I have always been a person prone to daydreaming. Before the proliferation of gray hair upon my head and chin, my daydreams often took the form of what my future would look like. Who I would be, where I would live, what I would do and anything else that could have anything to do with me. Now, my time of daydreaming can more accurately be described as time of reflection, though the practices look identical. Like most people, I have had the extreme good fortune of knowing and spending time with some incredible people, and it is those people and more importantly, their character, that I reflect on now. I often point to four men in my early years who were the biggest influences in my life; my dad, my Uncle Bob, my Uncle Hod and Charles "Pat" Maska, who along with his wife April, were the Skippers (leaders) of the Sea Explorer ship in town. Mr. Maska and both of my uncles have passed away and though no longer here in body, their spirits continue to speak to and guide me.
Mr. Maska was one of the really special people that every ten-ager should have the opportunity to know. He dedicated his life to not only raising his own six kids, but also being a mentor to hundreds of teen-age boys and girls through Sea Exploring. Mr. Maska worked at Texaco refinery, later Coastal, and only had a set number of vacation days per year. He, along with April, used his vacation time to take us on incredible adventures. We sailed on the Coast Guard's tall ship Eagle as part of the crew. Fifteen and sixteen year old boys and girls climbing the mast, walking the yardarms to unfurl the sails, standing watch, steering the ship, working in the galley round the clock on a seven day cruise. We took week long trips to the Adirondack Mountains and traveled to weekend competitions from New England to Virginia to compete against other ships in a variety of nautical skills and physical contests. Although I spent countless hours with April and Mr. Maska, the most vivid memory I have of him is from a day in July at Cooper River. Mr. Maska had dropped us and two sailboats for an afternoon of sailing. He told us what time he would be back and to have the boats ready to be loaded up at that time. Well,,,he arrived and I was on the other side of the lake. I did not want to keep him and the others waiting so I tried in vain to sail directly from one side of the lake to the other, which with the wind against you is not possible. So I struggled and struggled and when I go close enough that I thought I could jump out and walk the sailboat to the ramp, I sank down to my eyeballs and struggled even more to get the boat in. Mr. Maska stood on the shore patiently waiting for me to present my soaking self to him. I stood before him looking like a drowned rat and offered some ridiculously feeble excuse for not being where I was supposed to be on time. He looked at me and said, "The shortest distance between two points is a straight line...unless you are in a sailboat." He then calmly explained the need to tack when the wind is against you. He could have been upset, frustrated, angry...but he was calm, controlled and deliberate...as he always was and did not let a chance slip by to teach a young man with not only his words, but more importantly, his character. Those words have echoed in my ears for almost forty years and I have applied them over and over again in a variety of situations; but the words would not have stuck had it not been the amazing character of the man who spoke them.