Original Print Date: September 2011
These are my grandparents: Patsy Sue Craighead and Bedie Lee Craighead, Jr. They celebrated 65 years of marriage this past fall. Like many, many others, we (the grandkids) created ridiculous names for them that then stuck and followed them forever. For me, this is a picture of my Tutu and Epaw. They liked to go bowling, they enjoyed frequent excursions in their RV, and at one time they enjoyed dancing. Basically, they did everything together. They were the best of friends. One simply didn’t do anything without the other.
When I was a kid, they had a little condo down at Port Aransas. All of us kids would go down, and we would jump into Epaw’s old boat and he would motor around the bays in search of reds and trout. Looking back, I think I spent more time on the water than dry land during those summers. And the love of the water that I have today probably comes from Epaw. Sure, we caught some fish, but mainly, it was just nice to be out there smelling the air and listening to the gulls overhead and feeling the sun. Because of these summer trips to Tutu and Epaw’s condo, the coast is still one of my favorite places.
On one of those trips, we were out in the bay and passed a sailboat. I’ve never understood the fascination with sailing. Give me a motor. Being at the mercy of the wind doesn’t sound all that appealing to me. I said something to this effect to Epaw, and he smiled and said, “Not me. I’ve always wanted to sail. I’ve never learned how, though.” He laughed, and continued, “I almost did once. I bought a little sailboat and took it to LBJ with your uncle David (his son). We put it in the water and David says that he wants to sail it real quick. So I let him. And you know what he did? He drove it right out to the middle of Lake LBJ, flipped it over, broke the mast, and sent the keel straight to the bottom!!” I laughed heartily at this. Epaw laughed, too. But then added, “Maybe someday I’ll get another sailboat. I sure would like that.”
And with that, it was the last time we talked about a sailboat for 25+ years.
In March, we lost Tutu. Damned Alzheimer’s took her from us. I sat with Epaw on the back porch of his house when they came outside and told him that his best friend was gone. With his daughter (my mom) sobbing on his neck, he patted her head and said “She was a good momma.” I don’t think that he slept the next 3 nights.
Shortly before her passing, he was bringing her home from the hospital for what turned out to be the last time. With his ailing wife soon to arrive by ambulance, he spots a little sailboat sitting in a driveway with a simple FOR SALE sign taped to it. Epaw stops, gets out, asks “How much?” and within a few minutes, drives off towing his beat-up $150 sailboat.
We (the whole family) assumed he had lost his mind. “Epaw, it’s 100 degrees outside!! You’re 86!! You can’t go out there and clean up a sailboat!! Now is not the time!” He scoffed at us all, and ignored our “logic”. I personally figured the boat would simply rot in his backyard.
I was wrong.
After losing Tutu, he went out there in the mornings and the evenings and worked hard on the boat. The ropes were rotted, the paint was peeling, and the entire boat had to be rebuilt. He worked tirelessly on the boat, and everyone called him frequently to ensure heat stroke hadn’t set in.
But sure enough, at 86 years young, and after 4 months of very hard, hot, back-breaking work, he actually finished his sailboat. I was honored to be there on the banks of Canyon Lake yesterday as myself and several of his grandkids (and great-grandkids) helped him lift the mast, assemble the keel, and raise the sails. His weathered hands ran the ropes through the assorted buckles, and the sun beat down on us tirelessly.
He climbed in, we gave him a gentle push, and slowly the sails grabbed the wind and he sailed off. I sat on the shore with my own son and couldn’t help but smile as we watched Epaw fulfill his dream. Later, my son and I climbed in with Epaw and he gave us a nice, gentle sail around Canyon Lake. Three generations of us, listening to Epaw explain the ropes and the wind directions and cautioning us what to touch and what not to touch. My son didn’t appreciate the significance of it, but I did.
Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you that you can’t do something. Epaw didn’t even know how to sail when he bought the sailboat. So, he went to the library, checked out a dozen or so books on sailing, and read each of them in the evenings after working on his boat. I smiled when I saw the stack of books, and saw his notepad of hand-written notes beside them.
There’s a whole lot here to learn from my Epaw. If you have a dream, do it. If you don’t know how, learn how. If it’s hard work, don’t let that stop you. If you’re up there in years, that’s no excuse. If you need help (as in a gentle push from shore), ask for it.
And perhaps the most important lesson of all: never, NEVER, stop dreaming. No matter what you may lose in your life, as long as you have your dreams, you have more than most.
Welcome to September. May cooler temperatures be just around the corner. And may gentle breezes sail you through the Hill Country as you EXPLORE, love, and dream.
I wrote this Publisher’s Letter back in 2011 about my grandparents. Sometimes I re-read it and think that it plays out almost like a movie. My Epaw is still with us, we had dinner just the other night, and I always hope that I can never be scared to throw off my lines, catch a breeze, and drift in whatever direction the wind takes me. – Ben Schooley