I’m originally from Long Island, New York. When I was growing up, most of the towns along the shore were boat towns. Residents had small fishing boats, motor boats, and a variety of sailboats. Ever since he was little, my brother was interested in sailing. When he was a teenager, my parents bought him a Sandpiper, a 12 ½-foot sailboat, an ideal size for a beginner.
He immersed himself in sailing books, practiced knot-tying, and memorized tacking diagrams. After he mastered the Sandpiper, my parents bought him a Star, a racing sailboat with a keel. It was a sleek, blue boat and I loved it. My brother and I often went sailing. Unfortunately, I never learned to handle the helm because I was “crew.”
Mom packed wonderful sailing lunches: egg salad or bologna and cheese sandwiches, iced tea with orange instead of lemon, and summer fruit. Although Mom went sailing a few times, she preferred to stay on shore, and watch the boats. However, Dad often came with us. He wasn’t thrilled when my brother threw a new, expensive Danforth anchor overboard without an attached rope.
At the time, my brother was a bit scatterbrained, and he actually threw TWO untethered anchors overboard. Dad couldn’t believe it.
One afternoon we invited a local librarian to go sailing with us. She had never been on a sailboat, and was excited about the prospect. As we tacked across Long Island Sound, the tide began to go out. When we neared the shore, the Star came to a sudden, shuddering halt. “Did you use the brakes?” the librarian asked. There were no breaks. We had run aground on the Long Island Sound mudflats.
My tall brother jumped overboard, and pushed the sailboat out of the mud. Within minutes, we were skimming across the water again.
Like many families in the neighborhood, we often went to Jones’ Beach (named after a pirate) on the South shore of Long Island. It was a wonderful beach then, and is apparently a wonderful beach now. Sometimes, as a special treat, we stayed for the water show—synchronized swimming in a giant pool. We sat by the pool and enjoyed clam chowder with tiny crackers. I liked the crackers best, and still love clam chowder.
I also enjoy sailing. My husband and I had a sailboat for several years, but our sailing days are over. He is disabled, in a wheelchair, and I’m his primary caregiver. Minnesota is a vacation state, with more than 10,000 lakes. Still, I wish I could turn back the clock to childhood, sailing, and family. All of my family members—my father, mother, and brother—are gone, and I miss them.
My father died at age 80 of lung failure, the result of his constant smoking. My mother died at age 93 from acute dementia. Her mind, the body’s computer and control system, stopped working. My brother died at age 78 from a heart attack. While he survived cancer treatment, his heart did not. After my mother died, my brother commented, “I’m next in line.” His comment proved to be true.
I may be next in line, yet I choose to focus on life. I laugh when I remember the librarian asking if we used the sailboat brakes. I marvel at my father’s patience and willingness to buy a third boat anchor. I think of my mother’s cooking skills when I make egg salad sandwiches, and iced tea with orange. Although my family members are gone, memories of them are still with me. So is their love.