ships that don’t come in

“To those who stand on empty shores and spit against the wind
and those who wait forever for ships that don’t come in.”

Joe Diffie (d. 3-29-20) recorded these words written by Paul Nelson and Dave Gibson in 1992; I hear them several times a week on my favorite country legends radio station. Each time I listen to them I am transported to the 1950s to vivid childhood memories of my maternal grandmother who told me all the things we would do when her ship came in. We would take wonderful trips from our little town in Grimes County, Texas to exotic faraway places like Maryland to visit her brother Arnold with his wife Amelia and California to visit her favorite sister Orrie in Los Angeles. We would stop at the See’s Candy store in Los Angeles to buy all the chocolates we could eat. We could travel whenever we wanted because she wouldn’t have to clerk at Mr. Witt’s General Store anymore. She would buy my mother a new piano and my dad a new car. She would buy me anything I wanted. Life would be good.

I will be as old this month as my grandmother was when she was buried on my birthday in 1972 at the age of seventy-four. She believed her ship never came in, and I understand why. Much of her life she stood on empty shores where she must have felt she was spitting against the wind, powerless in the face of poverty and its constraints, overwhelming loneliness when my parents and I moved out of her home in 1958, severe depression with sporadic shock treatments for therapy after we left her, debilitating medications she couldn’t afford. Spitting against the wind.

Yet for me, life with my grandmother was a ship that did come in. During those ten years I lived with her she was the center of warmth, love and laughter for me. I learned to love playing games like dominoes from her and her mother, my great-grandmother, who visited every summer. I learned to laugh at pranks which made no sense to me because she thought they were hilarious when she played them. I learned to love the smell of her pies baking in the oven on Sunday mornings, the aroma of her kolaches baking on Sunday afternoons. I learned to fall asleep lying next to her in bed where she fell exhausted every night after rising before dawn for her Bible study and then standing on her feet for ten hours selling merchandise at Mr. Witt’s general store.

I learned the ships that come in for some people are the same ones that never come in for others.

So here’s to all the soldiers who ever died in vain,

The insane locked up in themselves, the homeless down on Main

To those who stand on empty shores and spit against the wind

And those who wait forever for ships that don’t come in.

Here’s to Joe Diffie, an American country singer, who died in the coronavirus pandemic at the age of 61. Rest in peace, Joe.

Stay tuned.




About Sheila Morris

Sheila Morris is a personal historian, essayist with humorist tendencies, lesbian activist, truth seeker and speaker in the tradition of other female Texas storytellers including her paternal grandmother. In December, 2017, the University of South Carolina Press published her collection of first-person accounts of a few of the people primarily responsible for the development of LGBTQ organizations in South Carolina. Southern Perspectives on the Queer Movement: Committed to Home will resonate with everyone interested in LGBTQ history in the South during the tumultuous times from the AIDS pandemic to marriage equality. She has published five nonfiction books including two memoirs, an essay compilation and two collections of her favorite blogs from I'll Call It Like I See It. Her first book, Deep in the Heart: A Memoir of Love and Longing received a Golden Crown Literary Society Award in 2008. Her writings have been included in various anthologies - most recently the 2017 Saints and Sinners Literary Magazine. Her latest book, Four Ticket Ride, was released in January, 2019. She is a displaced Texan living in South Carolina with her wife Teresa Williams and their dogs Spike, Charly and Carl. She is also Naynay to her two granddaughters Ella and Molly James who light up her life for real. Born in rural Grimes County, Texas in 1946 her Texas roots still run wide and deep.
This entry was posted in Humor, Lesbian Literary, Life, Personal, politics, racism, Random, Reflections, sexism, Slice of Life, The Way Life Is and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to ships that don’t come in

  1. Wayside Artist says:

    This one broke my heart, Sheila. So much sadness. I find myself thinking about the old folks more and more during this crises. Do you? I’m relieved they aren’t living through yet another world trauma, but wish they were here for advice and comfort.
    I didn’t know your grandmother that ect treatments. My paternal grandma had them too, probably about the same time.
    Rest in peace, Joe Diffie and all the victims of this plague.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, Ann, I have thought about my family that’s gone so very much during this crisis. I’m glad they didn’t have to see not only the devastating illness but also the insanity of the “leadership” of our federal government in coping with the pandemic. I am truly at a loss for words anymore.
      I appreciate your letting me know about your paternal grandmother’s treatments. I know you understand how very sad that makes me for her and my mother who was trying to take care of her. Waves of sadness when I think about that, and I do think about it more as the years go by.
      Take care, my dear friend.


  2. Susanne says:

    I don’t know this country singer, Sheila, so I’ll go to YouTube and find this song that evokes both wonderful and sad memories for you. Music is such a powerful memory stimulant, as are the gorgeous smells you describe in this post. Stay well, far away friend.

    Liked by 1 person

    • This singer was before your time and also not as well known as his peers. One of my personal favorites of Joe’s was Prop Me Up Beside the Jukebox when I Die. I love that title!


  3. Luanne says:

    This is so beautiful but so heartbreaking. So sad for so much of humanity.

    Liked by 1 person

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