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Commentary

Fair Winds To A Good Man
By Mitch Traphagen mitch@observernews.net
Mar 29, 2007, 20:52

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Carlton Majette and my wife, Michelle, in front of his boat in the marina in 1995. Mitch Traphagen Photo
He emerged from a generation that understood the meaning of work.  To him, hard work was not a long, stressful day spent in front of a computer or standing at a cash register – it was the type of work that pushed muscles to the edge each and every day.  Real work that accomplished real things.

The sea called him early in life – and he never left it.  He served in the Merchant Marines as an engineer assuring that boilers continued to boil and propellers continued to propel ships across the dangerous wartime ocean.

Our first meeting did not go well.  We arrived as newcomers with only slip reservations in a quiet backwater marina in Ruskin.  He told us we had to leave – that we could not have the slips in which we had already tied up after an overly long and eventful voyage up from Ft. Myers Beach.  My wife disagreed and soon voices were raised and chins were thrust out.  She finally moved her boat after uttering a few not-so-veiled threats in his direction.


In later years, he and my wife rarely passed each other without a hug.  Things change.

He continued to work hard well past the age most would consider as retirement.  On occasion, I tried to lend a hand.  Although half his age, he seemed to have more drive than I could muster – his definition of hard work was clearly at a level different from mine.  He kept things running in the little marina and almost everyone there was familiar with his question, “You’re not going to leave that there, are you,” referring to things left as clutter on the docks.

I had only known him a few months when my cat had died.  I cried about it.  And there he was, the tough, hard-working former Merchant Marine standing by my side telling me about a dog he had lost years back.  “I cried like a baby,” he told me with his gravelly, Southern accent now heavily laced with honest empathy.


His job evaporated along with the quiet backwater marina in Ruskin.  I visited his office, what we called the dockmaster’s shack, shortly before a bulldozer made quick work of it.  Today, it would be difficult to say where it had once stood.  A condominium is there, as is a new road.  There is nothing left of what was.


His son passed away a few years ago and much of his life and drive seemed to vanish along with his boy.  Parents aren’t meant to outlive their children.  The pain of losing his son never left his eyes – or likely, his heart.


Eventually, his beloved but time consuming wooden boat was put up for sale.  He loved that boat and in my mind’s eye is a clear picture of him and his wife of many decades and who was his equal in every way, smiling and laughing and enjoying the autumn of their lives alongside that old boat.  And then one day I saw a for sale sign on his almost-as-beloved pickup truck.  Both things were dear to the man’s heart but things had changed.  Time and the loss of his son were accomplishing what a life spent in hard work could not.  Time had moved on and now was beginning to move without him.


The last time I saw him was when a friend had gone to the great effort of checking him out of his nursing home to bring him to my house for a visit.  They arrived by boat and tied up next to my sailboat.  Although in his 80’s, he climbed up over the gunwale, across the boat and onto the dock without difficulty.


But things had changed – time had indeed gone on without him.  After brief moments of conversation that included his apparent enjoyment of the attention given to him by our dogs, he stood up and said that he had to leave.  He added that he needed to meet his son.  My friend tried to explain to him that could not be the case.  But still, he wanted to leave.


That visit was six or more months ago.  Last week, he passed away in his sleep.  I’m certain he left to meet his son.


Now too late I’m saying thank you – for your friendship and the quiet, unspoken life lessons.  And no, I’m not going to leave that there – I’ll take care of it right now.


Goodbye Carlton.



© Copyright 2007 by The Observer News Publications and M&M Printing Company, Inc.

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