When I saw my dad today, I noticed he was wearing a pin on his lapel that I hadn't seen in at least 20 years.
"Is that one of the pins from the Soviet grain ship?" I asked.
When I was a kid, there was a rundown seafood restaurant called Hill's just off Pier 19 in Galveston, Texas, that my family went to all the time. The restaurant had enormous fresh Gulf shrimp that I had an amazing capacity to consume. It was tradition for the ships docked at the pier to make themselves available to all the visitors willing to scramble through a section of pulled-back chain-link fence. Perhaps it wasn't tradition at all, now that I think of it.
Nonetheless, my family would always go check out the ships and would ask if we could come aboard and look around. Mostly it was Coast Guard ships. I clearly grew up in a different time that a family of four could just sort of wander up to a U.S. military vessel and ask to look around.
But easily the most memorable ship visit came when we found ourselves on a grain ship from the Soviet Union.
The Soviet Union! Remember that I grew up in Texas, and it was drilled into our heads in school that the Soviets were atheist psychopaths hell-bent on war. As the son of a journalist and Democrat, I was skeptical of such claims, but going aboard that grain ship with my brother and mother and father felt like the craziest, most death-defying thing that a little boy had ever done in the history of little boys.
The men on the ship were hilarious. They had converted one of the empty grain bins into a swimming pool and were all jovial and friendly as one of them showed us just about every inch of the ship and told us all about what it was like to live aboard her. Russians weren't scary; they were cool! And at the end of our impromptu tour, the bloke who had been showing us around gave us little lapel pins (British people call them "badges," I think), each one different, with Russian writing on them.
"Yep, it is; commemorating 70 years since the Bolshevik revolution," my dad said, pointing to the red, gold and green pin on his chest, with the embossed numbers "1917-1987."
"I haven't seen that in years," I said. "Why the hell are you wearing that?"
"It's the only thing I could find with any green in it," he said.