The Agony of the Navy Ball–Sometimes

As the chief engineer on the oldest submarine in the Atlantic Ocean, my husband had a number of duties I never understood.

As the youngest Lieutenant Commander in the Navy for a couple months in the early 1980s, he had gentlemanly responsibilities that didn’t always make sense–to him.

For example, the Navy ball.

He’s never been a big dancer, but attendance, particularly at the Submarine Birthday Ball, was mandatory. He wore his fancy uniform with the gold cumberbund and bow tie and escorted me–several years.

We probably danced once, for form’s sake, and left it at that.

He sure looked terrific in his uniform, however. (And no, that’s not him in the photo above).

One year we bought our tickets to the ball early in the season. The boat wives chatted about our dresses and wondered if our nuclear engineers would dance that year. We had decided to go en masse and enjoy ourselves, no matter what our brilliant (truly!) husbands said or did.

The second Saturday in December would be a sparkling Christmas-type ball and our last wardroom get-together of the year. We were excited.

The week before the ball, however, the submarine unexpectedly deployed with their return date “unspecified,” but most likely in the new year.

Secrecy is like that–you never know and you’re seldom told.

Afterall, loose lips sink ships. (Though that wasn’t a big deal since our boat was a submarine.)

For reasons I can’t remember now, I was the “senior” (as in most experienced) officer’s wife on the boat at the time, and my fellow boat wives’ morale was flagging. “Let’s go without our husbands,” I declared.  “We can have a good time, particularly since we already have the babysitters lined up.”

They weren’t so sure.

Several went home to their families for Christmas– an excellent idea–but five of us remained in the area the night of the ball.

I reminded them we had a “duty husband” left behind and he could escort us. That’s Steve up there in the photo with us.

We had our table. We had the sympathy of all the women whose husbands were there. We maintained our pride. We hung in there like good Navy wives and kept our upper lips stiff.

No one asked us to dance.

Most of our husband wouldn’t have danced with us anyway. Did it really matter they were on the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean and not with us?

You tell me.

Of course it did. What a miserable night.

Ten years later, living in Hawaii and looking ahead to yet another Navy Birthday Ball, my husband and his engineer peers decided that year they were going to get their money’s worth.

“We always go to these affairs in our most expensive uniforms and just stand around drinking and telling sea stories,” one of the men complained. “We pay the band, but never dance. Let’s do something different this year.”

I’m so proud of them. On their own initiative, they hired a dance instructor to teach them how to dance and actually spin their wives and girlfriends around the dance floor.

My Navy wife friends were shocked–but delighted. It was almost, dare we say it, romantic?

Maybe you could teach some old engineers new tricks?

We had to take classes and  practice. Every Saturday night for five weeks we met at the Navy housing community center with a polished man, a chiffon-draped female partner, and his CD player.

He walked us through the steps, they demonstrated, we laughed and stumbled. Fun evenings.

But some of our dancers had trouble and the instructor got vexed the fourth lesson. “I don’t understand what your problem is. It’s simple, move with the beat, a one and a two and a three and a four. How hard can this be?”

“Math!” One of the engineers shouted. “We can do math!”

The men grabbed us and applied themselves to what they really knew: counting. We were off.

Unfortunately, not everyone practiced between the lessons and the ball, which was held on a tourist ship cruising Waikiki Beach. By the time the band started playing, most of our moves had evaporated from our brains. Certainly we tried, and far more people were on the dance floor that year.

Some were mumbling, “a one and a two.” One ingenious couple had everything written out on 3×5 cards. (Several asked to borrow the cards).   A half dozen naval engineers stood on the sidelines discussing the hydraulics and potential engineering problems on the cruise ship.

My guy and I?

We shuffled through the steps we could remember, laughed, and shook our heads.

But at least that year, the ball wasn’t an agony and all the men were home.

Having them home. The best part of all.

Do you know how to dance?  :-)

Would you teach us?  :-)

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