The Lesson

Author Virginia Welch shares an excerpt from her book The Lesson - which is based on a true story.

The Lesson Book Cover 

“I didn’t join the Navy to spend my time polishing things.”

“Of course.”

“Or painting things. You know, if it moves, salute it. If it doesn’t move, paint it. And when we weren’t polishing something brass or repainting something gray or mopping salt water off the deck for the umpteenth time, we had to hose each other down—but not often enough to make the Navy a worthwhile career.”

“What do you mean?”

Kevin pushed his empty plate to the center of the table near hers. “Race riot. When I first got to Midway there was a race riot. It was the most exciting thing I ever got to do with the fire department, much more adrenaline involved than stamping out brush fires. Ride on the back of the truck, blasting people with high-power hoses. It was great fun.”

“You actually hosed people? Blacks or whites?”

“Both. I was an equal-opportunity hoser.”

Gina privately marveled that anyone could speak so casually about race, riots, and hoses in the same breath, and worse, enjoy it. She and her sisters may have pulled hair and slapped faces from time to time as children, but proper young ladies did not make jokes about uncivilized behavior and they certainly never enjoyed it.

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Or at least they didn’t admit it.

“So what do you do in the Navy now?” she said.

“I’m a hull tech, second class.”

“Which means what?” Gina hated looking ignorant, but she felt comfortable asking questions of Kevin because he answered simply and naturally. The sense of embarrassment she felt when he first entered her apartment was ebbing away, replaced by easy rapport. It helped that he seemed delighted to answer her questions about the Navy.

“It means I’m the guy they call when the commanding officer’s head quits working.”

Gina screwed up her face.

“Head. It’s Navy for toilet,” explained Kevin.

“Oh.” Gina laughed. She wasn’t used to a guy who so easily made fun of himself. What kind of protocol did it demand? “And second class? That doesn’t sound too good.”

“It’s not like it sounds. It’s a very important role in the Navy. Very critical to ship operations. It means petty officer second class. It’s a rank somewhere between rear admiral and seaman.”

“I see.”

“Closer to rear admiral,” added Kevin.

His grin told her he was teasing again, but she didn’t want him to know exactly how ignorant she was of Navy ranks, so she asked nothing more. Gina's father was retired Army, but he had left the military when she was in second grade. She had paid no attention to such matters since then.

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