Captain Luther was the retired grandfather of one of my best childhood chums. The family was a 1950s version of the Waltons, with three generations living under one roof. While I had known Captain Luther since I started first grade with his oldest grandson, I never spent any time with him until after my dad died four years later. Over the next five or six years he was a man I could talk with about almost anything, but what he taught me was about the world, just how magnificent it is and why we must learn all we can about it and realize we merely borrow it for our life span.
I called him Captain Luther because he was a retired Virginia Pilot. Over his career he safely guided many a ship into and out of Hampton Roads harbor and he meant people from all over the world and picked their brains for information. He was an encyclopedia of information about places from China to Europe and all places in between. And he loved to study maps, teaching me just how much I could learn from them by study. To this day I enjoy reading maps and I have a number on the wall in my study, something I would never thought of had it not been for this true gentleman. He was the best of what being a Virginia Gentleman means.
Now his grandchildren loved him, but I guess they heard all of his stories before, so while I was enamored with the information he provided, they usually were doing other things. I think Captain Luther liked the attention of an attentive young boy and he would challenge me with questions of things he had told me to see what I could recall. His smiling countenance always told me when I was right.
He loved to walk around the neighborhood, and I remember well the first time he knocked on the door which Mom answered. As she ushered him into the living room after telling me he was here, her proceeded to present me with a stack of old National Geographic magazine. He informed me that each had wonderful maps and stories and he told me to keep them as long as I wanted. He even allowed me to keep some of the maps, which I poured over like a kid in a toy store. I studied them in detail and learned about the Himalayas, the South Seas islands, the jungles of Africa and Southeast Asia and even small places like the Azores and the Seychelles.
But I learned about so much more. I learned how we frequently fail to recognize the value of the riches and the beautiful land that we have and how we need to care for them. Oh, I’m not a radical environmentalist by any means, but I do know that there must be an equitable balance between man and nature for both to survive. And Captain Luther taught me so much about that in an informal setting where we just talked to one another and I absorbed so much information that I still hold today. I truly think that he played a big part in making me a man who sees life on this earth as contingent upon us having respect for nature for when we don’t, bad things happen.
I don’t know exactly when Captain Luther passed away; I think it was probably when I was off at college, but much of what he taught me was instilled permanently. And every time I see a copy of National Geographic, or open a book with detailed maps, I think of him and what he did for me. It didn’t involve money or material things of any kind, it just involved a wise and older man taking time to share some of his abundant knowledge with a young boy needing attention in a most positive manner from a wonderful father (or grandfatherly) fashion. I’ll always be indebted to him for the gift that can’t be measured in dollars: TIME.