MisCon 25 Attending Professional
Speaking of imprinting. Everyone gets some, benign or malignant: When I was four years old, my dad was the chief engineer of the SS Robert Fulton. The rules of the Pittsburg Steamship Co. permitted mama and me to accompany my dad on an occasional trip, say from Duluth, Minnesota to South Chicago. One day dad took me down into the engine room, not an unusual thing for us, but this time he didn't stop there. Perhaps he’d decided it was time to expand my world again. At any rate we went down an additional ladder into the crank room, the great engine booming, crank rods bobbing frantically, and with only the bilges between us and the ship's bottom. From there he took me through a door into a different world - dark, narrow, tunnel-like, smelling of dust and coal smoke; and fifteen or twenty feet long. The catwalk he trod (he'd holisted me onto his shoulder) was crowded between the two boilers, whose bulging sides almost met overhead. Ahead of us, at the "tunnel's" end, was roseate light. With the crank room door closed behind us, it was relatively quiet, the engine sound much reduced, interspersed with mysterious crunching and ringing.
My dad spoke casually: "This is where the he-men work," he said.
I have no doubt we went those additional fifteen or twenty feet to the Stoke Hold, and saw what was done there, but I don't specifically recall it. Nor do I recall the fierce heat. It was the words and - call it the stage - that imprinted me. And in 1947 I would become intimately familiar with that particular venue of "where the he-men work."
(The crunching, incidentally, was the shovel scooping coal, and the ringing, the heel of the shovel striking the dead plate of the furnace door. All a mystery to me then. Lots of things are a mystery to a little kid.)
The world and its people are an interesting combination.
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