I’m sitting here on this 90 degree day struggling with a column that’s not working out, and I’m a day from deadline.

She brings me some frozen chocolate yogurt, a glass of sparkling orange water, and two girl scout cookies on a plate. She seems to think sugar will loosen up my brain. It often does.

I eat my sugar, go to the bathroom, and return to where I’ve been writing. I’m cooler but still blocked.

A few minutes later, the mailman arrives at our stop. He has a package that’s too big for our box. We love our mailman, Royce, who does nice things like this a lot. I’m thinking I should write a column about such people.

That’s when a name from the past popped into my head. Irving Lenzing. I think that’s the way it was spelled. It was 75 or more years ago, so I can’t be sure. I remember most of my brother’s friends, because I was always in a corner or under a table listening. I learned a lot about sex that way. Never mind.

Okay, this is complicated, and I have to go slowly to remember how it all played out. Irving was my brother Jim’s friend from the Navy, and then, because of Father Winkle’s Saturday card games in the basement of the church, he became friends with my other brothers. I was not allowed there, but I remember my mother not liking it.

Jim was fond of telling how he and Irving met on a dark night in the middle of the Pacific in the war, while on the signal bridge of the battleship Massachusetts.

“Where you from?”

“St. Louis.”

“No kidding, me too.”

All veterans know that that’s one of the nice things that happen to you in the service, where not many nice things happen.

You could be in the exam line or laying in a foxhole, or just moving along in the chow line. A stranger next to you may ask “Where you from?”

“St. Louis.”

“No kidding? So am I.”

Right there at that moment, the darkness lifts and that lonely ache in the bottom of your stomach vanishes.

Irving grew up in a Jewish family far out on the east side. Jim was Catholic from the south side. That minor distinction probably came up and was tossed overboard. Here were two sailors in dark waters, young, scared and lonely. But they were from St. Louis. They both loved White Castle hamburgers, Falstaff Beer and the St. Louis Cardinals. Damn the torpedos, full steam ahead.

Jim, in his later years, loved to tell this part. After the war, Jim’s first job was on the St. Louis Police Department, and he had gotten his first apartment over Vogt’s Ice Cream Parlor in our neighborhood.

One day the mailman knocked on his door to deliver a package that was too big for the box. Mr. Mailman was Irv Lenzing. And that’s how he became one of Father Winkle’s poker boys in the basement of St. Mary and Joseph Church.

So where is this going? This is where this is going.

I was aboard the U.S.S. General Buckner, a troopship in the middle of the same Pacific Ocean.

My trip was more pleasant. I was standing at the railing on the last gorgeous evening before we arrived at Yokohama.

Another airman joined me, and we shared a cigarette and complaints about the ship’s food.

I will always remember this huge full moon that was coming up against a dark sky in the East.

My mate pointed at the moon. “You see that moon? That same damn moon is coming up over St. Louis, Missouri, tonight.”

“You from St. Louis?”

“Of course.”

“No kidding? Me too.”

Yes. We both loved White Castle hamburgers, cold beer and the St. Louis Cardinals. Damn the torpedos, full steam ahead.

There is no happy ending like Irving and Jim’s. This airman and I never met again. End of story.

Well, the humidity is getting worse, and I still can’t make the column work. So you know what? I think I’ll just use this one.

J.P. Devine is a Waterville writer.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: