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STEIN: First Sea Voyage Brings Bittersweet Memories

My husband and I took our first cruise over the holidays to celebrate our 50th anniversary. The trip, aboard a Royal Caribbean vessel, left northern New Jersey for the Bahamas and circled back.

The voyage featured extremely attentive crew members and plentiful diversions, pools to swim or soak in, and onshore excursions beckoned if onboard amusements weren’t enough.  We even found a television in one of the ship’s “pubs,” where we watched the Eagles play.

As I sat on a deck chair and looked out at the Atlantic Ocean– at that moment, the sea was a dark shade of blue with choppy waves with no other ships, dolphins, birds or signs of life in sight.

I thought of my late father, who, as a young man living in landlocked Des Moines, Iowa, decided he wanted to see the world and joined the Navy. The blue Atlantic and paler sky must have looked the same to him as to me.

When his ship stopped in Philadelphia, he met my mother, a nursing student at the University of Pennsylvania, who came to a U.S.O. dance with a girlfriend.  They danced and said they fell in love with each other at first sight (although out of vanity, neither wore their glasses to the dance).

After he proposed, Mom told him she’d marry him only if he promised to continue his college education and become either a doctor or a lawyer.  He must have been really smitten because he agreed to study law.

He was still in the Navy when I came along. I did not meet Dad until I was 8 months old because he was serving off the coast of Italy on the U.S.S. Worcester.

Dad lived to be 83 when an aggressive strain of prostate cancer took his life. He grew up poor during the Depression and secured a good life for our family through hard work and determination. He retired early, leaving the snowy north for central Florida and frequent golf games.

A few weeks after my dad’s 2016 death, as I was grieving, I dreamed of a large, gray Navy ship.  And in the dream, I heard his voice say, “Don’t worry about me. I’m on the upper deck.”

On the deck of the cruise ship that was filled with families since schools were on winter break, I thought about how lucky I am, fortunate that my parents even met at that long ago U.S.O. dance, that I’m happily married with my children grown, a grandparent and living out my childhood dream of writing.

If I could speak to my father, I’d say, “I’m on the upper deck, too, Dad.”


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