Beaver was a sailor. He had joined the Navy when he was sixteen. When Ginny’s parents had come over and knocked on his mother’s door. Ginny’s dad was red faced and angry. Ginny’s mom was stern, her hands resting heavily on Ginny’s shoulders. Ginny herself looked small, scared, beaten down.
“Evening, Ms. Roberts,” Ginny’s dad said, “Your boy at home? I reckon we need to speak with him. You’d best be in on this too.”
“Jim?” his mother called to the back of the apartment.
When he came out to the living room Jim knew something was up, “hey Ginny,” he greeted his girlfriend, then acknowledged her parents, “Mr. Shelton, Ms. Shelton.” He was a short, skinny kid; good looking if you liked boys with shaggy brown hair.
He turned to his mother, “What’s up Mom?”
That’s how he found out that Ginny was pregnant. The Shelton’s would take care of Ginny. They said that Canada had doctors… or Mexico. But they were adamant – Jim had to go. They didn’t care where he went but he had to get out of town or they would call the sheriff.
There were laws against what he had done.
Ginny was a good girl.
The next morning Jim didn’t go to school. His mother called in to work and told them that she wouldn’t make it in till later in the week, “That flu bug that’s been going around, you know.”
They went to the recruiting office instead. She signed the papers that sent her boy to the Navy and he shipped out the next morning.
He didn’t really even need to shave yet, but he grew up fast.
Jim was the youngest man in Boot Camp. His shipmates took to calling him Beaver, he didn’t mind. One day they listened to a talk given in a classroom by a Torpedoman Chief whose name Beaver never remembered. He talked to them about submarines and how submariners were the elite of the navy. He made it sound good and he sold Jim who volunteered for sub duty that same day.
When he got out of boot camp he had gained fifteen pounds. His shoulders were broader and he was stronger than he had ever been. He had a week’s leave and wore his uniform on the plane ride home passively, silently enduring the harassment of the college kids who shouted “Baby killer!” and “Murderer” at him in the airport. He tried to call Ginny from San Diego but her dad hung up the phone.
Landing in Reno he called his mom but only got the machine. He left a message, “Hey Mom, it’s Jim. I had hoped to come home for a visit but I’m on my way to Connecticut for Sub School. Maybe I can get back to see you after that.” He thought he did a good job of lying and sounding upbeat. He took a bus from the Reno Airport to the Amtrak station, where he bought a train ticket to New London. A cross country train ride seemed like a good way to spend his leave. He could always report early if need be.
He wore his uniform on the train and let the civilians berate him some more. Military personnel were not heroes in those days.
After sub school he got his first boat – a nuclear powered attack boat out of Pearl Harbor. The nickname stuck. He was “Jim Roberts, ‘The Beav’” to all his shipmates. On the day he qualified in submarines the ship’s Yeoman made the entry in his service record. That was when they noticed he was only seventeen years old. Navy regs clearly state that no one under the age of eighteen can be stationed on a nuclear powered vessel. It was two weeks before his eighteenth birthday.
The Yeoman told the Captain. He had to. He had his own career to think of. The Captain misplaced The Beav’s file and didn’t find it for two weeks. Problem solved.
For twenty-five years The Beav rode submarines, boring holes in all the oceans of the world. ETCM (SS) Jim Roberts retired at the age of forty-one. The nickname had dropped away about the same time he made Chief. His last assignment was Chief of the Boat on a Virginia Class fast attack. His wife Ginny threw a retirement party for him at one of the big hotels in Waikiki, not far from their home. His shipmates came. His mom was there, but Ginny’s parents weren’t. They never did forgive him, or Ginny.
He never really cared. Jim was relatively young still, he had a pension, and he planned to finish college. Maybe he should become a teacher.
This was a tough one – best I could do!