And Bubba and Scotch would dutifully shove off, back to their rooms, back to thermodynamics or electrochemistry, back to awaiting e-mail. Then, lights out at 11 p.m. Sleep on your covers, then up at 5:30 a.m.
Thirty minutes later, the twins are back on the water, their shell cutting through the placid waters as the sun rises, pretty as a picture.
Perhaps the twins' toughest adjustment at the Academy was also the most personal. "The Lord is their connection," Barb says. "We taught them to walk with the Lord," says Bill, until recently pastor at Fellowship Chapel, a non-denominational church in Jarrettsville. As "committed believers," the McKinneys are guided by their strong beliefs; their spirituality is nearly physiological.
"It's been exciting for us to see the boys thriving spiritually in that environment," Bill says.
But he knows it's been a challenge. At times, Bubba and Scotch have been quick to pass judgment on their peers. Not everyone is a Christian. Living with that reality has been challenging, says Bubba, with customary diplomacy. But tolerance also is a virtue.
Weekly Bible study has helped Bubba and Scotch remember "it's not the end of the world if you get yelled at," says third-class midshipman Luke Watson. The Columbia native leads a Bible study group in his Bancroft room. "It's essential to take a &L breather and refocus, especially when you're a plebe."
The twins have struggled with peer pressure: a small underground of plebes bent on breaking rules. Plebes have been known to drink beer - shocking but true. Then there's the 22-mile rule. Plebes are not allowed more than 22 miles from the Yard without a chit (permission slip). It's a tempting rule to break.
The twins also were not accustomed to the Academy's often coarse language and jokes. This made Fridays troublesome. Friday is Joke Day in Bancroft, when plebes are required to tell a joke before an upperclassman. "The jokes are expected to be vulgar. I just tell stupid ones, and they get angry," Scotch says.
It's not "macho" to admit being offended by vulgar jokes, Scotch says, "but you don't compromise your standards."
Had the McKinneys been too sheltered at home, were they too naive to live with and mix it up with 4,000 midshipmen of all manners and backgrounds?
"Insulated," is how Gretchen Peery describes them. "They needed to be in the world a bit," she says. "They needed to grow up - and away."
When they entered Fallston High their junior year, new friends wondered what the McKinneys did for fun (a question they would hear at the Academy, too). They seem so very serious. Bubba and Scotch would say, oh, we spend our Saturday nights reading the dictionary. A joke, right? Yes, but not far from the truth.
"They have this powerful bond between them," says John Holzworth, their history teacher at Fallston. "Yet I wondered if they were able to experience normal, teen-age experiences. It's something I've thought about."
David McKinney's roommate, Brian Jones, says the twins "probably led a too-sheltered life. As nice and as genuine as they are, they were not exposed to real people. People who will let you down or hurt you."
Reality, that is. "They'll have to get bit by it," Brian says.
They would. Before Plebe Year's end, Bubba and Scotch would experience the loss of their uncle, who also attended the Academy but did not graduate. Cancer doesn't care what college you attend. And they'd see their father resign his pastorate at Fellowship Chapel. Moments after his final sermon, the boys found Bill McKinney crying in his office. They shored him up and gave him a plaque that read: "Dad, you won a place in our hearts when you chose to spend time with us."
Unsettled and unemployed, Bill McKinney faced a job hunt, which meant eventually moving his family from Fallston - the place where the boys ran their lawn service, mastered calculus, and had chosen a college together.
Against this backdrop, Scotch and Bubba excelled in their fall semester. Spring semester at the Academy - "The Dark Ages" - was next on the plebe schedule.
One more push toward Herndon, the end in sight.
In this series
Tomorrow: Spring brings relief and new perspectives -- as the McKinneys and the class of 2000 near the end of plebe year.
Pub Date: 5/21/97