“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.