11 – Daring to Dream

I have always been a dreamer.  The life of a dreamer is an uncertain, complex one. Dreaming can both enhance and restrain one’s journey through life.  In many ways dreaming has sustained me, especially through rough periods of my life.  Dreaming has propelled me to heights and challenges that I might never have otherwise undertaken.  Dreaming helps me to believe in myself, believe that nearly anything is possible. In contrast dreaming can also hold one back in a netherland of procrastination and inactivity – always planning but seldom doing.  Still it seems essential to my nature.
My impulse to dream disappeared at first knowledge of my prognosis.  Perhaps it was just dormant, wounded and afraid like the rest of me.  Why dare to dream about the future when my future might be drastically foreshortened?  Why expose myself to the despair of thinking that most of my already catalogued dreams might never see fruition? Dreams that I have put off, been sidetracked from.  Dreams that I thought would gradually and eventually be realized as I approached retirement age.  These dreams lent depth, richness, and sparkle to my ideas about my future.  In December these dreams seemed crushed and mocking.
My oldest dreams are about water, about sailing, about boats – building boats, being on boats, owning boats and fixing them.  My family had a summer cottage on a lake in rural Indiana – Lake Hollybrook.  My parents courted there during the early years of the Second World War.  My family inherited this cottage.  We had a metal rowing boat, built for fishing and complete with a wet well for storing our catch.  This boat boasted a pair of wood and aluminum oars that were articulated by a set of gears just below the handles.  A man who lived on the lake designed the oars.  They allowed the rower to face forward as he rowed so that he could see where the boat was going.  At an early age I took the boat out by myself, rowing to the dam at the end of the lake and peering down its great height.  Sometimes I rowed to the other end of the lake where it was fed by a creek, watching fearfully for water snakes.  We sold this cottage in the late fifties in order to buy a modern house in the sprawling suburbs.
Then my grandparents moved to deliciously named Port Orange in Florida where my brothers and I would spend hours fishing from Dave’s Dock with dead shrimp as bait.  Once I convinced my father to rent a boat with me and row down to Ponce Inlet, where the Halifax River met the Atlantic Ocean, a five or six mile trip.  I had not reckoned on the strength of the tidal current.  When we reached the center of the half-mile wide river, it was all I could do to row in place and keep from being swept upstream with the flood tide.  Dejectedly we rowed back to Dave’s Dock, a little wiser for our adventure.
My brothers and I spent our summers in Florida.  One year when I ws 11 or 12 I drafted a set of plans for a small sailboat with outrigger hulls.  In the evening we would watch “Adventures in Paradise” on television – James Mitchner’s stories of a schooner captain’s adventures in the fabled South Seas.  When I was older and had a family of my own, these vacations continued. Several years we rented boats.  One year a small sailboat, another year a small runabout that we cruised up into the alligator infested Tamoka Basin.  When the motor died and we drifted under trees draped with Spanish moss, young Ben looked terrified that something slithery might drop into our boat at any minute.
In later years I trailered our own boats.  Our 18-foot Y-Flyer sailing scow proved that coastal river sailing was more difficult than I had imagined.  It never occurred to me why I had never seen many sailboats actually sailing on the river.  Several times we brought our blue 14-foot ‘Nickel’ boat.  This was an old 1960’s fiberglass runabout that I bought in distressed condition for $100.  An old 40 hp Evinrude for $250 and a $75 trailer put us on the water.  We took it out on the Halifax, part of the Intercoastal Waterway.  We motored up and down, past palatial and modest waterfront homes, all ringed with date and palmetto palms.  Our big adventure came when I finally made the trip from City Dock in Daytona down the river to Ponce Inlet.  This was an actual voyage from somewhere to somewhere else.  We tied up at a rickety dock at the inlet and climbed to the top of the Ponce de Leon Lighthouse.  I could see my tiny craft in the shimmering water below.  On the return we poked our neck out into the Atlantic, just to say we were there.  The water turned from brownish to an ever-deeper green.  As we started to feel the rolling motion of ocean swells that started their own journey off the coast of north Africa, the family took a quick vote and directed their captain back to the safer waters of the river.
From the time that Aaron was very young, we would wander the docks of Florida marinas together, hoping for a glimpse of the shy manatee.  But mostly we went to look at boats and dream together of one that we might own.  Drives around Daytona and Ormond Beach were punctuated by cries from Aaron of “Boat for sale, Dad!”  Florida and the river still have that enticing smell of saltwater and fish.  Florida still holds magic for me and dreams of sailing to the South Pacific.
Over the years I have managed to collect boats, or rather boat projects, but have spent relatively little time sailing them.  This can be a hazard for dreamers.  I have a collection of half a dozen boats in various stages of disrepair.  Most were bought with a dream and a song.  There never seemed to be enough money to lavish on a new and sailable boat.  There were periods when I had more time than money.  Then periods in which I had neither.  But the strength of dreaming about boats held out.  I have more books on boats than most libraries have.  I buy them used at garage sales, used bookstores, and library sales.
In 1971 over the course of a year I constructed the hull for a 12-foot sailboat called a San Francisco Pelican.  It is a sea-worthy design, capable of small day cruises along a coastal area such as the coasts of beloved Florida and in a rough bay such as San Francisco.  I have moved that hull with me over the past thirty years to a succession of rental and owned homes.  It remains unfinished, hanging from the rafters of my garage (boathouse).  Also hanging there is a sixteen foot rowing shell left over from the two years that I sold recreational rowing shells part-time.
I have a molded wooden boat from the early 1950’s made of mahogany ply with two separate cockpits.  There is a one-foot square hole above the waterline on the starboard quarter.  The mahogany veneer on the deck has completed delaminated.  But when I look at it, I see a handsome yacht tender.  I also have a classic lapstrake runabout from the early sixties.  This is also a mahogany boat, constructed with light overlapping planks and a solid mahogany transom on which to hang a motor.  All it needs is for me to replace a third of the ribs and rebuild that warped transom.  What I see is a gleaming restored runabout named “FotoBot” from which I will photograph other people’s yachts in order to support my boating habit after retirement.  The little Delta boat cost me $35 while the lapstrake Thompson set us back $250.  I have a homebuilt, 1930’s designed sailing dinghy of the Snipe class, purchased with trailer for only $300.  This boat is in the most viable stage of floatability.  But it needs its seams taped and fiberglassed, and a new paint job. Several years ago I bought a fiberglass canoe, as Tish is fond of canoeing.
My prize, however, is a twenty-three foot pocket cruiser known as a Bayfield 23. This sailboat weighs 3000 pounds and can sleep four people.  I have a photograph of a sister-ship sailing past an iceberg.  Because the boat was old and has a mysterious pox on the outer skin, I was able to “steal” this boat for $1000.  The money was part of a small inheritance that I received after my father’s death in August 1998.  Picking the boat out, buying it and towing it on the highway back from its home on Lake Erie were great adventures for my son, Aaron and me.  On a cold icy January day we loaded all of the equipment into the back of my truck.  Then we somehow wrestled the 28-foot mast under the truck’s roof.  We called Tish and she warned us of winter storm watches for northern Ohio.  We failed to outrun the storm which caught up with us near the Indiana border as we picked our way over the slippery highway, the mast projecting five or six feet over the front and rear of the truck.
We brought the boat itself home in late May.  Backing the eight-foot wide trailer up my eight foot two inch wide driveway is a challenge.  We spent a day or two washing the boat.  But other responsibilities took me away from my dream.  Sometimes in the evening I would sit in the cockpit, smoking a cigar, sipping a beer, and gazing up at the summer sky.  In the fall of 2000 Aaron and I constructed a winter cover frame and put the boat to bed.  In December 2001 it remained covered still, sitting, as we sailors say, “on the hard”, a landlocked dream.
But in that early December this collection of motley hulls seemed to me to be more folly than dream, a collection of crushed dreams.  I had already thought of a friend whom I would ask to help Tish dispose of my boat collection in return for the choice of my book collection.  This in the event that the worse case scenario for me might loom soon.
If I ever felt that my boat dreams represented a fruitless folly, I was always surprised that my dreams of traveling the world came rather more easily to fruition.  In 1994 I saw an article in an American Cancer Society publication offering travel grants to nurses that were presenting papers at a cancer congress in New Delhi in India.  I submitted an abstract dealing with culture and cancer care.  It was accepted, as was my travel grant application.  As easy as that, I was traveling to the other side of the world.  On my return from India and England,  after a surprising bout with culture shock and a more serious bout with typhoid fever for which I was hospitalized for nine days, I was ready to travel again.  The rest is a serendipitous tale.  One encounter leads to another.  As part of my first India trip, I gave my presentation to staff at the Royal Marsden Hospital in London, an internationally known cancer center.  I was invited to return in 1996 for a convention of the International Society of Nurses in Cancer Care.  A conversation in the lobby of the Metropole Hotel (site of an IRA bombing assassination attempt years earlier) on the English Channel leads to a series of trips to Tegucigalpa, Honduras to plan cancer-nursing courses.  I remember Pearl Moore, chair of the nursing project that would send me, saying “I don’t think it will be too dangerous.” In 1998, a week after the death of my father, I travel to Amsterdam and Jerusalem.
My Latin American projects in turn leads to an appointment to the International Union Against Cancer’s (UICC) Nursing Project Committee, which eventually allows me trips to Vienna and Oslo.  In a quaint outdoor bar at a famous 19th century Viennese subway entrance I am invited to speak in Panama by one of my Latin American colleagues.  I return to India in 1999, traveling with a past-president of ONS, Dr. Linda Krebs, and giving lectures in a series of cities across the sub-continent.  We end our tour at Tata Memorial Hospital, the premier cancer center in that part of the world.  A few months later I am engaged in nursing courses in Guatemala, Honduras and Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates.  In the summer of 2000 I accept an entirely unanticipated offer to become the Chairperson for the Cancer Education for Nurses Project at UICC.  This leads to trips to Geneva in December, a return to Panama in March, a quick PAHO sponsored trip to Trinidad in May, and a return to England in June.  I was chairing a nursing course to Kazakhstan to be held in October.  But after September 11 and the military action in Afghanistan, only 300 kilometers south of Kazakhstan, that course was postponed.  The bombing in Afghanistan started on the day our nursing course was to commence.  By November, though, it was safe enough for me to travel to Lisbon for an international conference, the last of my global jaunts before my leukemia.
Before 1994 if you would have asked me if I might ever travel abroad, I would have doubted it (unless it was to the Caribbean in a sailboat).  But by daring to dream about it, I had become an international traveler.  I traveled to Europe at least twice a year.  I have been to exotic countries.  Half of my e-mails come from abroad.  I am acquainted with nurses, physicians and ministers of health from all over the world.  I carry business cards with a Geneva address.  The pages of my passport were nearly full.  This was just the beginning of a new and exciting phase to my nursing career.  And this too was brought to an abrupt halt with my diagnosis of aggressive leukemia.
Sometime in late January I began to allow myself to dream again.  The clouds had lifted partially.  Perhaps it started with the miracle of snow on that Christmas morning. And as I began to allow myself to dream again, the world seemed lighter, possibilities seemed more attainable.  I try to keep dreaming in perspective, acknowledging the healing effect of focusing on the positive, on the future, but realizing that all such dreaming depends upon the success of my body in its struggle to corral my wild and mutant blood cells.  This permission to begin dreaming again is a gift.  It allows me to raise myself up and push myself forward towards lofty and colorful goals.  It allows a respite from grieving, from despairing.  I take such gifts willingly now and am heartily grateful for them.


Comment from Dottie Ingram
Time April 11, 2015 at 10:19 pm

Dennis, Thank you, in particular, for the Port Orange section of your “Diary”. You’ve written this so well, I could actually visualize the tides and even the alligators in the Tomoka River. I hope you will always be happy and healthy.

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