It’s in the giving…
By Cory Dudley
It had been a very restless night for Felipe Calderone, the excitement of the coming day had robbed him of the sleep he knew would be needed in the morning. He had packed and unpacked so many times he had forgotten what he had packed so he checked his list once more. Rubber boots, extra shirts, pants, socks, handkerchief’s and his personal items. His mother had given him the rosary beads she had given his father on his first shrimp trip. “Please keep these close to you my precious one; it will make me feel much better while you are gone.”
“I will mother, it’s a promise.”
Before it was light Felipe’s father came into his room with two steaming cups of coffee and gently set them beside his bed. He sat there quietly looking at this young man that was once just a handful but now was a man, a smile crossed his weathered face. He recalled the first time he held Felipe, a moment he will never forget. With a smile he reached over and tickled Felipe’s nose. Felipe gave out a slight protest, another tickle and he looked up at his father. “Good morning father, is it time?” “Yes my son, this is a big day for both of us, my son has become a man, he has made me very proud, your mother has breakfast ready.”
Jorge Alvarez Chavez was the captain of the Vera Cruz, it was but one of the many shrimp boats that called San Felipe home. “Follow the Vera Cruz and you will soon find shrimp” was often heard at the Cantina’s. “This Captain seems to be able to smell shrimp or they just come to him out of respect. He is also a fair Captain, he treats his crew well and never gets mad unless he see’s one of his crew getting careless, he runs a very safe ship.”
It was true, Captain Chavez loved his ship and treated it with respect, it was like family to him as it had been family to his father. His father had died five years ago and was buried at sea. They lovingly slipped him into the water wrapped in one of the original sails on this first ship. Padre Garcia said a few words over his departed friend as Jorge slipped his father into the depths as the Vera Cruz drifted off Punta Estrella. The Chavez family had granted him his dying wish. “I love the sea, it’s in my blood, it has been a mother to me when I was young, I wish to be a part of it forever, we are one, let me rest there.
There was always one bunk in the captains quarters on the Vera Cruz that was always make up. I was never used and “Old Chavez” as he was called in his later years will always have a bed to rest his head on until the Vera Cruz sails no more.
“You have packed lightly my son, that is wise. The weather is fair and the days and nights will be busy, no need to dress up once you are at sea. Did your mother give you the rosary beads?
“Yes Papa, they are here.” He pulled up his shirt and kissed the beads. “They will always be close to me.” His father bent over and kissed the beads. “Please watch over my son lord, please bring him home safely to us and watch over the Vera Cruz and its crew.”
After breakfast Felipe went upstairs to once again check his suitcase.
“Felipe, Felipe your ride is here, hurry don’t keep Mr. Chavez waiting. I see Gabriella is with him this morning, I wonder why. Felipe felt his cheeks get hot. “She is…that’s nice, but it’s so early for her, she likes to sleep in, I wonder why she is here.
“Love Felipe, love can get us out of bed very early as you can see. She wants to see you off, this is a big day for the two of you, like you she is also excited about your new adventure.”
Felipe’s mother handed him a paper bag filled with fresh flour tortillas and the chili peppers he liked.
“Remember to eat well, you will need your strength, brush your teeth and no swearing.”
Felipe hugged his parent long and hard, he felt the tears on his mother’s cheek.
“I shall miss you both very much, that you for everything you have done and papa I shall make you proud. I hope we fill our hold quickly so we can return to unload then we can once again be together.
“Felipe, I think the first house you will visit will be Gabriella’s. The three of them broke out in laughter.
He ran to the waiting truck which had three of the crew in the back, he jumped in with a “Buena dia.”
“Hola Felipe, are you ready to get wet?”
They all laughed and patted him on the back remembering their first trip.
Over his shoulder he saw Gabriella looking out the back window, he once again felt his cheeks get hot. The marina was very busy, truck were still unloading last minute supplies and many family members we dropping off the ‘shrimper’s”, Felipe could feel the excitement in the morning air.
“It feels like a good season, I can smell the shrimp” Rico the lead seaman responded.
“You could not smell a shrimp if it was on the end of your nose.” They all laughed and Felipe got his first feeling of being a part of the Vera Cruz’s crew.
“Felipe, you are the green one, it’s your job to take our gear below decks and to our bunks. Be very careful, I’ve got a few bottles of tequila in the big bag, it’s the cheap stuff but it does the trick.” Felipe smiled then noticed Gabriella looking on, she was also smiling, he tried to look serious.
Gabriella was eighteen and had just started working at the bank after three month of training in Mexicali. Her long dark hair was lying over her shoulders and in the morning light Felipe could see its softness, how he loved to stroke her hair as they chatted. “I’m going to miss you Felipe and I told my father not to work you too hard and to make sure you got a lot of rest and above all that you would think of my all day long.”
“Gabriella, you didn’t, how could you?”
“Of course I didn’t Felipe, you are on your own but please be careful, the waters can become very dangerous, we always lose one or two every year. My father has never lost a crew member, well one fell overboard but he was found a week later over in Guaymas. I love you so very much Felipe, please be careful, I could not live without you, you are everything to me.
“I will never leave you, never.”
A cough caught Felipe’s attention. “OK my little love birds it’s time for you to say goodbye, and yes my daughter I will watch over this aspiring Shrimper you seem to love and bring him home safely. Who knows he might make a good son-in-law after all, we shall see. I will allow one small kiss on my daughters cheek Felipe, but only one.”
As the Vera Cruz passed the outlet of the Marina Felipe he could still see Gabriella waving from the dock. He suddenly felt sad, he would miss her very much, their daily meetings were a big part of their days. Once out at sea he drifted back to the day when all of the shrimp boats were brightly decorated with flags and streamers and the Mariachi’s played in single file along the Malecon. The blast of boat horns and the crews waving was always something he wanted to be a part of, but not from the shore, he longed to be on a boat. This was the only time family members were allowed aboard the boats and every boat had been blessed by Padre Francisco, it was a full day of celebration.
Yesterday was a very special day for Felipe and Gabriella, he had asked for her hand and she had accepted. That afternoon Mr. Chavez held a big “start of the season” fiesta at his home. The fiesta was filled with family, friends, music and much laughter.
Felipe wanted to talk to Gabriella’s father but first made sure he had a few shots of tequila and seemed to be relaxed. Felipe figured the way he was now dancing that the time was drawing near. Felipe had gone over his “talk” with Mr. Chavez many times in the quiet of his room, even to the point of standing in front of his mirror. He would stand straight, pull his shoulders back and make sure he was wearing his serious face, then the “show” would begin.
“Mr. Chavez as you know Gabriella and I have known each other since the fifth grade. If fact we have been seeing each other for the past six years, we truly like each other, we actually love each other.”
He would stop, rearrange himself then begin again.
“Dear Mr. Chavez, Oh, that would sound terrible.”
He would try to reword his speech; it never seemed to come out right.
“Gabriella, I’m at a loss to what I should tell your father about our feelings for each other.”
“Just tell him you love me and want to marry me, but not tomorrow, I don’t have my wedding dress.”
They both started laughing then Gabriella started doing a little dance, soon Felipe joined in. They were like two little kids at play, life was good and love was in the air.
Mr. Chavez was wiping the sweat off his brow and breathing a bit hard. All of the dancing had him in need of a short rest and another beer also might be in order. With a beer in his hand he headed out to the patio and sat down. Felipe had been following his every move all evening, Felipe casually walked out to the patio.
“Oh Felipe, you also need some fresh air, it’s hot out on that dance floor.”
Felipe went over and sat on the low brick wall that surrounded the patio, crossed his legs, coughed once and then just sat there feeling completely lost. Mr. Chavez was slowly sipping his beer and just stared at Felipe with a slight simple, but didn’t say a word. Felipe was about to get up and leave, it was much too quiet; this was not as he had planned. He got up and turned to leave.
“Please Felipe; sit down, this time come sit over here by me. I like your company even though you are very quiet tonight, are you this way with my beautiful daughter?”
Felipe looked directly at Mr. Chavez, swallowed deeply, cleared his throat and leaned forward with his elbows resting on his knees. With his heart racing and a slight sweat breaking out on his forehead he began.
“Mr. Chavez, you are sure a good dancer, you have been dancing almost all evening. I hope when I get old like you, I mean when I get older I will have that much energy. I sure didn’t mean to make you sound like an old man, I mean old, in fact you look very young, do you know what I mean?”
“Felipe, you have been watching me all evening, I hope you do not find me prettier then my daughter, that would truly be a concern to me.”
Mr. Chavez’s rather stern look became a slight smile as Felipe eyes widened.
“Of course not Mr. Chavez, no you are not prettier then Gabriella, in fact you are very handsome, there, I’ve done it again.”
His face was now fully flushed.
He stood up and walked over to Mr. Chavez, he was rubbing his hands together.
“Mr. Chavez I’ve very nervous right now but there is something I wish to discuss with you, it’s very important, can we discuss this matter right now?”
He was looking directly into Mr. Chavez’s eyes and was not going to wait for an answer.
“As you know I have been, been going out with your daughter for many years, eight in fact. Well we have known each other for eight years but have not been dating all of that time, only six of the eight years. You know we even went to school together.”
Mr. Chavez leaned closer to Felipe.
“Felipe, are you giving me a lesson in mathematics’ this evening?”
Then as if counting on his fingers he continued.
If so, my figures tell me you have been romancing my daughter for just short of six years, is that about right Felipe, will you give me and “A”, did I pass the test?”
“Yes sir you sure did, it’s been six years that is a very long time don’t you think Mr. Chavez? Gabriella thinks it’s a very long time, what do you think Mr. Chavez?”
Mr. Chavez continued looking at Felipe but with a bit more concern on his face.
“Well Mr. Chavez, Gabriella and I had a long talk tonight, well this afternoon; we discussed some very important matters, matters about our future.”
Mr. Chavez leaned even closer, took a log sip on his beer then got up and walked over to Felipe. The two were now as close as they had ever been, Felipe was scared stiff. He also for the first time noticed he was taller the Mr. Chavez, strange he should notice that at this time he thought.
“You have a future Felipe, what future? Do you plan on becoming a doctor, lawyer or banker Felipe, now that sounds like a bright future? You don’t want to be a poor simple Shrimper, do you?”
Felipe just stood there, he was once again at a complete loss of words and as he quickly glanced across the patio he saw Gabriella back by the patio entrance, she was directly behind her father. Gabriella had been watching the show and was now making “go ahead” signs to Felipe.
Mr. Chavez continued.
There is a very special look in my daughter’s eyes tonight Felipe, have you noticed? I wonder what has caused this, it could be something got into her eyes, do you suppose that might be it Felipe? I saw that very look in her mothers eyes once, many years ago Felipe. Maybe Felipe it was what you two discussed this afternoon that has given her this look. It’s a glow, I wonder Felipe has our conversation given me that glow? Is there more you wish to discuss Felipe, the dance floor is calling me.
Haltingly Felipe said, “No, no Mr. Chavez, another time, please excuse me I need to get some water it’s suddenly got very hot out here. As Felipe was about to turn and leave a big smile flashed across Mr. Chavez’s face. He then stepped forward and took Felipe into his arms giving him a big hug. Felipe was completely taken back, it was a total surprise, his knees started to buckle and he was light headed. Still firmly holding Felipe Mr. Chavez said, “Felipe I have always wanted you for my son-in-law, many years ago I decided you two should wed, I have been waiting for this moment for years, I thank god it has happened today.”
He then stepped back and held out his open hand to Felipe, they shook hands it was firm but tender.
“I gladly allow you to marry my daughter Felipe, gladly. Now let’s go have a beer, water will not satisfy this occasion, don’t you agree my future son-in-law?”
As they passed the patio door Gabriella’s father stopped and kissed his daughter on the cheek.
“You have made a very wise choice my dear, just like your mother did so many years ago, God rest her soul.”
The three then entered the room hand in hand and to this day Gabriella still reminds Felipe about the silly face he was wearing.
Mr. Chavez walked over to the band and waved for them to stop playing.
“Family and friends I have a major announcement to make.”
With his beer held high and Felipe and Gabriella stand at his side he began.”
“Wonderful news has entered my house this evening, long awaited news I might add. The houses of Chavez and Calderone are to be united in the near future, is this not so Felipe?”
Felipe nodded his head.
“Felipe has asked for my daughter hand and I could not wish for a better man to win my daughter heart. Let us drink to the wonderful occasion. Let us toast our new lovers and may they be blessed with many Shrimpers, we need more Shrimpers in our families.
“Cheers, Cheers” rang out…
“First I salute my wife who is not here this evening but dwells deep in all of our hearts, Salute my love. I know if she were here how pleased she would be.”
His eyes were glistening with tears.
Everyone in the fiesta was hugging each other, the news was not unexpected.
Felipe and Gabriella had already set a wedding date, it would be held after the season was over and all of the boats had been readied for the next season. The first Saturday after the boats were ready the wedding would take place.
Felipe could hear the flag snapping and crackling in the wind and feel the vibration of the diesel engines as the boat pushed through the white caps. He smiled at his first outing to Sea; the Sea of Cortez was welcoming a new Shrimper to its depths. The smell of salt air seemed different ad the sea gulls drifting overhead added to the moment.
“I’m a Shrimper” Felipe mumbled to himself.
The hills of San Felipe were well beyond the horizon, Felipe was not at sea.
Dinner which was quite a surprise to Felipe, it was delicious and he could have all he wanted to eat. As he lay in his bunk rerunning the day, I had been quite a day. His “Bunk Buddy” was a fellow who was from Durango; he spoke very little but smiled a lot. Everything about him spoke of many years at sea. This being Felipe’s first night at sea he was looking forward to walking out on the deck and watching the stars. Who knows, Mr. Chavez might even be there, the two could chat.
Suddenly he felt dizzy, this was followed by his stomach making strange noises, his mouth began to water and he was not sweating.
“Better get yourself topside Mate, you are about to see your dinner once again.”
He shot up the stairs as the first rush of his dinner exploded into the air; fortunately he had made it to the rail. He thought it would never stop; he was now on his knees, the retching continued. He just wanted to die, getting sea sick had never entered his mind, he suddenly felt ashamed and looked around to see who might be watching him, he saw no one. Soon his roommate was standing beside him with a cup of water.
“I know, you don’t want to put anything in your stomach right now, just do it. If nothing else it will get that bad taste out of your mouth. By the way, I did the very same thing on my first trip.”
After an hour of kneeling on the deck and waiting for the retching to stop Felipe finally felt well enough to get up and go back to his bunk.
Then out of the shadows he heard, “It will only last a few days son, it will pass, I hope you are able to get some sleep, tomorrow we will be very busy.”
Then Captain Chavez shut his cabin door, Felipe had never really been alone during the Sea of Cortez’s initiation. Felipe raised his hand toward the Captain as if you say thank you, he was one very tired Shrimper.
Morning arrived and Felipe passed on breakfast. Two flour tortillas was all that he could hold down and they also decided to return a few minutes later. Felipe was expecting the crew to possibly give him a bad time, it never happened. As few nodded their heads as if to say, “You are going to be alright.”
“Stay on deck, don’t go below today, the sickness will pass faster that way and soon you will be climbing the mast to release the outriggers.”
Captain Chavez was now shouting orders to everyone at the same time or so it sounded to Felipe. From the bridge the Captain shouted, “Here, this is the place, drop the net, turn starboard Rico, take us into the wind, let go the outriggers, feed the net, watch out for loose lines, it’s time to catch fish gentleman, lets get to work.”
Felipe was amazed at how much the Captain could handle in such a short time and the crew never faltered, it was so well orchestrated. It was like a movie Felipe had seen in Mexicali when he was much younger. He had marveled at the way the Captain barked out the orders and how well they were followed; now he was a part of that scene.
From the bridge, “Felipe, you will work with Alfredo today, he will be the net rigger. Watch his every move but don’t get in his way, he will not ask you to do very much, not until you have more experience. Don’t ask him any questions, no distractions, do you understand?”
Felipe nodded and walked over to Alfredo who handed him two rather thin lines that ran to the top of the main mast.
“These are important lines Felipe, take them over there.”
He pointed to a spot from the main working area.
“Hold onto them tightly, everybody on this boats depends on your managing these lines, don’t allow them to slip out of your hands, do you understand?”
Felipe nodded and took the lines over to the area and braced himself so as not to allow the lines to leave his hands.
It seemed like the net had just been drooped into the clear blue water when the Captain shouted, Rico, slow……slower, the net is filling, turn, circle, set the net for loading Alfredo, slower Rico the net is full. Alfredo shouted over to Felipe, “Hold on tight now, we have a full not, hold tightly.”
Felipe’s hands were white, there was no way these lines were going to get away from him, he leaned even harder on the already taught lines.
Felipe watched in amazement as the show began. First the sound of a large motor filled the boat, then the straining sound of two wenches came into play, the boat quivered when the new line was no longer slack.
“Be careful down there gentleman, we need to bring in this net slowly, it could be a record catch. Felipe, hold onto those lines.” Felipe watched as the crew went about bringing in the massive net all the while holding onto the lines even though his hands were aching. He felt the pain was part of the price Shrimpers pay to ply their trade, he liked that and it seemed to ease the pain. He was later to learn over dinner much to everyone’s delight the lines were the laundry lines.
The Captain looked at Felipe over his dinner plate,
“There isn’t a person on this boat Felipe that has not held these lines, you have paid your dues, tomorrow you go to work.
The nets green webbing held small pieces of seaweed and some fish were flopping about then suddenly the blue mass began to appear at the waterline. Rico continued to shout ordered over the sound of the straining wenches.
“Blues, we have a net full of blues Captain, pull the sideboards, clear the deck, shrimp coming in.” Everyone was busy as the net rose into the air, then they all backed up as the massive net was very slowly set onto the deck, Felipe pulled even harder on the ropes. The net was alive with shrimp, shrimp of all sizes and it put smile son everyone’s face, this would be part of they pay.
Alfredo walked over to the Captain who was now on the deck and handed him a bucket.
“Thank you Alfredo.”
Captain Chavez looked into the full net with a smile and then dipped this old dented and rusted bucket into the net. He pulled out a bucket full making sure it was filled to the top.
Felipe was sure these were to be the first shrimp eaten on this trip, he loved shrimp.
He was surprised to see the Captain walk over to the railing and very slowly, deliberately he returned the shrimp to the sea along with a salute. Alfredo took the bucket and placed it back in the cabinet, “Thank you Alfredo.”
Still holding tightly to the lines Felipe asked, “Why did he do that Rico, that is a lot of shrimp to be throwing away, were they bad ones?”
Rico looked at Felipe, “Remember what the Captain said, don’t ask any questions? He has been doing this for all the years I’ve known him, he does it with every net we pull in, it’s just what he does. I’ve never asked him why, it’s his boat and it’s his business and I make much too much money to question my Captain.”
The days passed and Felipe grinned every time he walked by the very important ropes he had once held. The Captain ritual of dipping into the net with the bucket was like clockwork. One bucket, no more, no less and the salute. The shrimp were sorted for size and each size had its own hold. Some were too small and tossed overboard much to the sea gulls delight.
Looking at the gulls as they clambered for food the Captain said, “We all need to eat Felipe, all of us.” There were always fish in the net but very few remained onboard. Those that did were usually to be eaten by the crew.
In two weeks all holds were filled to the top, they turned north for San Felipe. The trip back was not a pleasure trip, there always seemed to be something to do. If it wasn’t mending the big net it was washing the deck or packing grease into the large wenches. Felipe was surprised to see his arms had filled out in such a short time. He also noticed he was actually feeling fit, he liked the feeling. It was a three day run to San Felipe and the weather could not have been better. Felipe also helped repair one of two beaverboards that open the net on either side; he lost a finger nail on that job.
Felipe like to wander up to the bridge but only after the work was done. He was offered the wheel one day and gladly took it. “Felipe, be careful of the underwater rocks, they will rip out the bottom of the boat.” Felipe panicked, “Take the wheel, take the wheel.” That was good for a laugh…
“It’s been a good start, we might make some money this year Felipe, I wonder what might have brought us such good luck so early in the season, he smiled at Felipe.
“You have done very well for your first trip Felipe, please don’t blame me for the loss of your finger nail, Gabriella will be unhappy with her father. Truth is Felipe I knew you would do well and the whole crew has commented on your good work.”
Felipe was resting on the deck one afternoon and decided to try and figure out just how much shrimp the Captain had tossed overboard. They averaged six nets a day and by Felipe’s figuring each bucket was about five kilo’s. They had been out for about sixteen days and the Captain had tossed well over $800.00 in shrimp, it didn’t make any sense.
As they were entering the marina Captain Chavez walked up to Felipe.
“It’s good to be home Felipe, we shall leave in three days. You will be working on the boat these three days, its work everyday during the season. I’d like very much for you and your family to come over to my house Sunday, we shall celebrate our first trip with fresh shrimp. As you know Felipe my father taught me everything I know today, he was a master Shrimper, the best in his trade. I always listened to his sound advice even though there were times when I disagreed, I never questioned his methods, he always came home with his holds full. Today thanks to his lessons I own my own boat and everything I touch is paid for, it’s a good feeling, but none of it came easy. I always remember the shrimp the find my net and my crew that works so very hard on the Vera Cruz.
“One day Felipe God willing my daughter will give you her most prized possession, she is going to give you what her mother had given me over the years, her love and deep devotion. It’s a treasure one must cherish Felipe; it should always be rewarded and never taken for granted. She will shower you with lasting love, the question I have for you my future son-in-law is, will you give her back at least a bucket of your love and gratitude in return.