The Son He Never Had
By Linda Germain
Captain Rick spent his days scraping and sanding junk off of boats. It was not a particularly fun job, but since very few were inclined to do it, the income was good.
The first phase to remove barnacles and slime began as soon as a vessel was hauled into dry-dock. Rick liked to think of it as boat sickbay.
The intense makeovers included high-pressure washing, machine sanding, then sanding by hand. After all that preparation, seven or eight layers of paint would be applied. Even with helpers, Rick had his hands full.
"Excuse me, Sir." Someone was hollering from behind a fancy yacht that was resting on a stand.
Rick climbed out from under the raised jet boat that was his latest project. He came face to face with a tall, thin fellow wearing glasses and a cowboy hat. He looked familiar but out of place.
"Got a problem, kid?"
"Yes Sir, I need a job. My name's Jay Dinsmore Ė J.D. for short"
This skinny Roy Rogers did not look like he was capable of the dirty, backbreaking labor that went on around there.
Rick was squinting to get a good look at the young man standing in the bright sunlight.
"You ever done this kind of work before?"
"No Sir, but Iím not afraid to learn."
Rick removed the protective mask and work gloves, wiped the sweat dripping from the side of his face with his forearm and motioned for J.D. to follow him into an office.
The relative coolness in the small but orderly room was a restful contrast to the outside activity. The boatyard owner handed the job seeker an ice-cold orange drink.
"Thank you, Sir. Thatís my favorite." Rick took one too.
"Where you from, son?"
"From a whole bunch of places. My step-daddy moved us a lot when he was in the Army, and then when he got out he seemed to keep moving us just the same. He died. Iíve been in Texas living with my grandma."
Rick leaned back in a special chair that supported his always sore, tired back. He noted the open and honest look on the boyís face.
"What are you doing in these parts?
J.D. leaned forward and lowered his voice. "I am on a mission trip."
That religious sounding word made Rick uncomfortable. Was the kid a preacher or something?
"That sounds a little vague to me."
The thin fellow with work worn hands looked down for a second as if deciding how much to reveal. Then, as if confirming his decision, he plowed on.
"I'm gonna die."
Rick bolted upright in his comfortable chair so fast he spilled the orange drink.
"What the heck is THAT supposed to mean? You crazy or something?"
J.D. never flinched. "No Sir, it's just the truth."
Well, boy, WHEN you gonna die?"
He never took his eyes from the younger manís face.
"Ain't sure, Sir, but meantime I need to make me some money and looks like you need some help, so hire me or send me on."
J.D. stood up, ready to leave. The phone rang. Rick grabbed it, thankful for a break. As soon as he hung up, he realized the pale kid in the cowboy hat was gone.
Sometimes it was hard to think of reasons to keep going. Rick trudged back outside, not feeling much like working anymore; wishing this row of watercrafts would disappear. When he looked down, he had to smile. Polished western boots were sticking out from under an old pontoon. Someone was whistling and scraping.
Rick affected his gruffest, curmudgeon voice, "Hey! Did I hire you or something?"
"You might as well. You see any more lined up to work this hard for what you're paying?"
"Hey kid, this is just a trial. You got a place to live?"
J.D. was grinning when he crawled out to ponder the question. "No, I have to say, I don't."
"There's an old tug next to the back fence. It has a fairly decent bed in there and a generator. I can get you a little electric fan if you want one."
The two men shook hands. The deal was closed that fast.
The place hummed with a chorus of electric tools, spray-painters, and air compressors. There was a satisfying tone to this background noise. Rick shook his head as he picked up his own scraper and headed back to work.
"By the way kid, when did you say you're gonna die?"
J.D. didn't pause as he replied in a quiet voice, "Not sure, but it donít matter none. Got to keep your suitcase packed just in case. You never know when your number's gonna be called."
Rick decided to keep his mouth shut.
To be so thin and young, this Texas boy could flat out do some work. Rick was glad to have him around. It seemed easier not to ask any questions. Still, he wondered if the boy had a disease or a bad heart?
One Saturday, while J.D. was in town to pick up an outboard part, Rick paid a quick visit to the tug at the back fence. It was clean and sparse, just like his helper. He hoped to find something to clear up the mystery of this hardworking young cowboy.
Just as he was about to give up he noticed an envelope in the wastebasket. He glanced out of the tiny jalousie window then quickly reached down and grabbed what he hoped was a clue. To save time, he stuffed it in his pocket and hurried back to the office. He knew just about how long it would take J.D. to return; time enough to settle down in his good chair and have a cold orange drink.
The letter had been sent to a town in Texas. He remembered about the grandmother but he was puzzled at the return address. It was from this very area, in fact from the main town where J.D. was today.
Rick propped his tired feet on the desk, took a swig of cool refreshment, and feeling more guilt than he expected, unfolded the white paper and read:
The doctor said your only chance for a transplant is probably your daddy. My heart breaks thinking there is somebody who could help and he donít even know it.
Donít be scared about it. Your daddy is a good man. He will love you as much as I do.
Your Mama, Carolina"
Rick could barely breathe. He did not know Carolina had moved back home. Now he finds out he has a son and that son is sick and only he can do anything about it. He was numb.
It was getting dark outside. J.D. should have come back a long time ago. Maybe he was at Carolinaís house. Rick was shaking too much to look up the phone number. When he couldnít stand the suspense any longer, he jumped in an old truck they kept for hauling garbage and took off for the next town.
He sped down the street where Carolina used to live but the old house was vacant. All he could think to do was check the hospital. As he searched for a parking place, he spotted his good blue truck that J.D. had used today.
His heart was racing as he sprinted to the main waiting room. She was sitting in the corner by herself, staring out the window. He had forgotten how beautiful she was.
"Carolina?" he whispered
She stood up but did not move. "Hello Rick."
He crossed the room in quiet steps and held out his hand. She hesitated, and then extended hers as well. He simply held it and looked at her. There were tears on both faces and no words to say.
Again in a whisper, "Why, Carolina?"
"Itís a long story, Rick. Right now your son needs you."
She released his hand and started from the room. He followed like a puppy, hoping she knew the way.
Down the hall, she stopped at a plain door and went in to a quiet and dimly lit chapel. He was right behind her. There were a few small pews, some kneeling benches and a simple wooden cross. They sat side by side. The surreal moment made him wonder if he would ever breathe again.
She knelt down and began to pray. He had never been so touched in his life.
"Heavenly Father, J.D. is very sick. Thank you for sending the only one who can help him now. Please give him the strength to make the sacrifice that will save myÖour son."
While Carolinaís eyes were closed, Rick slipped out of the sanctuary to find the place he was needed.
There are profound times in a manís life when there is no choice; he must weigh anchor and sail. That was something Captain Rick understood. On the way to the ICU he stopped for one last ice-cold orange drink.
Linda Germain loves to write stories about lives that are not afraid to turn around. Our Lord offers forgiveness and a chance to be washed as white as snow. That is a good first step in the right direction. You can write to Linda through the Letters page of this magazine.
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