life & times of Jimmy Nelson)
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My true account of growing up on a storybook farm, experiencing a killer tornado, surviving teenage confusion, an adventurous four-year ride on a submarine during the Vietnam War, a skydive, not maturing into your regular adult, discovering the world is not a bowl of cherries, a crash to the bottom, and, finally, accepting that the only person responsible for me, is me. But first I had to descend into the deep depths of the emotional chasm.
Instead of describing more I will enter the contents:
1 Many Beginnings
2 ICU Diary
3 Many Beginnings Continued
4 Hell’s Island
5 Company 311
7 Class A School
8 First Duty
10 USS Carbonero
11 Julia’s Story
13 Travels & Philosophies
14 USS Archerfish
15 Test of Will Power
17 The Bottom
18 Home Again
Excerpt frm C4 Hell's Island (I was 17)
We must have crossed the bridge to Hell’s Island in the night. I don’t remember the trip over, only that heartbreaking trip back with the boy called Duerr (to start all over again at day one) after we thought we had made it.
I don’t remember too many details of those weeks in boot camp. I was too sleepy. Too scared. Too lonely. Too homesick. Many times I felt like crying, but I couldn’t cry. For awhile I developed a propensity for nosebleeds. My company commander, who really wasn’t a bad sort of guy, commented once that if I “…didn’t stop having nosebleeds they might have to send me home....” (Home, my god, I’d love to go home!) I even, considered—once—forcing my nose to bleed, to at least not try stopping it—I wanted to go home!
We marched a lot, did calisthenics, did drills with our rifles, spit-shined our shoes, did laundry on concrete tables with scrub brushes and a little soap, hung our clothes on clotheslines without clothespins, pressed our dungarees, etc., with our hands, and stood plenty of inspections.
Somehow I failed only three personnel inspections during my whole career. I’ll touch more on them as they come up. Oh yes, and we spent plenty of time in classrooms learning about the United States Navy.
For the first three weeks I excel in the weekly written tests. Then we get to pack up and march over that bridge to where the regular Navy boot camp is, where things are rumored to be easier. (Things are not easier. I suspect Hell’s Island existed for the simple reason of transition, a feeling of moving onward.) Because that bridge would most certainly bring a feeling of moving backward.
The fourth week brought failure of the 3-5 day test.
Now I have to go back across that concrete bridge and start all over again at day one. How could this have happened?
But I won’t be going alone. Duerr is coming with me.
We load up everything: Fully packed sea bag. Blankets and pillow. Piece. Ditty bag. It’s more than I can carry at once. I just know it!
Looking back at that day I have to wonder...did the Navy somehow realize what a depressing, frustrating, ego-rending journey that would be? Is that why Duerr and I were allowed to go not accompanied by some chief or upperclassman who would yell at us? Did the Navy know we (at least I) would be close to tears? Did the Navy have a heart? Even there and then?
It was hot. It was long. It was a struggle. Duerr and I help each other, and we do make it. But upon arrival we’re split into separate companies. I never see Duerr again.
So I’m alone again. I know no one.
Excerpt from C6 Tornado (I was 10)
But upon reaching the porch I see a yellow glow outside. Unexplainable dread stops me.
The barn is about thirty feet high and sixty feet long. Beyond its peaked roof the sky is pale blue. The barn is bright red against the blue; its silver cupola is gleaming. The yellow glow fades. Outside begins to darken, fast, yet the sky beyond the barn remains friendly-looking mid-summer blue. Fears stabs at me as I hurry back to the kitchen.
Everybody is already up, standing silently at the double kitchen windows facing north, toward where darkness is spreading, covering the farthest treetops quickly, as if a sky monster is swallowing the sun. It is so quiet. Nobody is talking, and outside not even the sound of a bird. Nothing. The quiet is so intense it’s becoming a pressure beginning to hurt my ears.
A roar is becoming apparent from the west, like a distant freight train, usually a pleasant sound but now insidious, rumbling, approaching nearer and nearer, faster.
From where there is no railroad.
“Boy, we’re going to get an awful hailstorm,” Mother announces, “Hear that roar?”
“I think so too,” Dad agrees.
But it’s more than a roar. It’s a sound I’ve never heard, nor imagined, and it’s beginning to terrify me.
It’s terrifying all of us. We keep staring at the silence and calm right outside, at the green of our farmyard, at the blue sky where ragged fingers of black cloud are finally edging into view, looming over our thought secure, tree-surrounded farmstead.
From the floor, Celi, sensing terror from the rest of us, begins to whimper. Gerry immediately kneels and gathers the usually happy baby into her arms.
“What’s a hailstorm, Grandpa?” Curtis asks.
The crash is the east porch door, flung open. But there is no wind. Outside is still absolute silence, stillness except for the intensifying roar. Everybody gapes. Nobody knows what to do. Time is passing too quickly to be able to do anything. Dad heads for the porch door. Everybody watches him. Eyes wide, Curtis follows, “Grandpa, look at your car!”
We press against the kitchen windows. Outside the house yard fence the car is bouncing up and down. But it’s so calm outside.
We couldn’t know that fluctuating pressure preceding the storm is making strange things happen seemingly without substance. Dad didn’t know. Mother didn’t. Much too early in the century. The media blitz has not yet hit, consumer weather forecasting is still in infancy. Our communications is a radio not listened to during meals, a hand-powered telephone not ringing.