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A lesson from the sea

Sometime in the late nineteenth century, two brother s were orphaned by an influenza epidemic in the Catalan region of Spain. The boys, 11 and 16, wandered to Barcelona where they found work aboard a merchant ship. When they arrived in the port of Havana and heard stories of cheap, arable land in Cuba's interior, the brothers slipped off the boat and headed inland. Within a decade, the brothers became the owners of a sizable farm and a thriving produce business.  The younger sibling was my grandfather.

While I cannot confirm the accuracy of this handed-down family tale, the boy who grew up to become my grandfather certainly exhibited the character to suggest the lore was true. More importantly, the wisdom he imparted to his family has a great deal of relevance for us today.

My grandfather believed business was like the ocean; a place where the only certainty was change. "When the weather at sea was bad, we knew the storm would eventually pass. When the weather at sea was good, we got the ship ready for bad weather." 

Today we face a severe economic storm. In a reaction typical of all recessions, companies are shedding employees hoping to improve their balance sheets. Yet every layoff reduces the number of consumers with the income to buy the products they sell. This short-sighted thinking only fuels the downward momentum.  

Ironically, the catalyst for this economic storm came from short-sighted thinking as well.

Over the last decade, U.S. consumers have behaved as if the fair weather would last forever.  Personal savings became almost non-existent as middle income households leveraged themselves to the hilt in speculative investments. Forget CDs and other insured securities. The "smart money" flocked into real estate, stocks and other high-risk investments. People who paid off their homes were ridiculed by those who insisted the smart thing to do with any extra money was buy a second house rather than pay off the first one. Few considered the day would come when the price of real estate would drop.  

My grandfather lived through Cuba's War of Independence from Spain, two World Wars and the Great Depression.  Through it all, he persevered and prospered because he never forgot the simple lesson he learned as a boy aboard a ship. It's a bit of wisdom that would serve us all well today.     

6 Comment count
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Wise Men...

Our father's before us!

The only certainty was change...

"When the weather at sea was bad, we knew the storm would eventually pass. When the weather at sea was good, we got the ship ready for bad weather."

Yes,its a bit of true wisdom that we needed to be reminded of "today"

I love your lesson from the sea, Raul. And your grandfather's quote is phenomenal!

My father was a very wise man, "like your grandfather."

Thank you very much, you have inspired me today!


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Thank you, Catherine

I think my grandfather would be happy to read your kind words. 

Some things are timeless.


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Great post

What a great analogy, Raul. Thank you for sharing your family wisdom. My uncle shared practical nuggets, but nothing as profound as what you've shared here. Somehow being instructed to take two drinks and as many appetizers your plate would hold during the last 15 minutes of happy hour just doesn't compare. :)


Shana McLean Moore

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Family treasures

When my mother and I arrived in the U.S. in 1957, all we had of value was four suitcases and our family's work ethic. It has been more than enough.

Thanks for your kind comment.


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That´s a fascinating

That´s a fascinating analogy. Yes, the sea IS uncertain, it can bring life or death. That´s a great lesson.
Will that family story become a book? I´d love to read it!

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Your suggestion is interesting, Luciana. Like most people, I've considered the idea of writing about my family. But so far, my books have not been in any way autobiographical.

Details of my grandfather's life are very sketchy. But the family story is that he arrived in Cuba a penniless orphan and eventually married the daughter of the town's richest family. It almost sound too much like a novel already and I suspect there has been some embellishment.

Still, there may be a book there ... someday.

Thanks for your kind and thoughtful comments.