Lesson from Summer Vacation Job

I got to know the inventory control workers fairly well and heard other stories with a different flavor. One of the men, who would have been about 30 then, was talking with me one day about my plans for the future. He told me he'd been a very good athlete and had gotten a football scholarship to a big Midwestern school. Athletes were kings there, he said, but his ego had gotten the better of him; he neglected his books and flunked out, he said. And he encouraged me to stick with school. He also told me another story. After leaving college, he had joined the Navy. And on his ship, he said, was a fellow sailor, a white man, from the Appalachian region of West Virginia. The hillbilly was poorly educated, socially awkward and became the universal butt of jokes and pranks from his shipmates. A visit from the man's family while the ship was docked left my co-worker incredulous: "I was used to seeing poor black people," he said, "but I'd never seen anybody as poor as that family."

The jokes and pranks continued. Then, one day as a group of sailors lined up for inspection, someone, as a prank, rolled a practice grenade out along the deck. All but one of the sailors scattered. The West Virginian, who didn't know the grenade was a dud, threw himself onto it, to protect his shipmates. "Nobody messed with him after that," my co-worker said.

[T[he look on my co-worker's face told me the incident in the Navy, or something very much like it, had left an impression on him.

"What I Learned on My Summer Vacation," Mark R. Howard, FloridaTrend.com, August 2010, at. 84.