Caribbean Sea Days – Part Two

THIRD SEA DAY

It would be five days before we were blessed with another sea day—reason being the distance between Grenada and the Netherlands Antilles.  It proved to be a quiet day in which to recuperate from getting up early in order to explore island after island: St. Maartin, Antigua, Saint Lucia, Barbados, and Grenada.  Needless to say, it was needed.

We did little but play a game of “O Henry” (also called “Aw Shucks,” and worse), a variation of dominoes.  Other than that, we loafed, strolled around, and watched the sea gulls lazily circling the ship.  In the evening, a second formal night.  By now our waiters (Lazaro from Honduras, and Michael from Serbia) were old friends.  Since our table is right next to a window, we’re able to watch the sunset, followed by immediate equatorial darkness.

Afterwards, I hit the upper deck for fifteen laps.  An unknown beauty passes me again and again in the half-lit track; in dramatic contrast are the obese walkers who can barely move, the smokers who can only sit, puff, and idly watch those of us walking or running off our calories.  Then back to the room.  Tomorrow will be a long day.

FOURTH SEA DAY

Once we bid good-bye to Bonaire, we’d not make landfall for two and a half days.  Dinner, dominoes, listening to Jasmine and her trio perform Latin classics, followed by a forgettable torchy singer and a comedian who managed to be funny without resorting to night club language, completed our day.

We woke the next morning to heavy seas.  So much so that pre-breakfast on the veranda was impossible.  Whenever the hallway door was opened, and the veranda sliding door was open, the wind would shriek through like it was a wind-tunnel; in the process smashing glasses.

After breakfast buffet, I headed down to the purser to settle accounts (I’ve learned to check out early in order to avoid having to stand in long lines on the last day).  Made sure that Tondi, Lazaro, and Michael received generous gratuities, along with support staff.  We’ve learned that most of those who work on cruise ships are paid precious little, consequently, unless passengers are generous with their tips, the room attendants and waiters are likely to return home after nine months at sea with very little to show for their work.

FIFTH SEA DAY

It’s always sad to wake up to your last day at sea.  As a writer, it is the time when I reflect most, watch people most, and devote the most time to my journal.

On this day, I was once again overwhelmed by the obesity epidemic (two-thirds of Americans being classified as obese, one-third already with diabetes).  The situation tends to be even worse on cruise ships.  On the decks, day after day you see the same obese people flopped out in lawn chairs like so many walruses (hour after hour, dawn to dusk, there they remain, when not eating).  Even on shore days, there they stay, unwilling to go ashore because there they’d have to walk.  On the ship, they line up in lines waiting for an elevator; almost never will they take the stairs.  I couldn’t help thinking: What a national tragedy: Two thirds of Americans now classified as obese, one-third of all Americans now diabetic.  Almost half a million dying every day—same as for smokers.  The two epidemics are killing almost a million every year.  What a waste!  How many bright futures blighted and snuffed out!  How many sorrowing families deprived of fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters.

And as I couldn’t help but notice how many stayed on the ship when in port, unable or unwilling to experience another country and its people, I wondered why they’d spent all this money to travel here in the first place.  I wished I could freeze the action on the ship and shout out, “STOP!  Wake up and save yourself before it’s too late!  From this moment on, monitor every bite you eat, count the carbs, and limit yourself to no more than twelve choices a day.  Vigorously exercise a minimum of 30 – 45 minutes a day.  Take the stairs instead of the elevators.  Never smoke another cigarette in your life!  Wake up and live so I can meet you again!”  But of course, I didn’t; I could only weep inwardly.

And I thought again about the incredible difference friends make in our lives.  Each one (noted by C.S. Lewis in The Four Loves) opening a door into our personality that no one else ever will; when that friend is gone, the key to that door goes too.  As John Donne put it long ago: each one that goes takes part of us with him, with her.  So as Bob and Lucy, Ed and Jo, and Connie and I explored the ship and the islands together, dined together, watched programs together, played games together, and shared memories together, I thought again about how very much friendships like these enrich our lives, and how much we treasure each one.

I thought too about what little money each of us had, and how some might consider travel to be a waste of money.  Yet it is said that when each of us comes to the end of our life’s journey, we may have many regrets—but none of us ever regrets the memories we made, the friends who enriched our lives, the insights we gained and the difference we made in the lives of the people we interacted with in our travels.  Always, in travel, we should give more than we take.

Our head-waiter Lazaro -- from Honduras

That last dinner was poignant as we looked at each other around the candlelit table.  At our ages especially, how many more times might we be privileged to travel like this with each other?  Our waiters who were not now mere waiters but friends we’d come to love and appreciate; same with Tondi and the support staff.  They’d come into our lives, and in fourteen short days, we’d left them.  Would we ever see them again?

Jo and Ed waving napkins as waiters brought in the Baked Alaska

At the conclusion of that last dinner, suddenly the waiters all disappeared, then in a long succession of bearers of Baked Alaska, they streamed down the stairs, and we clapped our appreciation as they came.  For each of them lived for more than meager pay and inadequate tips: each of them yearned to be appreciated, cherished, loved.

As did we.

Bob and Lucy at dining table

Next morning, we woke to the prosaic Fort Lauderdale dockyard.  It was over.  Our island in time—all cruises are that—was but a memory.  Yet, each of us, when life closes in on us, may  retreat through those memories into those all too short days and nights on the Caribbean Sea.

* * * * *

Next Wednesday, we invite you to vicariously come along with us to Williamsburg, Jamestown, and Yorktown, Virginia as we guide you through our 29th annual Zane Grey’s West Society convention.

ENZIAN INN AND LEAVENWORTH

A beautiful morning in Stehekin! But rare is the journey where everything goes right. In our case: somehow, somewhere, Bob had lost his driver’s license! No small problem when you’re switching drivers every day. With only one phone on the “island,” It was difficult for Bob to set in motion a process whereby he could secure a substitute license on short notice.

Our breakfast over, we checked out and reveled in our last couple of hours before returning to civilization. But all too soon the blast of the fast boat’s horn told us it was time to go. At 28 mph, we were able to make it back to Chelan in only two and a half hours. No driver’s license in Chelan—more phone calls. Then it was back on hwy 97 through the Wenatchee Valley, the “Apple Capital of the World.” When hwy 97 turned south we joined hwy 2 on the Southern Cascade Loop.

Hanging flowers in the town of Leavenworth

Leavenworth—an unlikely success story of an old logging town that was given up for dead. A group of residents banded together and searched for ways to end their thirty-year recession. Someone came up with a break-through solution: since they were perfectly positioned near the confluence of two great national forests, the Wenatchee and Snoqualmie, encircled with snow-capped peaks, and blessed by a white water river, why not go Bavarian Alps? Why not indeed? What did they have to lose? By the early 1960s, the plan was put in motion: they reinvented themselves as a Bavarian alpine village. It paid off: Today, 1,200,000 visitors a year help fill the little town’s coffers, with nonstop festivities. This year alone, they put on the Leavenworth Choral Festival (April 10), Ale Fest (April 17), Maifest (May 7-9), Spring Bird Fest (May 13-16), Bavarian Bike and Brews Festival (June 5), Wine Walk (June 5), International Accordian Festival (June 17-20), Kinderfest (July 4), International Dance Festival (June 26-27), Wine Tasting Festival (Aug. 21), Quilts in the Village (Sept. 8 – 12), Salmon Festival (Sept. 18-19), Washington State Autumn Leaf Festival (Sept. 24 – 26), Oktoberfest (Oct. 1-2, 8-9, 15-16), Christkindlemarket (Nov. 26-28), Christmas Lighting Festival (Dec. 3-5, 10-12, 17-19), and Icefest Jan 15-16, 2011). It wasn’t easy, but we somehow managed to reach Leavenworth between festivals.

Our nephew Byron Palmer’s second suggested place to stop in Washington was Leavenworth’s Enzian Inn (he and his family always stay there when in the area). Thus it was that with all the other Bavarian motels to choose from, we checked in at the Enzian Inn. One of the reasons we so enjoy staying in national park lodges is that each is unique, a quality in all-too-short supply in today’s cookie cutter lodging age. Rarely do we find anything “different” about a chain hotel or motel. But Bob and Rob Johnson shared a dream: that they could more than compete in a chain-motel age. Together they created an inn that is not only Leavenworth’s largest, it is also the product of craftsmanship and talent in wood. It is a thing of beauty. You notice it immediately when you enter the beautiful foyer and look up at the second story mezzanine—just as is true with Paradise Inn’s. Everywhere, upstairs and downstairs, there are lounge chairs, sofas, and couches for guests who wish to chat with each other, relax, read by the great fireplace on the first floor, or play board games (there’s a wall of them to choose from—also puzzles—on the second floor mezzanine). Also an outside deck overlooking the picturesque little town.

After walking through the town, eating at an Italian restaurant (not everything’s Bavarian!), and pigging out on ice cream, we returned to the Enzian where we again played Phase Ten—Bob had the nerve to beat us. While we were playing, people gathered around the beautiful old Charles M. Stieff grand piano downstairs. Soon the evening’s performance began: not classical but music generations of Americans have loved. Applause (from both floors) followed each number. The pianist played for a full hour and a half. Every night of the year such an evening concert for the guests takes place here.

Alpenhorn at Enzian Inn

The guest rooms were just as lovely as the inn. Next morning, we went up to a ballroom-sized fourth-floor vista room, where a veritable feast awaited us–all complimentary. Hot omelets and scrambled eggs made to order, hot cereal, breads, muffins, juices, fruit, bagels, coffee, tea, pastries of every possible kind—oh, the list could go on and on. In a word, it was overwhelming—all served by waitresses in Bavarian dresses. About half-way through, Bob Johnson came in, wearing his lederhosen and cap, lugging his great Alpenhorn, mounted the outside balcony rail, and then we heard it—the whole town heard it—straight out of the Alps. Every day, either the father or the son plays the Alpenhorn twice during the breakfast hour.

I am including this segment in our lodge series because here is living proof that not all great lodges are found in parks. That here in a small Washingtown town that has reinvented itself, a father and son decided that rather than just build another cookie cutter motel, they’d build something out of the golden age of hotels, with old-timey space to relax in, in their equivalent of a great hall, a mezzanine to tie the two floors together, a fireplace to dream by, live piano music each evening, a breakfast you’d pay $50 for anywhere else, then the Alpenhorn music thrown in for good measure—all for the same price everyone else in town charges. It boggles my mind! But it works: The inn was full.

SOURCES

AAA Oregon and Washington Tour Book (Heatherow, Florida, 2010).

“History of Leavenworth, Washington (a hand-out).

“The Alpenhorn at the Enzian,” (a hand-out).

The Most Scenic Drives in America, (Pleasantville, New York: Te Reader’s Digest Association, Inc., 1997).

“Sonnenschein auf Leavenworth,” (Leavenworth, WA: NCW Media, Inc., 2010).

THE CLOCK OF LIFE

“The clock of life is wound but once
And no one can tell you when the hands will stop
At late or early hour;
Now is the only time you have;
Live, love, toil with a will;
Place no confidence in tomorrow
For the clock may then be still.”

Author Unknown

This powerful little poem I positioned at both the beginning and ending of my most recent Christmas story, “The Clock of Life” in Christmas in My Heart 18 (Pacific Press, 2009); in that story, I fictionalized my own recent close call. Over an 18-month period, my body began shutting down on me. Finally, my doctor took one look at my yellow skin and gave me two hours’ notice before checking in at a hospital E.R, Then it was a race against time to find out what was wrong before it was too late.

During those long days and much longer nights, when the clock on the wall above my bed seemed to take forever to indicate one lone minute had passed, I had plenty of opportunities to Monday-morning quarterback my life: Was my life over, my race done? Had I accomplished all I had hoped to in this short soap opera we label “life”? Was I at peace with God? Had I told my wife and children often enough how very much I loved and cherished them? Was my house in order (ready for an exhaustive audit)? If my body continued to close shop on me, was I ready to tie up all the loose ends of my life? Was my wife Connie prepared to shoulder the entire burden of life alone? What could she do with the massive library that has made our 71 books possible? Did I have fences I needed to mend before it was too late? How was I doing on my Bucket List? Did I have any major regrets? Most important of all . . . was I ready to meet my Maker?

After much prayer, I was convicted that I should pour all these variables into my 18th Christmas story. And “The Clock of Life” proved to be the perfect catalyst.

* * * * *

Several days ago, I was debriefing by phone with Tim Kubrock (principal of Monterey Bay Academy) over the alumni breakfast the week before; more specifically, my remarks to the alumni.

Because of all I have gone through during the last couple of years, I was especially conscious of just how fragile is our hold on life—and, by extension, how little time we have in which to accomplish our goals. I used to take all this for granted. I most certainly do not any more.

And so I urged my fellow alumni to not delay in their giving to this school that contributed so much to us in the morning of our lives. I was painfully blunt: “You know, each year we lose more of our beloved classmates—most likely, never on earth will all of us in this room assemble together again. So please don’t delay in your support of our alma mater.”

All this the principal and I referenced in our chat.

Then he told me, “I’ve got to tell you about an experience I had in my office about 5 p.m. Saturday afternoon. A 50th anniversary alum walked in (I could tell by the honor ribbon on his shirt). Well, he just wanted to talk about the academy, life in general, his own children (who’d also attended the academy), and some painful things I can’t share. Before he left, I felt impressed to offer prayer for him and his family: that the Lord would help to heal the brokenness in his family. When he got up to leave, there was a softness and peace in his face that had not been there when he came in.

There was then a long silence. . .

Followed by a sigh . . . and

“He died last Friday.”