A poem of faith, love, and never losing sight of one's beliefs
Daniela Tolstoy awoke that morning at It was a day in which she did not want to oversleep. Daniela’s best friend, Ricardo, was due to dock at PortLunsfordHarbor at from a year-long overseas mission in the Indian Ocean.
Although Daniela had known Ricardo for the past seventeen years, since both were fifth graders, they had never seriously dated, despite the usual rumors that occurred in high school. Then again, who believes the rumors one hears in high school? If all those rumors were true , then Daniela would have twice had the mumps and measles, been on a European vacation and would have been destined to have majored in the football team throughout college. Daniela, despite all the gossip and rumors, was not that type of a person and led a very sheltered life. Still, Ricardo had always seemed to have been a part of it.
Ricardo Rodriguez immigrated to the United States from Paramaribo, Suriname (population 216,200) when he was ten years old. He moved to rural Winthrop County, Montana (population 22,000) with his parents and five brothers after his father, Rafael, realized that he could give his children a better life in America. Rafael had been forced to raise his sons on his own after their Mother, Esmeralda, died in the Surinamese uprising, a few years earlier.
The family arrived at the beginning of summer and spoke very little English. It was a hot day and the meager apartment to which his family had moved was located near a small reservoir and a half a mile away from LakeBopreve, an inlet of the OzalaRiver. Ricardo, who was a prized swimmer for his age division in his homeland, decided to cool himself in the lake, so he grabbed a pair of sunglasses that he had found at the airport and began strolling in the afternoon heat. His face and shoulders were drenched in sweat and his bare feet were stained a dusty shade of brown from the sandy, pebbled ground. In many barefooted citizens, these conditions would lead to first and second-degree burns, but Ricardo was so used to running barefooted through the streets of Paramaribo that his small feet were permanently calloused from wear. Still, he could sense the severity of the heat wave and the affects that it could have on those who were not used to the climate.
Ricardo arrived at the lake around two in the afternoon. It was not the sight he had envisioned. Whereas Lake Bolmmestein Meer, in Paramaribo, was a large water source that supplied the water used in agricultural purposes, LakeBopreve in WinthropCounty was a lake which one could easily see across and was shallow enough that one could walk nearly halfway to the opposite shore without being fully underwater. Yet, as small as that lake may have seemed, it did have one very important purpose for Ricardo; it was a means for water and thus, a means for cooling.
For about an hour, Ricardo was the only person at the lake that day. He swam, invented silly songs in his native Dutch tongue, and counted the maple trees that formed the lake’s outer border. Then, he noticed as a car pulled into the turning basin. From the car, climbed four people and two dogs. The adults were in their mid-30s and the two daughters appeared to be either Ricardo’s age or a little older. The dogs were rat terriers; Ricardo knew that much. The family had a picnic basket and blanket and was headed in the vicinity of where Ricardo’s towel was laying. Through not wanting to have any disrespect for those in his new homeland, Ricardo decided he had better move his towel so the Americans could eat.
“Goedemorg”. Ricardo said to the family as he retrieved his towel. The young girls stood frozen, looking at him, so he decided to try a second time.“Goedemorg”, he said again.
“What language is that?” The older of the two girls asked of her father. “I believe it is Dutch, honey.” He replied.Ricardo began nodding in agreement, recognizing the word, Dutch.
“Hallo.” The father said, in perfect Dutch dialect.
“Dag”. Ricardo responded. “Hi.”
“Are you new to this country or just visiting?” the father asked.
Ricardo looked puzzled as he pondered the father’s question. Realizing that he obviously knew little English, the father pointed – “Are you from here or there”, pointing toward the south. Ricardo responded with a point to the south.
“South America?” the father asked. Ricardo nodded, recognizing his native land.
The daughters then chimed in naming countries. Brazil? Peru? Ecuador? They continued until they had named every South American country except one. Suriname. Ricardo smiled when he heard his native land mentioned.
The girls introduced themselves as Daniela and Donatella Tolstoy, daughters of Donald and Danielle Tolstoy, realtors in the community. After the formal introductions had been completed, the Tolstoys’ invited Ricardo to stay for their picnic. He declined, however, and headed for home, parting with a pleasant wish for their picnic, Smakelijk eten or “Have a nice meal.”
That day was the beginning of a friendship between Daniela and Ricardo which had seen both high and low points over almost two decades’ time. It had survived Donatella’s tragic boating accident at the very lake where she had met Ricardo; it had seen the divorce of Daniela’s parents who, after Donatella’s death, never saw things on the same page again; it had seen three marriages in Ricardo’s family, including his father’s re-marriage to an American lobbyist and it had endured much ridiculing and criticism from schoolchildren in the community, since Ricardo’s culture was not of American ideals.
As Daniela stood in the terminal, awaiting her friend’s arrival, she recalled all of those memories as well as many more. She re-lived her prom night when, with Ricardo as her date, she proudly danced with a white frost rose corsage on her wrist. He had presented that small flower to her around six-thirty that evening and explained that his Grandmother, “Mama Rosetta”, always kept a vase of freshly cut, white frost roses in her kitchen, claiming them have brought good luck to her.
Raquel Quarto, also known as “Mama Rosetta”, because of her love for white frost roses, had lived to be ninety-six years old. Ricardo believed that the roses, from the many stories that his Grandmother had told him about the miracles that they seemed to perform, must have been a part of the reason for “Mama Rosetta’s” long life. Begrudgingly though, Ricardo wouldaccept the fact that many believed “Mama’s” long life was due to a sugar allergy and not luck from the roses.
Daniela’s prom night had been a beautiful scene. The music was lively and tasteful, all of her friends had a wonderful time and contrary to previous instances, no one ridiculed her for spending the night with Ricardo. During the prom, all of the teenagers were too busy to notice and afterwards, on that quiet and cool spring night, the attention was on the full moon and not on Ricardo Rodriguez.
When Ricardo announced that he was planning to join the United States Navy, everyone thought that was an honorable thing for him to do. After all, it was because of the United States that he had learned the English language, had obtained his education and had gained the freedom that so many around the world, and in his homeland, only dream of having. It was not a surprise to anyone when Ricardo loaded three suitcases into the back of his pickup truck and left behind that small, Montana town to embark upon basic training for the Navy. The townspeople saw Ricardo’s actions as patriotic, but Daniela knew the real reason behind her friend’s choice. It was in part to a brutal uprising in his home country of Suriname that his Mother was killed; Ricardo saw serving in the U.S. Navy as a way to make a difference and to honor his Mama, the best way he knew. As a parting gift, Daniela had returned the white frost rose corsage from their prom night, in hopes that it would bring him luck and memories of her, while he was at sea. He had given her a key. She did not know the key’s significance, but Ricardo had assured her that she would hear the story when the time was right.
From the day he had finished his naval training, it seemed that Ricardo had been sailing. Whether he was in the Persian Gulf, the Pacific Ocean or in the Indian Ocean, from where he was returning on that day, Daniela’s contact with him was by either letter, or an occasional phone call. Only one time, in the nine years he had been a sailor, did more than a week pass where he failed to contact her. Of course, during that time, she was a nervous wreck and when she did receive a letter, Ricardo had drawn a portrait of a rose on the bottom of the page. Uncolored and on typing paper, the rose appeared to be white and Daniela smiled, grateful that her friend was well.
While never a day passed when Daniela did not worry about him, the near constant contact with her friend was comforting. However on that day, her “Ricky” was coming home and he would be home for at least a month. She tried to envision how he could have changed in a year at sea. He had sent pictures of his fellow crewmen and himself, but seeing him in person would be much different. Would he like her new hairstyle? Would her new beagle puppy accept him? Would he still have the same sense of humor and smile that always brought her happiness when days were long? Would she learn the meaning of that key, which she proudly displayed on a gold chain around her neck? Soon enough, she would know some of the answers. Ricardo was scheduled to arrive in less than an hour.
The minutes seemed to drag on like hours. Daniela would look at her watch, wait a moment, and look again, thinking an hour had to have passed, when only a minute or two in real time had gone. She tried to pass the time by working the crossword in the local newspaper, while drinking her third Starbucks latte of the morning.
Soon thereafter, the ship arrived and sailors began to greet their loved ones with a multitude of hugs and kisses. Some men were holding their seven to ten month old children for the first time; others were making plans for the future, proposing to their girlfriends with rings that they had obviously taken overseas with them.
An hour passed and the ship’s crew had fully disembarked, but there was a problem - Ricardo did not arrive. Daniela rushed around the terminal, looking for her friend. She tried to remain positive, thinking that he might have come through another door and was in search for her. She looked everywhere and he was nowhere to be found.
Exhausted from her search and worried about where Ricardo might be, Daniela fell into a chair inside the terminal. She closed her eyes and had almost cried herself to sleep when she felt a tap on her shoulder. “Ricardo!” she yelped, as she arose from her chair. It was not Ricardo, however. It was a man who introduced himself as Captain Raymond Blythe of the U.S. Navy, serving aboard the U.S.S. Redmond, Ricardo’s ship.
“Ms. Tolstoy?” the Captain asked. Daniela nodded. “I am afraid I must inform you that your friend, Ricardo Rodriguez, has been lost at sea.” Daniela sat frozen, unable to think, as the Captain continued. “He slipped on the ship and fell overboard near the port town of Mahé in The Seychelles. Despite our efforts, we could not locate him.”The Captain then offered to escort Daniela to the ship where his belongings could be distributed. As they walked, the Captain assured Daniela that the Rodriguez family had authorized the release of Ricardo’s things to her.
Daniela went home that night, dejected and sad. Her memories that, hours earlier, had been so full of life and vivid, seemed to then haunt her as she realized that she would probably never see her friend again. Daniela had the box, from Ricardo’s belongings, which held the story he had promised to one day tell her. She, with the key still on the chain around her neck, could have easily opened it for herself; yet, she decided that she was never going to give up her search for Ricardo. After all, she had given him the white frost rose corsage and if “Mama Rosetta” was right, the roses’ luck could hold enough magic to bring him back to her.
Three long months of days, nights, sunrises and sunsets passed and there was no sign of Ricardo. Daniela, though still praying for a miracle, was beginning to lose her hope for one. It was her twenty-eighth birthday and the moon was as full as the night of her high school prom.Daniela could not sleep. Her thoughts continued to flash back to memories of the first birthday she had spent with Ricardo. He had bought her a bracelet with her initials engraved on it and that had been the first time he had ever eaten an ice cream cake. A few years later, her birthday signified her first kiss. It happened with Ricardo, probably fueling the false rumors that they were dating. But, it seemed to Daniela that memories would be all she had left of her friendship. Ricardo was gone and she was just beginning to realize it.
Saddened, Daniela decided to take a stroll along LakeBopreve, where she had met Ricardo, seventeen years prior. The moon guided her as she solemnly walked down the path toward the water. The tears had begun to well in her eyes when she noticed something odd on the trail – a white frost rose corsage that appeared somewhat aged, as if it had been pressed. Daniela’s heart leaped in her throat as she began looking around.
Continuing down the path, she noticed a box, lying on the sand. It was a small box, the same size as the one for which Ricardo had given her the key and which was found in his possessions. Her emotions began to swarm like Montana’s winter snowfall. Could it be her Ricardo, back home and safe? She had to know, so she continued down the path. When she reached the lake at the very location where she had met him, years before, there stood Ricardo, alive and well.
After they embraced, Ricardo told her about how he had fallen overboard and had swum to a remote, uninhabited island. He spoke of how he had survived by eating berries and draining milk from coconuts for seventy-seven days before a ship had come to rescue him. He said that he kept the white frost rose corsage with him at all times, thus having it throughout his isolation and after walking with Daniela back to her apartment; he expressed everything that he had failed to say at the lake.
Daniela reached into her closet and pulled out the box which Ricardo had given her years ago. She asked him if he could tell her what its meaning was. Ricardo sighed and said, “I was waiting for the right moment to explain the meaning to you and after everything we’ve been through in the past three months, I think this is the time.”
With that statement, he handed Daniela the box and she removed the key from the gold chain around her neck. Inside the wooden box was another box, a purple velvet ring box.
Daniela looked stunned as Ricardo began: “It was through an amazing twist of fate that we were brought together; a fate only possible when granted by God. You’ve stood by me and stood up for me in a way that I know I could never do on my own. No one on this earth has ever been as meaningful to me as you and it is with this ring, which my Grandfather gave to Mama Rosetta, I would like to ask for your hand in marriage.”
Daniela, with tears in her eyes and shaking terribly, accepted Ricardo’s proposal and he was honorably discharged from the Navy, soon thereafter. At their wedding, the church was adorned in genuine white frost roses, imported from Suriname, and when Ricardo passed away, some sixty-five years later, white frost roses adorned his casket.
The very roses that had brought his Grandmother luck so many years before, gave to Ricardo and Daniela, over every high and low road in life, the most precious gift of all – eternal and everlasting love.