My Dad is the father of three girls. Now he is the grandfather of two more. Five girls and no boys, and I am the middle of those five, the youngest of the three.
“I tried to raise all my daughters like sons,” he would say.
Alicia, my oldest sister was the tomboy. She excelled at sports, playing volleyball, softball, basketball, and track. She would intimidate the bullies on the playground that were picking on her kid sisters, and she even tried chewing tobacco…I think. But, she also spent the most time styling her hair. She would occupy the bathroom for hours, teasing, curling, crimping, and spraying her mall bangs that dominated her look and cast a shadow on the floor that made her look as tall as Shaquille O’Neill. Now she is the gentle motherly type who tenderly coos at her baby girl and plays “store” with her other daughter.
Marissa, the middle daughter, could pal around with the guys like she was one of them. She shot pool, went “two-trackin’,” a Midwestern teen pastime, and could drink anyone under the table. But even though she was chummy with the guys, I think secretly they all had crushes on her. She was voted by her classmates onto the homecoming court, read Seventeen magazine (which she occasionally shared with me) and wore the hottest pink sequin dress to the senior prom with high heels.
And then there is me. Teresa. I played with dolls until I was almost in high school. The only sport I was really good at was when I was the coxswain for the men’s crew team. And after I was the flower girl in my cousin’s wedding, I wouldn’t take the lacy, flowery, dress off. I think I would have worn it to school if my mother had let me. And I have never worn high heels.
So, I was surprised the day my father took me aside to tell me something that perhaps he has forgotten by now, but I will never fail to recall. He stood next to me, with one hand on my shoulder, composing himself as if he was going to tell me some historic news. And in his best John Wayne voice, he said, “Darlin’. You know, a father gives his son a pocket knife.” He thrust a small folding knife key chain toward me. “You are my son.”
If it weren’t for my dad, I don’t think I would be a sailor. I would just be lost. I remember when Dad went sailing in the BVIs with his friends. He was sharpening his skills to prepare for buying his first boat. When he returned he brought me a sea-shell necklace and a coconut. My first ocean treasures. I especially loved the coconut. I had never seen one. I saved it for so long that when I finally cracked it open, it has a worm in it.
After a seemingly lifetime of dreaming, Dad finally bought a sailboat. I was about eight years old. It was a Ranger 23 that Alicia named Applerush. When I tell people the name of the boat, I am met with confused looks? “How do you spell that?” “One word or two?” “What does that mean?” And most often, “Why Applerush?” I have no answers for these questions, except that we like it. Alicia blurted it out during a family car trip and it stuck. And so the boat was called Applerush.
The Applerush was often home to Mom, Dad, Alicia, Marissa and I on family vacations. All five of us would cram into the tiny 23 foot boat, which I believed happened to be the perfect size for me because I was the only one who could stand up straight in the cabin, something I thought I would always be able to do. As a family we sailed about the coast and islands of Lake Michigan, hung our feet over the side of the boat to dip them in the waves, and screamed at the wind.
Dad and I especially would scream at the wind. “It makes me feel ALIVE!,” we would yell over and over again and again. When summer was over and the boat was in storage for the winter, we still yelled. Every Friday on the way to school Dad and I would drive Marissa, nuts by yelling, “T…G…I…F…Its Friday! Blast Off!”
Yes, Dad is a strange one, and sometimes I channel his strangeness. I like it that way.