Monday, October 01, 2007

Fireside Talks with Grampy T about The Steering Wheel that Saved his Life

Grampy Thomas repeated the tale many times while my brother and I crowded around the brick fireplace where the old wooden ship wheel rested on the mantle.

During the Hell called WWII, Grampy captained a PT boat. In the Pacific. Until the day enemy fire came ack-ack-ack. Snapped the ship into pieces and flames poured over the deck.

The boat keeled starboard and buckled wildly and choppy water washed over charring smoky timbers and the boat slipped low into the sea. Toward Davy Jones Locker.

Grampy knew it was hopeless. He clenched his teeth and wrestled the steering wheel off its mooring. He recited the Lord’s Prayer and jumped overboard, clutching the wooden wheel like a life preserver.

Grampy paddled across the cold black ocean toward an island he had spied in the distance. He punched sharks with his bare fists while darting between stray mortars and fiery kamikaze planes and shrapnel. It was harrowing.

Reaching shore, he hauled the wooden wheel across the sandy white beach and into the cover of the dank jungle where he hid amongst the tall trees. Using speed and wile, Grampy dodged divebombing carnivorous birds and attacking kamoto dragons and Bouncing Betty landmines. He peeled bark off trees with his trusty buck knife and ate berries for food. He caught a rabbit. He lived in a treehouse he made using the wooden steering wheel and some stringy vines.

Finally he was rescued.

At the end of the war, Grampy carried the steering wheel that had saved his life the whole way home and mounted it on top of the mantle. He showed us the knick on the side from a glancing enemy bullet, and pointed out a bit of charred wood, from the PT boat fire.

After Grampy died, my brother mentioned that one day when he grew up and got a house with a fireplace, he might like to have Grampy’s steering wheel.

What steering wheel? Grammy inquired.

The one from Grampy’s PT boat. Above the fireplace downstairs.


That wasn’t from your Grampy’s PT boat.

He bought it after the war at an auction.

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