NOTE: I recently had dinner with a new friend and we discussed his wonderful art as well as him giving me some advice (all good by the way) about how to approach what I write. The gist of one of his many fine points was that a story should not be too long because the viewer-ship will not read it. I agree wholeheartedly - yet am a glutton for punishment.
The following story is a bit longer than most of the ones I have posted. In fact it is a lot longer, yet I wanted to get it exposed on aruba.com for the following reason.
We - (residents of Aruba) - have had to let our children go to far off lands to continue with their studies. This is not an easy thing for most families since there really in no way to properly prepare a child for the non-Aruba world that awaits him. The emotions cause visible strangulation at the airport as these families part - or is it that they feel ripped apart for the good of the child?
In any case, here it is, hope it makes some sense to you as it did to me when I wrote it. It is a small glimpse into our daily lives.
LESSONS FROM THE SMALL SAILS IN FRONT OF THE GOVERNORS HOUSE
Charles August Croes II
November 1996 - Aruba
Today is particularly difficult.
Today our son goes off to school in a faraway place and country and we sit silently in the living room spending our last moments at home together before driving to the airport for our farewell. For some reason, he wants to go in the truck and not the car and looks at his mother to see if she would mind. Before she answers, he turns to me and asks if, on the way to the airport, we could park the truck at the small piece of beach in front of the governor's house. He has done it again. We are trapped. She smiles, looks at me, and we nod to each other and then to him. He has already started for the door to move the luggage from the car to the back of the pick up. Some moments later, the three of us are at his favorite place. Silently, we sit in the pick up with our fingers touching and hands gently holding. Each of us is lost in private thoughts.
I find myself thinking about my youth and the many lessons that came with that most glorious time of my life. As I think back on the years of my childhood, I now know that that those lessons served me well and brought me smiles as well as tears. It continues to amaze me how the most unlikely events, in my adult life, take me back to the simplicity and beauty of my youth. It saddens me somewhat to realize that the beauty and purity of youth is at its’ peak as one lives those times.
As the three of us continue with our own thoughts, I drift back to a particular Saturday night when I was about ten or eleven years old. It was like so many of my pre-teen sleepless nights. I remember lying in bed on a particular night wondering if everything would be ready for the next day. I looked out my window at the swaying trees and I remember wondering if the wind would be perfect or whether it would drop off or, more disastrously, change direction. I kept thinking that it would be my first time to participate. I thought of how unfair it was that things were slipping away from me. All alone in my room, that night, I lost control of my thoughts and panic set in. Everything would depend on the wind, the water and a carved and painted piece of wood with a tiny sail cloth and lead keel weights attached. I could not then nor could I now control those simple elements - wood, cloth, wind and water. It seemed unfair at the time and was very alarming.
There was a degree of comfort in knowing that Mom and Dad would be at my side when the time came, however, from the start of the project they insisted I do it on my own. Dad, and to a lesser degree, Mom looked for opportunities to make me independent. This would be one of those opportunities. In retrospect, I can only guess that since they felt they had given me their best guidance that they approached the Sunday event with the comfort that I should and would be ready. So, during my youth, on that lonely Saturday night, many years ago, I lay in my bed with my eyes wide open and listened to the wind. Outside my window, the trees swayed back and forth and I followed their shadows as they swayed across my closet door. The night, the hypnotic shadows and the soft sound of the wind claimed my unrest and me. I finally drifted off to sleep.
That following morning, after our customary early Sunday breakfast, the three of us got into Dads’ work truck. It was a Ford. We left the house with me sitting in the cargo bed to care for my precious cargo. As we drove away from the house and down the empty Sunday morning streets, I remember looking at my parents through the rear cabin glass. I remember seeing them doing the many predictable things that my parents did. On this particular Sunday morning, Dad drove and Mom sat by the passenger window on a towel while raising an eyebrow at the mess inside the cabin. It was impossible for her to get into the truck without making comments about the mess. I could see by her actions that her comments had passed the tactical “in my opinions” phase and she was well into the final stages of “when are you going to.” This was confirmed when she started gathering his papers, pencils and other odds and ends from the floor, dashboard and seat. Everything she touched went into the cardboard cigar box on the seat. As if they had rehearsed this scene a million times over (and they probably had), I could see Dad quietly telling Mom not to touch anything. He never missed the opportunity to make disarming statements or crack what I thought had to be the dumbest joke of all times. The truck had come t9o a temporary stop at a corner and as I looked through the cab window, I could hear him and see his lips as he said: “This truck was like this when I bought it." (The fact that he bought the truck brand new out of the showroom with the plastic still on the seats was not the issue.) He started to laugh and, as always, she joined him a few seconds later. To this day, I think that while Dad laughed at his own terrible jokes - Mom laughed at the obvious pleasure they gave him. She put her hand on his knee and while shaking her head, repeated, “bought it like that -- sure." After about three repetitions she started talking about something else. However, her hands and fingers went back into automatic pilot and continued gathering things to put into the cardboard cigar box. Neither the joke nor the ritual ever changed her obsession to neaten that messy pick up truck.
That particular Sunday, we drove off the main road and went on the sand to park the truck and could pick any place we wanted since we were the first to arrive at the small beach. Dad picked a perfect spot right in the middle of the small beach in front of the Governors house and parked with the front of the truck facing the water. No sooner had the engine stopped that I jumped out of the back and went to sit in front with my parents. Mom was talking about the beauty of the early morning, when finally the other trucks started to arrive. It must have been around nine thirty in the morning, since church let out at nine. The other trucks and cars parked on both sides of us. Everyone stayed in their vehicles and looked to the pink morning skies while drinking hot black coffee poured from dented aluminum thermoses into their equally dented aluminum screw tops. Mom and Dad had coffee as well. I drank orange juice in my good luck jam bottle.
So, on that Sunday while lost in my private thoughts, my family and I sat in the cabin of our truck while others did the same or opted for the open beds of their pick-up trucks. What we all had in common was the manner in which we looked out at the water. We stared out as if looking at someone’s face and trying to figure out his or the inner most thoughts. We looked at the small waves and tried to detect the strength of the current below the surface. We looked for those delicate ripples that would indicate the direction and speed of wind. Each of us came to our own private conclusion and then started formulating individual and private plans on how we would set our small sails and rudders.
Finally, the moment came and – as if on cue - everyone went to their storage areas in their cars or trucks and took out their small sailboats. All of these tiny crafts were carved from a single handpicked piece of wood. Each one had been lovingly sanded and carefully painted with tiny brushes. Each one came with a custom fitted keel and ballast. None were fancy but each was smooth and, most importantly, each was functional and ready to race. Dad had been watching over me for the past months while I prepared my own small sailboat. He watched me cut the cloth and tune the strings. Dad helped me in weighing the ballast and the measurements of the hull. All the time, making me feel as if it was being done solely by me. Taking my cue from the others, I also went to the truck to get my small sailboat. I held her and turned around to introduce her to the other competitors and, most importantly, the sea. It was the first time she had ever faced the blue-green color of ocean. I wondered if she was scared.
We each cradled our small vessel in our arms and walked out into the water. At about waist depth, we all gently lowered our individual small ships into the waters of the sea and wet the hulls and sails much like loving mothers wetting infants. Holding the child in one arm while cupping water over the shoulders with the free hand. We were finally ready and while staring out at the sea, awaited the signal horn to set our sails free. The time came, the horn blew and we each let our small vessel go.
The wind filled my small sail and at that instant became her new master. She slipped away form me. My stomach turned. I fought my emotions and pressed my teeth against each other in a forced smile. After all my efforts, she slipped away and went off to sea on her maiden voyage. She slipped away effortlessly and for an instant, I didn’t know if I should be proud or resentful. My eyes became full. I watched a part of me go off to sea. I wanted to raise my hands and yell. Be the best! Win, you can do it, win! Take advantage of the wind, it will help you. Keep on a straight track! When a gust takes you off course, get back on. I looked around at the others. They were silent and just looked on. I decided to keep still and prayed I would not explode.
All of the small sails headed out to sea in an unmanned race. Motorized rubber rafts followed behind to catch the strays and untangle the sails when needed. It wasn’t needed. The sun shone and the water was full with small triangles of color. Red and blue competed with yellow and green. In the midst of it all was my white triangular sail. She was perfect.
On that first Sunday, my small sail didn’t win. She didn’t come in last. She held her own. This was to be the start of many Sundays and many races when I would let my small sail go to sea. Each time she slipped away my emotions became more manageable. Finally they changed into a desire to win. In the years that followed, my small sail started winning but looking back I know that those wins never had the emotional impact and purity of the first Sunday and moment I let her go.
That was many years ago and as I sit here, in my own Ford pick-up truck, with my son and wife at my side, I wonder what it is I miss about those times. Is it the making of the boats? Is it the winning? I realize that what I miss is the emotional purity. I miss that swelling inside and look back at the moments that meant so much to me. I think of them and am happy to have experienced them.
My son looks across the seat of the pick-up and points to his watch. It’s time to go the airport. I start up the truck and drive towards the sound of the planes landing and taking off. After unloading the luggage and parking, the three of us stumble through the process of ticketing, luggage tagging and paying airport taxes. We have done this so many times before when going on vacation, however, this is different. We don’t talk. Eventually, my wife and I walk with him to the departure gate. His papers are in order. We made him pack his clothing and prepare for schooling by himself. We taught him to be independent. He is ready. A final hug and a kiss from his mother indicate his eminent departure. They have such a special love. He and I said our good byes at the house. Then in a sudden unexpected moment, he surprises me. My son turns and comes to me. He starts to shake my hand. I see him biting his bottom lip from the inside. His bags fall to the floor and my boy slams himself into me. He hugs me, pressing his boyish chest against me. I feel his young tears coming through my shirt. He shudders once, and the hug gets almost painfully tight then it slowly loosens. He is slipping away.
My stomach hurts. I fight my emotions by pressing my teeth hard against each other and smile at him as he slips away from my arms and goes off for the first time. He leaves so effortlessly that I didn’t know if I should be proud or resent it. His shoulders are unnaturally stiff and he doesn’t look back. I know why. He melts into the crowd and becomes a passenger. My eyes become full and I open them wide to let the tears dry without running down my face. That boy is a part of me. I want to throw my hands into the air and yell -- be the best! You can do it! Take advantage of the wind, it will help you. Keep on a straight track! When a gust takes you off course, get back on. I look at the parents around me. Mothers holding handkerchiefs to their mouths while wide-eyed Fathers wave brave good byes to their departing children. My wife has no handkerchief and cups her hands over her lips. I remain still.
Every Sunday, when they race, I go to look at the sails at the small beach in front of the governors’ house, and think about my son.
When I do, the moments are pure.
And let the children sail on the winds your created