When our contractor died a few weeks ago at age 52, we lost a most unique friend. He came to replace some windows for us and stayed more than a year. Murphy Brown had nothing on me. Eldin painted alone; our guy came with a crew. I’ve told some of his stories already, but there are many, many more. Another time, perhaps. He would be pleased to know his stories still have an audience.
This is one of my favorites, the story of why he didn’t become a Navy Seal.
He was serving on a Navy vessel which sailed into an Italian port and as the ship docked, a man in a gondola pulled his craft close enough to call to them, asking did anyone want to buy a ham. He dangled the hunk of meat enticingly on a pole, shouting, “$30! Ham $30.”
Our friend and his fellow sailors thought the ham sounded like an excellent idea, so he threw down $30 to the man in exchange for the ham. Except that there was no exchange.
The gondolier took the money and quickly poled away, carrying the ham with him.
Our contractor friend was not one to turn the other cheek unless he’d already broken your jaw on the first side, so he spent his shore leave looking for the ham hoodwinker. Never found him.
Now here is where the story gets murky because of my faulty memory, but this is how I recall the telling:
Shortly after they left port, the captain realized they had left something behind. Rather than turn around, he contacted a smaller naval ship about to go into the same port and our friend volunteered to go with them and pick up the item, then return to his own ship.
As soon as the smaller vessel pulled into port, our contractor friend saw the sight he’d been hoping for: Poling out to meet them was that same gondolier, a ham on the seat beside him. Our friend couldn’t believe his luck and raced down to the engine room, yelling, “Quick! Give me something heavy that I can carry, something you aren’t going to need any more!”
They gave him a large, heavy, greasy metal cog of some kind and he raced back up, reaching the top while the ham hoodwinker was giving his pitch. The contractor bellowed from the bridge in his southern drawl, “Hey! (pronounced Haaaaaaaaaay!) Remember MEEEeeee?”
The gondolier looked up in time to see a large chunk of metal hurtling toward his boat. The cog, upon impact, promptly cut the small craft in half and sank it.
Our contractor friend picked up the item he’d been sent to retrieve and went back to his ship, delighted to have settled the score.
Two days later he was called on report. With his gruffy southern accent he explained to us, “I didn’t know those little boats was numbered and registered by the government. They told me that I had committed an act of aggression.”
Yes, according to our contractor, he had inadvertently declared war on Italy. The Ham War.
The captain suggested that perhaps he might want to rethink re-enlistment and plans to become a Navy Seal.
I’ve thought about that wild tale many times. True? I think so. For one thing, who could make this stuff up? For another, I saw him eat a lot of sandwiches–burgers, chicken, barbecue, venison, turkey, bologna, PBJ, and pimento cheese.