The cloud castles of my girlhood were NOT medieval fortresses but great sailing vessels.
When my paternal grandmother died in the early 1960s, I was about ten. My father’s father came from Toronto to stay with us in Victoria, B.C. for a few months. As a youth he had worked on the Baltic trading vessels and during his stay he built a model ship of one of these schooners that he gave to my father.
For years, I would study this roughly hewn vessel on our fireplace mantel and imagine myself on the deck of this great ship sailing to the many exotic destinations of the world.
At the time, I didn’t realize how useful his abilities to navigate at sea had been for him. In the fall of 1944 he was still living on his farm on Hiiumaa Island in Estonia. He was a farmer with a wife and two daughters. His oldest son had been mobilised by the Red Army to Siberia where he eventually died of starvation. My father had escaped from Hiiumaa with 5 other guys in May of 1944 on a little fishing-sailboat they managed to navigate to Sweden.
My grandfather happened to be in Korgessaare port one day and heard that a wealthy man and his family had arrived in his powerboat from Tallinn looking for someone who could navigate their way across the Bay of Finland to Sweden. The days of Nazi occupied Estonia were numbered and everyone knew that the Red Army was coming back any day. My grandfather told the wealthy man from Tallinn that he could do it but on the condition that he bring his family along. Much to the Tallinn man’s objections, he had to agree which meant leaving behind a lot of his personal belongings to make room for my two aunts, my grandfather and grandmother.
I never really knew this adventurer I am related to but I got a lot of his genes. He was tall and at almost six feet I ended up taller than my parents and siblings.
I have a love for being on the sea and had the great fortune of sailing transatlantic in the 1980s on a 100 ft sailboat owned by the Beatle George Harrison’s business partner.
I’ve never built a ship’s model but it is on my bucket list because I know I’m good with my hands.
My grandfather Gustav was a determined man who I held at bay. I don’t know why but I suspect I saw a lot of myself in him, including the temperamental side, and like a cat, I observed from a safe distance.
Soon I’ll be 62. I see things a bit differently now than when I was ten. If he were to appear today, I would come a bit closer and ask him a million questions and still have more to ask.
Today I would feel that I earned my time to share my stories of adventure with him. And he would recognize in my eyes and in my heart that we both together, see sailing ships amongst the cloud castles in the sky.