It is, perhaps, the very best four-letter word in our language. It’s also the perfect word to describe every single person my new bride and I encountered in the state of Virginia recently.
Tammy Sue and I were married Saturday under a big tree in our back yard with about 50 family and friends. It was hot, but everything went just right and there managed to be a great deal of fellowship, reunion, introductions, food and fun. I would love to give our thanks to everyone who attended, helped and did so much to make the day perfect, but I’m sure I’d forget someone important.
So the plan was to whisk Tammy Sue away on a small getaway Sunday morning to a destination I had kept secret from her and most everyone else. As we drove up Interstate 95 about 8 a.m. that day, I filled her in — we had a two-night reservation for a houseboat on the James River in Richmond.
I know … cool, huh?
For the next few hours we recounted every moment of the day before, as well as talked about what we hoped to do for three days in Richmond.
It all changed just five miles from our destination.
“Southern Yankee,” my trusted Jeep Wrangler, suddenly overheated and I was forced to pull over in the parking lot of Henrico County Fire Department’s Station 4. The guys there couldn’t have been more accommodating. They looked things over and said the problem looked like a water pump or thermostat, then took us inside out of the 95-degree heat so we could make a call.
I spoke with the owner of the houseboat, Capt. Ron Blaha, and explained the mess we were in and he said someone would be there soon to pick us up. While we waited, the firefighters chatted and joked with us.
As promised, our ride arrived in the form of Capt. Ron’s daughter, Maria — who was the very definition of nice. Not only did she deliver us to the river, but she also allowed us to do some grocery shopping first. Maria is probably one of the most pleasant, interesting and engaging women I’ve ever met.
Then I found out why.
Her father took “nice” to another level. Anything I tell you here will merely serve as a Reader’s Digest version for what took place over the next 48 hours.
Capt. Ron is a walking history book, not only for that specific area of the James River — where Pocahontas and John Smith set up camp; and where President Abraham Lincoln floated past on his way to Richmond after the Civil War — but also of the entire Richmond and Jamestown region.
At the age of nearly 78, he also has quite a history himself. Google his name and you’ll see. But the man has done some things … big things. Primarily a tugboat captain and Merchant Mariner over the course of his life, he’s also done numerous odd jobs since the age of 7 and visited places all over this hemisphere — many on a whim, some by invitation.
He’s befriended almost everyone he has met, and most remain friends to this day. Some of have passed on — like a black man named Howard, whom he employed for his tugboat business, who even became one of the family. So much so that his daughters, whom he refers to as Bunny (Maria) and Buffy (Gia), called him their grandfather because he helped Capt. Ron take care of the girls when their mother died at a young age.
Capt. Ron, during an errand, even drove me to St. John’s Church, the oldest church in Richmond (Est. 1741), so I could see the place where Patrick Henry gave his “give me liberty or give me death” speech.
Tammy Sue and I were stranded without a vehicle, and Capt. Ron tried to get us going quickly by working on my Jeep himself. But when it became necessary to get it to a mechanic, he called his AAA folks and got it towed to his own mechanic to be fixed.
Then he gave his truck to us so we could at least go out to dinner and take a drive down Monument Avenue in Richmond.
But every step of the way, Capt. Ron took us on a verbal journey through history — of the area and his own life — with story after story that mesmerized us. No history teacher could compare to Capt. Ron’s story-telling.
We finally got the Jeep back in time to pack and leave for home. If there was disappointment (and there was), it wasn’t because our getaway hadn’t been what we’d planned, but because the stories would end.
Our time on the houseboat was enough to sweep us into another time, place and way of life. But this trip was all about the true, lifelong friends that we made in just a couple short days. I’m so happy we were able to meet this awesome family, and only wish we’d met many years before.
But as I promised Capt. Ron, we will return … soon.
Back to Saturday: I was hoping many of those who came to our wedding would stay late and party — and some did. We love them all, but I’m just happy they were all gone by the time we got home Tuesday night.
W. Curt Vincent can be reached at 910-862-4163 or firstname.lastname@example.org.