Back in the grand age of fighting sail, an oldster was a midshipman who’d acquired at least four years of seniority. Most of the crew on 18th century sailing vessels went to sea as young boys so many midshipmen were generally obnoxious adolescent oldsters.
Seafaring career ladders divided the crew by skills. The waisters, sailors with dim wits and skimpy skills worked at or below sea level doing heavy hauling. Two in ten men earned the rating of Able or Ordinary seamen that qualified them to climb the mast and dance the rat lines. These “topmen” saw themselves as elite sailors because they worked above the officers and perceived waisters, odds and sods were beneath their esteem.
Regardless of where a man had done time aboard– sailors who survived a few tours of duty and had decent story telling skills were revered as Old Salts. Any man fortunate to celebrate 66 birthdays in good health should be thrilled, as my husband is today, to be called, Old Salt.
A research study on whether or not we pick our mates according to some magic formula of DNA involved college women sniffing men’s sweaty T-shirts. The study required the co-eds to sniff through two sets T-shirts and rate each for its intensity, pleasantness, and sexiness. It was a study where guys majoring in science and geography felt comfortable wearing their cotton Ts for a couple of nights knowing a chick was giving it the sniff test later on in the lab. The women were pysch and bio majors. The results showed women prefer the Ts of men with “dissimilar” DNA from their own – thus variety – viva la difference – rules the Hungryfor Mates Games. Fuhgetabout birds of the nest flocking together. Women prefer men who are somewhat genetically rather than personality different from themselves. They can detect these DNA differences by scent. We hunt our baby makers by their genomes not their trust funds. It expands and strengthens our gene pool so Baby Einsteins and Walking Dead can flourish. George was a lifeguard when we met – and I confess – the scent of his T shirts were drove me wild. He smelled of sunshine, the sea, and Coppertone.
Years later, I learned that my mother in law had used only Tide detergent for – ever! All of those years of thinking I’d fallen in love with the scent of a sailor when in real life I was seduced by Proctor & Gamble’s laundry perfume. Perhaps the T shirt study was on to something. George and I were different but powerfully attracted to each other – despite our parents’ cautions. When we met in the summer of ’69, I was a rambunctious art major favoring floppy hats and loose academic pursuits while he favored preppy clothes, criminology, and a serious grad school fellowship. I loved rock ‘n roll – he’d played bass in a youth symphony and the accordion for grins. He loved to relax on a beach while I yearned to be aboard a boat – preferably my own. There must’ve been magic woven into his 100% cotton Ts -we’ve spent 44 of his 66 years together on land, alongshore, and afloat.
George prefers to be a deck monkey and work the winches, take the helm, and weigh anchor. I don’t believe he’s a waister even though he does the heavy hauling – he’s not Ordinary either. Let’s say by virtue of his 66 candles today that he is definitely an Old Salt with a lot of sea miles in his wake and rich with stories to share. And, no matter what detergent we use – he smells better than any topman who hasn’t bathed since the ship left port. In fact – he smells terrific – and does the laundry – like an Able Seaman First Class.