A fairy tale for grownups

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By David Roper
For Points East

Once upon a time there was a man who felt that his life was a canvas painted in various shades of gray. His job lacked challenge, his friends were dull, and his girl didn’t cast her eyes down and blush when he whispered to her of the delights of love.

One day during his lunch hour the warm spring sunshine and the smell of the distant sea lured him on to the waterfront, where he wandered around the old warehouses and long-forgotten and disused canals. There, as if by magic, in the stillest corner of the harbor he came upon a lovely small yacht. She was sweet of line, obviously fashioned by master craftsmen, well kept up by an experienced and loving hand, and in perfect cruising trim.

Our man gazed upon her with enchantment. He didn’t wonder how she got there. What reached him was the message she spelled, the gateway to the world she represented – a brilliant, colorful, exciting world beyond the horizon, over which this boat could easily sail. The young man studied the little yacht with deep care. He saw her honest compass, the lines well-served and neatly coiled, the high bulwarks and open foredeck, the skylight, and all the gear that spoke of work at sea.

Then (Oh, wonder!) a comely young woman stepped into the cockpit. An image molded of a young man’s innermost dreams, yet here she was, flesh and blood.

After the usual pause that comes upon strangers when meeting unexpectedly, the young man shyly inquired about the boat.

“She is my boat,” quoth the damsel with pride, “and I shall sail her to the ends of this great and wonderful earth. I shall see the blue seas of the tropics and the green seas of the north. I shall anchor in blue lagoons, swim off silvery beaches, shake coconuts out of the palm trees, and slake my thirst with their fresh milk. I will visit the bazaars of the East, where gold and silver will be displayed for me, and where the wily merchant will serve me strong coffee in a small cup while I sit on the choicest rug and inspect his wares.” And as the lovely young woman spoke joyfully of the wonders she would go and see in her little boat, her cheeks took color, the blue in her eyes deepened, and her dainty hands patted the tiller as if in encouragement.

“Who is going with you?” inquired the young man with little-masked envy.

The girl cast down her eyes so her lashes shaded her cheeks, and sighed. “I am all alone, and I can only go if I can find a man of courage, imagination, and love for the world and the people in it to go with me.” The young man’s hand now trembled.

“That,” he said hoarsely, “shouldn’t be difficult.”

The lass gazed at him shyly. “It isn’t easy. There are conditions. It must be a young man who stands there as you do, and who will step aboard as he is, without saying farewell to friends and family, without looking back, without regrets, wholeheartedly and completely. A man who will without hesitation pass through the gate and enter my world forever.” She blushed as she finished and looked down.

The man stepped aboard and started casting off the lines . . . .

That fairy tale has been cemented in my mind since I read it 50 years ago when I was that young man’s age. It was penned by a man named Boris Lauer-Leonardi, who for 22 years was editor of “The Rudder” (1942-1964). Since then I’ve experienced two true stories which seemed headed where that fairy tale went, only to alter course due to life’s exigencies.

Here’s the first, which occurred a decade after I read that fairy tale:

We were leaning over the rail on the ferry’s second deck as my old friend and I headed out to a Boston Harbor island for his wedding that afternoon. We were admiring a beautiful wooden schooner; she was clearly well equipped for a long voyage. I put my arm around my buddy’s shoulder. “Okay, pal,” I ventured, as we savored the lines of the schooner and the romance she evoked, “Here’s the deal: Suppose that’s my schooner, and she’s ready to go, and we’re casting off this very afternoon for a one-year voyage to the South Seas. All you have to do is step aboard and we’re gone. But you have to do it right now. No looking back. No wedding. No wife. Just the schooner, the Trades, and the course to the Polynesian island paradise of Moorea.”

I thought he would laugh, pat me on the back, and simply say, “Too late. Not going to happen.”

Instead, he looked at me seriously, “Let’s go,” was his staunch reply.

We didn’t, of course, and the wedding happened. (Though my friend got divorced a few years later.)

The second true story involved a 45’ wooden ketch named Crow’s Nest, and the day her elderly owner asked a 21-year-old to join him on a voyage from Marblehead, Mass., to the South Pacific. The young man was quivering with the allure of it all but, alas, was engaged to be married and didn’t go. (Though he, too, got divorced a few years later.)

In view of all this, and since “A Fairy Tale for Grownups” is only a fairy tale, I’m betting that if it did come to be, the best part still would have been right BEFORE the young man stepped aboard. For that’s when everything is perfect.


That Crow’s Nest guy has been happily remarried for nearly 40 years.

And he’s written this for Points East.

Look for David Roper’s forthcoming book, “Beyond Mermaids . . . Life’s Tangles, Knots & Bends.” It’s a sequel to “Watching for Mermaids,” a three-times bestseller available on amazon.com.