Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Showing Up at the Starting Line

Geoffrey Spencer, 2003

May 2, 2011

Eight years ago tomorrow, my (now) husband put a half-a-century- old sailboat in the water. Following his resolute commitment to honor the memory of his passionate and resilient brother, George Spencer, III, “Twig,” – a man who had great “joie de vivre” – my husband, Geoff, was determined to make his brother’s story and legacy live on in a joyous and positive way.

Elizabeth Leland, staff writer for the Charlotte Observer, captured a poignant story that inspired this Coach Poppy newsletter. Reprinted below, she tells a story that reminds us of perseverance, honor, and of “showing up” – especially in the face of struggle - as a testament and winning symbol of love and commitment.

Misty: One brother set sail on a dream, but the other had to see it through

Four years ago, in a back yard in Davidson, two brothers surveyed what was left of their childhood sailboat.

Misty was her name.

As kids in the 1960s, they had raced her with their dad on Lake Erie and jumped off her bow on summer vacations in Michigan’s Little Crystal Lake.

For the past few years, no one had raised the sails or lowered the centerboard. Her floor had rotted. The metal on her rudder had rusted. Her red, white and blue paint had peeled.

The older brother, nicknamed Twig, stared at the old boat for a long time without a word. He had loved nothing better than to ride at her bow so the wind and waves smacked his face.

Finally, the younger brother, Geoff, spoke up.

“What are you thinking?”

Tears flowed down Twig’s cheeks.

“I can’t believe I’m getting her.”

Misty was his now, a gift from their dad. As sad as she looked, she represented the best of their childhood.

Twig had a dream: Misty would sail again.

Misty Memories

Misty was built in 1957, one of the first Flying Scot sailboats, No. 24 out of 5530 now. Their father had bought her from a friend when she was 5 years old.

After Geoff and Twig Spencer grew up and moved away, their father found other people to crew for him in races at his home near Orlando, Fla.

In Davidson, Geoff bought his own Flying Scot, No. 2847, and several times a year, he and Twig raced Geoff’s boat.

Misty Memories was her name.

The brothers knew each other so well and knew the intricacies of the Flying Scot, they could communicate with few, if any, words. Geoff was the detail man—he fine-tuned the boat to make it sail faster. Twig showed up for the race and for the festivities.

Sailing brought the brothers together again.

Now Twig would have his own boat, too.

Geoff had towed Misty up from Florida to Davidson, and Twig took her the rest of the way to his home in Norwalk, Conn.

He removed Misty’s hardware and sanded her bottom and desk. With the help of a brother-in-law, he patched the floor. It was slow going, and if something better came along—a bike ride or a hike—he left Misty and the job behind.

Two years passed, and Misty still sat, dismantled, in Twig’s back yard.

Sept. 11

Twig worked as a commodities broker on the 84th floor of the World Trade Center. When the first plane hit on Sept. 11, 2001, he called his wife and parents: I’m OK. It was the other tower.

Geoff learned later that when the second plan hit, two men on the 84th floor headed down one stairwell—and survived. Twig headed down another.

Not the same

Without Twig, sailing wasn’t the same for Geoff.

“After the funeral, I was going through some stuff, and I found the racing instructions for Indian Harbor Yacht Club in Connecticut. Twig and I raced it together. I broke into tears.”

When someone else crewed for Geoff, he found himself wishing Twig was there.

“Twig knew everything about the boat. He was great at being my eyes and my ears. I didn’t have to worry about anything other than making the boat go as fast as the dickens.”

Geoff quit sailing and sold his boat, Misty Memories.

She’ll sail again

But he kept thinking back to that evening four years ago when Twig broke down in tears because Misty was his:

“I can’t believe I’m getting her.”

On the Friday after Thanksgiving 2002, Geoff acted on impulse. He drove to Connecticut. He would rescue Misty. He would finish what Twig had started.

It took Geoff a day to get Misty in shape to travel. Brown water the color of tea had filled her cockpit, with chunks of ice and decaying leaves bobbing about. The floor sagged like a sponge.

Back in Davidson, Geoff labored over Misty for six months. He cut away fiberglass and replaced rotten balsa wood. He re-sanded and repainted the deck and hull. He cleaned the hardware.

It was nasty work.

“I would never rest in peace if the boat hadn’t come back. I wasn’t going to let his dream die.”

The final task was to screw in blocks that guide the ropes.

“I was sobbing over this silly piece of hardware. She was back together again. She was whole.”

Back on the water

On May 4, a gray mist hung over Lake Norman and Geoff, now 46, took it as a sign.

He lowered Misty into the water, raised the sails and steered out of the cove.

Geoff shouted up to the sky: “We’re sailing, Twig. We did it, buddy.”

“This is my brother,” he said, patting Misty’s newly-painted sky-blue deck. “This is what his love was. This is where I say ‘hello’ to him. It’s where I feel him and sense him.”

The only thing left was to race Misty. The only person who would enjoy it as much as Geoff—who would appreciate it as much—was his dad, 81-year-old, George E. Spencer Jr.

On Wednesday through Friday, they plan to race Misty in the 2003 North American Championships at Lake Norman Yacht Club.

George Spencer will be Geoff’s eyes and ears.

This time, Geoff said, he’s not as determined to win.

“I’ve already won. This is my victory: showing up at the starting line.”

Mindfully yours,

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