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The Tale of the Sailor and the Rope

Dean Traylor is a freelance writer and teacher who writes about various subjects, including education and creative writing.


Part 1

It was one of those nights! I had homework to do, and my brother had some free-time. He wanted to read; however, he wanted a book from the bookcase in my room. I wasn’t fond to have all the books in my room. Nor was I happy that my brother had to enter and throw me off my concentration.

That night was a bit different; my father came in and noticed what a sorry condition the bookcase was in. Some books dangled on the edge while others were wide open. In addition, small books were stuffed in between the pages of the big ones.

“You two need to stack these books before you do anything,” was all he said. He came in just after my bother arrived.

My brother whined. I, on the other hand, complained that it was going to get in the way of my homework.

His response was simple: “you can get it done in no time. All I’m asking is that it doesn’t look so cluttered.”

With that comment, he turned and left the two of us to figure it out. Reluctantly, I moved from my desk to the bookcase. My brother followed. We sat down before it and cleared the two shelves. That was the easy part. The challenge came when it was time to stack the books.

“They should go horizontal,” I said. “Let’s do it that way so we can see the title of each book.”

“No,” my brother countered, “put them on top of each other! Put the big one’s first and the smaller ones on top.”

All the while, we became frustrated with each other and with the task – which was taking us away from thing that was important to us.

“Horizontal,” I said with impunity.

“Stacked!” my brother retorted with a fiery huff.

The squabble started and it got testy. At one point, I went ahead and started putting the books the way I believed it should go. My brother took over the bottom shelf and did it his way. It was aggravating. At the end of it, the books didn’t look right in the shelves (even though it was a bit more organized than what it was before). As a result, we swept the books off again and started all over.

First, we tried it my way, and then we tried again his way. All the while, we became frustrated with each other and with the task – which was taking us away from thing that was important to us.

But, father wanted the books in the bookcase stacked. We had to do it perfectly before we could move on. And, yes, we disagreed on that.

We yelled, threw books at one another, and called each other names. We made such a ruckus that our father paid us a visit.

He didn’t come in screaming. He didn’t have a stern look for us. Instead, he stood at the entrance, watched us squabble before he intervened by clearing his throat.


“So,” he said calmly. “What’s going on here?”

“We’re just trying to put the books in the right way, like you said,” I said.

“Yeah, my brother added. “But we can’t figure it out. I think we should stack it!”

“No!” I yelled, “The horizontal way is better!”

Again, we squabbled. But, father silenced us with a mere wave of his hand. He got our attention and we stared at him.

“I see the problem,” he said.

He moved into the room and sat on the bed. We knew when he did that, he had something to say. I went to my seat at my desk (that happened to be near my bed) while my brother sat next to father on the bed.

“The two of you have something to do.” He said after we settled into our respective spots.

“I have homework to do,” I said.

“I want to pick a book to read,” my brother said.

“And you could’ve done that a while ago,” father stated. “But, you wasted nearly an hour doing so. And, now it’s close to your bed times. You’ve pretty much obsessed over a bookcase I merely asked to straighten up.”

We were confused and gave him a look to confirm this. He smiled when he saw our expressions.

Then, he did what he often did during these times when the two of us couldn’t agree on something.

“This reminds me of something I saw the other day,” he stated, “when I was down at the marina getting ready to sail. I think this is a story the two of you must hear.”

Thus, my father started his tale of a sailor and his rope.

Part 2

“The wind was right and the weather was ideal. Everything appeared to be a perfect afternoon for sailing. I headed to the marina with thoughts of catching the wind and powering through the light swells.

“I headed down the ramps to the docks on my way to the good boat Avid. There, on my brief jaunt to the boat, I came across a lone man by his vessel. He was decked out in a skipper’s hat, shoes and clothing. It was as if he looked in a catalog and saw a picture of a sailor and decided he had to get that look. And, boy did he have it down pat.

No, doubt he stood out. Not because of his costume, but for his obvious status as an amateur. To me (who showed up in sneakers, ripped jeans and a windbreaker), this was a man with a new fangled boat – and very little experience sailing one. No doubt, he was there to try this new toy out.

“I can only imagine how his day started. He read and read and read (well, you get the idea) on the art of sailing, the maintenance of sailing, and nearly everything else pertaining to sailing. Afterward, he came down to his boat and was ready to go…well, almost ready to go.

“Something else caught my attention; he stood on the bow surrounded by ropes. There was a quizzical – almost frustrated – look in his eyes. I had to stop and ask, ‘Hey there, do you need any help?’

“The sailor replied without looking at me, ‘Nah, just getting these ropes situated before taking off.’

To my surprise, he was still there…on the bow… twirling his rope.

“I took a good look at what he was doing. I could see he bundled the ropes belonging to the mast and rigging. They were in nice little neat knots and strategically placed (possibly like they’re done in the manuals). His attention was on the excessive red and white – and very new –ropes.

“He had one end of a hope in his hand the rest on the bow in a beautiful, well-ordered swirl. He meticulously continued to guide the rope into a nice looking spiral patterns with equal spaces. Despite standing there for a few seconds, it felt like a lifetime just watching him make work with the rope in this fashion.

“Exhausted from watching -- and hoping to get a good afternoon of sailing in -- I left the sailor to his rope. But, as I left, I had to say something: ‘Hey it’s looks like a great day for sailing, definitely hate to miss it!’

“The sailor replied with ‘humph’ and continued to swirl the rope.

“No time to waste, I thought. I was down there for a reason. Thus, I headed to Avid, took a few minutes to prepare and unmoor it from the slip. All was ready and I headed for open waters.


“I’ll spare much of the details of that excursion. All I can say was that it was a good day of sailing. The wind powered me through near perfect conditions. Most importantly, I had much of the ocean to myself.

“My time on the water soon came to a close. The sunset was about to begin its wondrous show. The sun didn’t disappoint as it set in the west over the water. With what remained of light, I headed by to the dock.

“Upon tying up the boat and securing the sail and rigging, I headed down the dock toward the walkway…and past the novice sailor and his boat.

“To my surprise, he was still there…on the bow… twirling his rope.


“He worked the rope, and then stopped. A look of agitation was clearly visible from my vantage point. He sighed and huffed and then grabbed the rope and started twirling it in a nice configuration, again.

“As I passed, he said something to me: “This sailing thing is a lot of work.”

“All I could say was ‘yeah, it sure is.’ There was no use bringing up how my day went. The day was over, and he hadn’t started at all.

“He continued on until the light in the sky fluttered away in a deep orange glow. The sailor continued well after I left. And, with confidence, I assumed he never had the time in the day to go out sailing. Still, the intrepid sailor who wanted to get everything picture perfect most likely continued to work the ropes until he got it to the type of specification that the manuals he read suggested.”

Part 3

Upon completion of his tale, father first turned to me and then to my brother. We didn’t say a thing. We sat there ruminating on the story that was told.

“So,” father said, breaking the silence. “All I told you was to stack the books in the bookshelf, so they’re accessible and not so cluttered. I didn’t ask for the picture-perfect variety.”

I felt a sense of shame and embarrassment. My brother averted his glance away from father.

“And you wasted your time twirling the rope,” he added. We didn’t have to ask what that meant.

“The night’s almost over,” my brother said.

It dawned on me that it was getting closer to bedtime and I wasn’t finished with my homework.

Father smiled and got to his feet. He was about to exit my room when turned around one last time.

“I think you understand,” he said. He turned and left.

My brother and I looked at one another, and then at the bookcase. Without much of a word between the two of us, we went to it and stacked the books. My shelf had the books horizontal while his was stacked on the bottom shelf.

Afterward, he grabbed one book and hurried to his room. I returned to my desk and completed my homework. We finished our desired tasks, satisfied and content.

That night, he learned not to be the novice sailor fretting over ropes.


© 2020 Dean Traylor

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