The Adventure Begins: A Sailing Story Part I

Revelation II was the name of Dad’s prized sailboat. It was a 1969, sloop-rigged Columbia, 28 footer. He had owned it for many years.

Sailboats are a lot of work. There is always something to fix or upgrade to get everything the way you want it. After all those years of owning Revelation II, Dad had it just right, including all new instruments.

My Dad has an adventurous spirit. He loved to fly and sail and he was always looking for the next adventure. This story is about one of those adventures. It ended up a little long, even by my standard, so I’ve broken it into parts…

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I had wanted for a long time to take a cruise in the sailboat around the northern end of Lake Michigan. One weekend in August, Ed and Georgine were up with us on the Island and I was in the process of preparing the boat to take my trip. Ed looked the boat over, gave me an engine tune up and checked all the instruments so he would feel comfortable that I was ready.

On a Monday morning, Dolores helped me pack up the supplies for the boat because I expected it would take me four days. Then she told me, “Give me a call on your cell phone when you’re on the horizon from our cabin so I can see you and give you a call to say goodbye.”

My first stop would be Manistique, Michigan. I left the slip I kept at Caps Marina and sailed out around Detroit Island, past the Pilot Island lighthouse, then turned north towards Manistique. Soon Dolores gave me a call  and said, “I can see you!”

The weather was okay and everything was going along well. I had the auto-helm turned on to steer the boat and I had my Bible on the cabin top so when I stood on the steps going into the cabin, it was just at reading height.

I was out for about six hours when I noticed my course was drifting. I finally figured out the auto-helm was not working. On checking further, I realized none of the instruments were working—the boat speed, wind speed or depth sounder. So I had to steer by hand. This  was in the early days of GPS. I had a handheld unit and was grateful because when I got to Manistique I needed it. I couldn’t see the harbor; all I saw were trees where I expected it to be. The GPS gave me a heading for the harbor and I was able to find the entrance. It’s a small harbor with a few slips and a gas pump. I maneuvered away from the slips so I could swing right into one and got stuck in what felt like a sand bottom.

Fortunately, another sailor came along and explained to me that there was sufficient depth only close to the slips. If you get too far away from that, like I did, you get stuck. To be honest, I don’t remember how exactly I got unstuck…I think I threw a line to the other sailor and he gave the line a tug and pulled Revelation free. When I got in and tied up, he said to me, “Apparently, this is the first time you’ve been here.”

“Yes, it is.”

“You have to be careful when you go back out because the harbor is the mouth of a river.”

Typically, sand flows down the river and leaves a little ridge between the harbor where I was tied up, and the exit down through the mouth of the river. I planned to gun my engine so I could hit that little ridge pretty hard, get through it and be free on the other side. But I wanted to call the boat yard in Milwaukee first to see if they could give me any suggestion on what was wrong with all my instruments.

I made supper, then slept on the boat that night and called the Milwaukee boat yard the next morning. I talked to Scotty who was very familiar with my boat, told him my dilemma and asked his advice on fixing it.

“Bill, your boat is a 1969. Through the years, there have been wiring changes. No one ever removed wires, they just kept adding to them. I can’t even begin to tell you how to fix it.”

The next port in my plan was Beaver Island. According to the chart, it was kind of a tricky entrance with many marking buoys to guide you. As I thought about it, I realized how many hours I had ahead of me and to navigate it without an auto-helm and other instruments, I felt would be impossible. It wouldn’t be able to leave the tiller to eat, check a chart or do anything else. I called Dolores to tell her what was up and that I would be coming home that day.

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Setting the Stage

A sliver of morning light appeared above the roof of the house across the street. I leaned forward in my chair, separated the filmy white curtains and squinting against the brilliance, watched the sun come up. I finished the last of my coffee, closed the books in my lap, stood up and stretched.

High above in the heavens, I wondered if the sun, in all its glory, is but a speck of glitter to God.

Absorbed in my thoughts, I had to dress quickly for work. Fortunately, jeans are fine for my job. I grabbed a black jacket, pulled on some boots, then adjusted the shoulder strap of my briefcase and hopped on my bike.

But as I passed the bluff overlooking the lake, I had to stop. I laid my bike on the curb and walked over to look more closely. Something was missing. A hazy white sheet, cascading like a curtain, appeared to have been thrown down from above, concealing the horizon. There was no visible division between water and sky.

What divides us from heaven, I wondered. What if it’s right here, separated only by a veil we can’t see beyond with our human eyes?

Just then, a string of shimmering light appeared on the water. Like glitter. I stood still, thinking of the words from my devotion that morning …. I am with you, I am with you, I am always with you…..
October 30, 2013

I came across this journal entry as I was preparing to write my next story, The Seven Days of Heaven. The day, October 30, was the day proceeding those seven days in Mom’s life in 2011.

Mom and I, as well as all the women in our family, had been reading the same devotion that year—Jesus Calling. It was a gift given to Mom by my sister-in-law, Georgine, after my brother Ed died. Reading it together, connected our hearts.

I didn’t realize at the time, that the book’s entry for October 30 referenced the first scripture Mom had ever memorized. I am the good shepherd. I know my sheep and my sheep know me. (John 10:14). It was the scripture her pastor, Reverend Bernwirth, had read to her on the Sunday she had been baptized.

As a brave ten-year-old, when the pastor had asked the congregation if there was anyone who wanted to come forward to be baptized that Sunday, without any cajoling from her Uncle Willard who she sat beside, she rose, and walked down to the water. She would step into it—wearing her best dress—and in front of all those present, surrender her heart to Jesus.

A lot happened on that Sunday before the seven days. I’ve already written about some of it in my post entitled Morning Buns. If you haven’t read it, you might want to as background for my post on Sunday, April 20, The Seven Days of Heaven.

Oh….and just one last thing for today, I can’t help but share what I read from that same little book this morning afterI finished writing……

If I pulled back the curtain to allow you to view heavenly realms, you would understand much more. However, I have designed you to live by faith, not by sight. I lovingly shield you from knowing the future or seeing into the spirit world. Acknowledge My sovereignty by giving thanks in all circumstances. April 16 entry from Jesus Calling by Sarah Young

Dolores Rahn in her Sunday best

Dolores Rahn circa 1940




‘Til Life Do Us Part

First heartbeat. Final breath. Two memories locked in time.

He was by my side for the first. We stared together at the tiny beating flashes of light on the monitor in front of us. I was unaware that he held me as our eyes gazed at the screen. We gasped. A wonder of wonders. Life. Joy unspeakable. So unexpected, we were expecting.

“Should we try to have a child?” I had asked my husband just months earlier. I was giddy with excitement. Was it possible? We were older. Highly improbable. But it happened. A miracle.

“I am concerned by the lack of cardiac activity,” the doctor said as she rolled her magic camera across my stretched skin.

“Playing hide and seek are you?” I asked my little one. We had a secret language. “Move the camera.” I told the doctor, unable to grasp the situation. “I know you’ll find it…the heart….beat…..”

Todd squeezed my hand then. My eyes searched his and we poured our grief into each other. Our love.

Life on earth begins and ends with a beat. Enters in and departs with a breath. I find it ironic that my memories of loss pulse through me with such a force of life.

“It’s time to tell the story about your mother. I don’t want to overlook it.” Dad finally said the words I’d been waiting to hear.

He had told me I shouldn’t rush it. He had been correct in encouraging me to wait. We had more to tell about life before I could write about Mom’s final breath.

But now that the time is here, I wonder if it can be captured in words. The seven days of heaven. That’s what we call Mom’s last seven days on earth—the witnessing of her rapture in the midst of her suffering.

On Sunday mornings, we would always wake to the sound of her music. Sometimes she’d be practicing for the church services; other times she’d be playing the piano and singing to fill her spirit. Worship. A roast would often be in the oven and you could already smell the French onion soup she would use to flavor it. Like gathering for family holidays with the preparations of special meals for loved ones, these days were holy days.

I imagine heaven that way… music filling the air, and indescribable aromas—sweet, rich, satisfying—from the preparation of special meals.

The long table was set delicately in white. Vases of brightly colored wildflowers were set between the plates and goblets. The table extended across the main room of the mansion that had been prepared for her. It stretched out through a set of breathtakingly tall glass doors reflecting the colors of the flowers, then across a field surrounded by bridals wreath, lilac bushes and apple trees.

The ceiling high overhead was designed with large clear glass arches, set between giant beams of cedar. As the light streamed in, it created rainbow patterns of color across the gleaming floor beneath her feet.

Her breath, once again, deep and sustaining. The air was filled with the aroma of a meal being prepared. Herbs…melted butter…….cinnamon. The sound of voices and instruments softly echoed throughout the vast space. There was a piano that she could now play with strong fingers, free of pain.

His arms had already embraced her. She was taking it all in when, suddenly, she saw their faces.

It was the last Sunday in October, 2011 and Mom woke up wanting cinnamon-sugared Morning Buns. The seven days to come would be unexpected Holy days.

Diary of an ADD Shopper

Marriage is an endless stream of compromises—for those of us into conscious coupling, as opposed to those of us who are married and unconscious. Does that make any sense?

Todd and I went shopping for tiles on Saturday afternoon.

You need to understand, my Uncle Gordy tiled our bathrooms over forty years ago. Each tile had been so carefully laid it was a big deal for me to consider having them replaced.

Todd was set on a bathroom upgrade.

We have two bathrooms side by side. It was originally one large bath that Dad converted to suit a family of six when he renovated the house in 1970. The boys and the girls we called them. Todd and I bought the house from my parents when they downsized to a condo in 2004. It’s been a project for Todd to keep up, but I think it’s worth it.

He wanted me to go tile shopping at Menard’s. I wasn’t too excited about that but when he proposed lunch at Colectivo beforehand, and a stop at Banana Republic afterwards, I was up for it.

The parking lot was packed with cars and people—Menard’s is a happening place on Saturdays. And friendly. We were greeted with smiles and welcomes as we entered the monster of a store. I noticed Chocolate Fudge Trail Mix on display and picked it up thinking it would make shopping more fun but remembered we had just had lunch and put it back.

We were headed towards the shower heads aisle when I stopped and admired an array of Swiffles. Don’t ask me why. I never dust. I decided I really wanted a Swiffle ceiling duster with an extended arm to use on the third floor which, as noted above, I have never dusted. Not in the ten years we have owned our house. “You’re an ADD shopper,” Todd said and pulled me along.

Once we picked out the shower head and were finally advancing towards the tile department, I happened upon a lovely display of really large packages of Bounty paper towels. I decided we needed one. “Look! A bounty of Bounty!” I said as I heaved one from the top. It filled our entire cart, leaving no room for the upcoming tiles, but that hadn’t dawned on me yet. Todd kept walking.

I had a white bathroom in mind—white tiles, white towels, white candles. Todd was set on a matte finished light tan which he said better matched the rest of the house.

“That’s too light,” he kept telling me as I pointed to the tiles I liked.

“Oh, look here!” I got excited. “I’ve always wanted a bathroom like this.” Black and white glossy squares.

“We’ll need to get a new house for those.”

“It can be my own little corner. Who’s going to care?”

“The next buyer maybe?” Todd is always practical.

He wanted the new tiles to match up with the ones he had put into the ‘boys’ bathroom last year. He had picked them out and hauled all five hundred pounds of boxes up the stairs himself. Once they were laid there was no turning back but neither one of us was sure about them. Too dark, we thought. Fortunately they lightened up after the grout was added.

A nice young salesman named Marcus helped us figure out quantity as we settled on a tile color. Todd quickly stuffed my Bounty into one of the shelves. I told Marcus I thought Menard’s must be a nice place to work as I retrieved it. He agreed, and shared that he was in his final semester of studying Architectural Technology at MATC. Todd was busy loading boxes into our cart as I stood there with the Bounty. Marcus said he’d get us a flat.

With the Swiffle and Bounty on top of the tiles, we made our way to checkout where I discovered a rack full of dark chocolate covered berries. I couldn’t decide between pomegranate or blueberry so I got both. I opened the blueberries while Todd started checking us out.

This is when he discovered we were two boxes short and left me there with a stern looking man in line behind. I introduced myself to Melba, our cashier, and started handing her our items, bar code up, to speed things along. When Todd hadn’t returned, I paid for two extra boxes of tiles. Melba circled the rebate number on our receipt and directed me to the customer service counter to fill out our 11% mail-in rebate.

It’s good to have a bag of chocolate along for distraction when you’re waiting around with a 6′ x 4′ flat and cart in tow at a crowded Menard’s.

Todd finally appeared, telling me they were out of our tiles. Then just as fast as he had reappeared he disappeared again. “Maybe they have some in the back,” I heard him call back to me.

We should have gone with the black and white squares.

I noticed Melba smiling at me as I tried to stay out of everyone’s way. I smiled back. Todd arrived with the two boxes when Melba was in the middle of a big order. I watched her make sure the cashier next to her knew we had already paid for them.

I was a little nostalgic about leaving Menard’s as I pulled the flat to the car. Goodbye Melba, I thought. Good luck with your new career Marcus.

As I write this story, the Swiffle lays in the hall resting on the floor waiting for someone to put it away.

I’m thinking about opening it up and clicking the extended arm into place after I straighten out my closet this morning. But the sun is out. I might go for a run first….

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Oxygen is Low, Time to Go!

“Your oxygen is 90.”

“That’s low,” Dad said to the nurse. “It’s normally around 97.”

“We need you to be working your lungs.”

He stared straight ahead like he knew the drill but said nothing.

“She wants you to expand your lungs, Dad.”

“I hear her. I hear her,” he snapped at me then turned towards the nurse. “Bettina, I’m not going to be at my best when I’ve been lying in bed all night!”

This is true—Dad’s lung capacity was decreasing because he was in bed so much. I was doing all I could to get him discharged.

“You need to work your lungs, Bill,” Bettina repeated.

“Well, I need to get up out of bed to do that, but I can’t do that without setting the alarms off all the time!” He was so ready to get out of this hospital.

“And you know why we did that……right? Because you fell at home.”

“I know I fell at home, but that’s history!”

“You are high risk.”

Dad rolled his eyes. He took several deep breaths into his plastic breathing machine, pushing the little rattling balls up to the proper level in the air chamber. Then he took a few careful swallows of water and was ready to finish the story of the sailing trip to Washington Island. He was hoping the nurse would move on to her next patient. She seemed satisfied with his effort and made her exit.

“So, we were motoring through the fog without too much difficulty.” Dad’s breathing seemed to naturally improve as he started in on the sailing story. “As we got around the tip of Door County and changed course for Washington Island, we could hear the fog horn of the Ferry Boat. We couldn’t see it, but we heard it. Because the wind was so calm in the fog, we were motoring with the Atomic Four, which was the name of the standard motor on boats in those days.

We stayed alert to avoid the ferry and any other boats. According to the Rules of the Road, I would occasionally give a blast on my boat horn. This was the proper procedure during these conditions. We never saw the ferry boat, but sure enough, right off our bow, at my estimated speed, there it was—the tripod light of the Washington Island Harbor. We got into the Harbor and found a place to tie up at Outfitters. We walked around a bit to get a feel for the Island, spent the night in the boat and then headed back the next day over the same route.

We had a beautiful sail and as we were coming through Ship’s Canal, the water was quite calm. We got to the end of the canal in Lake Michigan, when substantial wind and waves began. I had the hatch over the V-birth open. The first good wave we hit pushed the water right in that hatch and into the V-birth. So here we were, once again, with many of our things soaked.

We continued along Lake Michigan shore and by the time we got to Manitowoc, the weather had built up. The stretch from Manitowoc to Sheboygan was some pretty hard sailing. In those days, Sheboygan didn’t have such a nice harbor for transit boats because it was a large harbor for commercial shipping. When we arrived, we found a place to tie up alongside one of the old coal docks.

We had just about settled in after supper that night when there was a rap on our cockpit. We looked out, and there was our son Ed. He knew our sail plan and figured out exactly where we were and that we had had a very hard sail that day. He told us the storm was picking up speed and that he had come to take over for Mom. He suggested that she take his car home.

Dolores was such an incredible sport, she would have—like she had done so many other times—stuck it out. But she didn’t argue with Ed.

I don’t have any idea how Ed found us that night. I guess he had just figured out what he would have done had he been in my spot. Ed was that way. Always anticipating, always offering, always helping. I wonder what he’s assigned to in heaven…..?

Dolores drove Ed’s car home. Ed and I spent the night on the boat and enjoyed a challenging sail the next day. The storm grew and the wind and waves were really rough. We had a great time and it was good Dolores listened to Ed and drove home.

To think now, how she was raised on a farm in northwestern Illinois, far from any body of water. She never had the opportunity to learn how to swim, never particularly liked the water, yet still she was always willing to share with me and my joy……….”

I had a big lump growing in my throat and my eyes welled as I thought about my mom and brother……..

“That’s a great story, Dad,” I finally managed to say.

Just then, as though he had been waiting in the wings for us to finish so he could make his entrance, an aide named Bruce walked into our room.

“Do you know what the date is, Bill?”

“I have a suggestion for you, Bruce,” Dad said. “You guys should put the day of the week up on the board there, along with the date. It’s really difficult to keep track of life outside when every day inside the hospital is the same. When I was at St. Jo’s, they always had the day of the week along with the date written on the marker board. That really helped.”

“Kind of defeats the purpose doesn’t it, Bill?”

“At this hospital, you’re supposed to figure out the day of the week by counting forward from the day you came in?”

Bruce didn’t respond to that question but took a look at the symbol on Dad’s wristband. “So you want to be resuscitated, if necessary, when you die, Bill?”

“You guys seem more worried about me dying then keeping me alive.”

“Bill, you just don’t want to get that wrong.” Bruce walked over to the board and added Friday to the date.

A small victory but it felt good to have witnessed it. A patient’s feedback is important.

We had been at the hospital since Monday. I had pushed for getting Dad released as soon as possible because I was sure he would recuperate better at home. His resident physician and head doctor both agreed with me. I had a 2:30 appointment that Friday I didn’t want to miss and they helped expedite Dad’s release.

His Resident happened to be from Ghana and his Head Doctor was from India. They had become like family to us and both came to say goodbye. “I don’t know the tradition in your country,” Dad said to each of them. “But as we often do in our country, I’d love to give you a hug.”

Each had replied, “I could use a hug.”

They managed to get us through the discharge process so I was able to make my appointment which was somewhat of a miracle in itself.

It’s funny, I feel sad to be ending our unexpected experience of being a High Risk Fall patient. There was a little rough sailing but all in all, we ended up arriving safely back into our harbor. And as always, those whose hearts touched ours will always stay with us.

Thank you Dr. Richard and Dr. Joseph—God bless you.

March 14, 2014