Water folds onto the sand of an empty beach. Another season has passed. Another year adds to a pile that began back when I was about 16 years-old.
I remember the sky as it was. The thick gray clouds were like the salt and pepper color of an old man’s beard. The wind rushed along the shore, echoing with the waves as they tumbled into surf. I could hear the gulls crying out to each other. There was no one else around. There was only me and The Old Man.
It was wintertime. January 1.
We began our walk at the beginning of Point Lookout near the first set of rock piles. This is where the inlet meets the sea. This is where long range fishing boats leave and return with hopes to fill their nets so they could eventually fill their wallets and feed their families.
The winter sea is often less than kind. Heavy winds and white capped waves rock the outgoing ships; their tall masts move from side to side as the outriggers and ropes sway. The ship’s bow cut through the cold Atlantic seas at a slow and steady pace. The Old Man and I stood at the inlet. We watched this in awe of its beauty.
I often thought of myself in the wheelhouse of a long-liner or a dragger. I imagined The Old Man at the wheel. The two of us, like father and son, heading out for an offshore adventure.
His eyes intensely looking through the windshield; a white spray from the ocean flies across the bow as we rocked back and forth. I used to imagine him in a white captain’s hat. A thick white turtleneck sweater bundled up beneath The Old Man’s chin.
A yellow hooded raincoat covered over him as his hands took the 10 o-clock and 3 o-clock position on the wheel.
Of course, I always imagined the wheel to be the way it was on the older ships; wooden of course, with handles to make for an easy spin.
I loved this dream of mine. Whenever I picture The Old Man, this is the way I like to see him. This is how I imagine he would spend his time.
I am not one for cemeteries.
No one is . . .
That’s why I prefer the beach.
Years before The Old Man passed, I sat in the back seat of a small rental car just outside the town of El Paso Texas. My brother was sleeping in the seat beside me. My mother was in the passenger seat. The Old Man was in the driver’s seat. Leaning forward, The Old Man’s wrists leaned on top of the steering wheel with his hands hanging down as he waited patiently. We were stuck at a railroad crossing at the edge of town.
Meanwhile, a long freight train—perhaps longer than any train I could possibly imagine, slowly passed us. We sat for such a long time. One by one, each car of the freight train passed.
Each time I thought the train would end, another length of cars continued on in a slow moving sound of metal wheels banging against the tracks and railroad ties. “Clang, clang,” said the wheels, which followed by an occasional screech of steel grinding against steel.
Some of the fright cars had opened doors, where inside, hobos rode along to catch a free ride across the country.
The sky was a bright blue. Miles above, vultures wove and turned in the sky. Behind us was the desert and a cement road that was partially covered in sand. Ahead of us was the town of El Paso. The weather was terribly hot with waves of heat lifting up from the ground with the hazy illusion of water in the distance. The heat was a dry heat. And by dry, I mean the sort of dry heat that left a white crust at the corners of my mouth.
We were on our way into town to walk across a bridge that leads over to Juarez, Mexico. The cost was 10 cents to leave the country and 20 cents to return. We walked over a branch of The Rio Grande into the old city of Juarez where factories and buildings entwined.The streets were somewhat empty due to the early hour of the day.
Just over the bridge near a tall white building, an old woman stood at the corner with her hand out to American Tourists. She was there to ask for generosity. If anyone passed or decided to lend the little old woman some change, she answered them with a plea of gratefulness.
“Que Dios te lo pague,”she said, which means, “May God repay you.”
She was a short woman with long, thick black hair. Her eyes were thin slits and almond shaped. Her skin was old and wrinkled, but dark, like someone from an Apache or Cherokee tribe. She wore a white wrap around herself with colored beads at the top. The old woman appeared almost pleasant and her voice was soft like a grandmother’s.
We walked into town and passed the local shops. Of all I remember; I remember the one most important rule. “Don’t drink the water!”
I had no idea who or what Montezuma is. I was only told about his revenge. This was the first time I was ever outside the border of my country. I was outside of my comfort zone and inside the view of a different world and a different life.
After standing in one of the shops, The Old Man was about to purchase gift for my mother. The Old Man negotiated a price with a portly man wearing white pants, a white, short sleeved buttoned-down shirt. The man had a thin mustache grown over the lip. His black hair was parted over from the right side to the left. His eyes were dark, and though he appeared and spoke to The Old Man in a friendly way; the man in the store apparently did not know that The Old Man spoke Spanish.
When the man behind the counter cursed my family—calling The Old Man cheap as he sent a girl to retrieve something in the back; The Old Man responded in Spanish.
“Ten cuidado,” said The Old Man, which translated to, “Be careful!”
“Yo entiendo espanol,” said The Old Man, which meant, “I understand Spanish.”
As we turned to leave, the portly man shot back an insult at The Old Man.
“Pinche guey!” which translates to “Fucking idiot!”
The Old Man took us out of the store without responding. We walked the streets of Juarez for a short while longer. Then we crossed the bridge that led over a small stream of water. We returned to our native soil for the cost of 20 cents each. We were home where the water was safe to drink and I didn’t have to worry about someone named Montezuma or worry about his revenge.
That was so long ago . . .
Another season has passed and another year piles on the memories I have from when I was a boy.
Somewhere, there is an outgoing ship, which hopefully moves through kind, following seas. Somewhere, The Old Man smiles as he makes his way through the grand inlet in the sky.
I know he’s out there (somewhere)
I hope those seas he’s in are as beautiful as the one’s I used to dream about.