Mari Katherine Raftopoulos: Getting my feet wet |

Mari Katherine Raftopoulos: Getting my feet wet

Mari Katherine Raftopoulos

Mari Katherine Raftopoulos

The waves crashed in one by one, and each made a unique noise and had a different presence. As each wave crashed on the shoreline, I found myself taking a step closer for a look at this foreign piece of Mother Nature.

This was the first time I had seen the ocean and the first family vacation that I can remember.

I was 12, and couldn't wait to get my feet wet, both literally and figuratively.

If I could just get one chance to explore, and mom and dad to turn their backs and shop in that store, I thought, I'll jump in.

Every spring break from kindergarten until senior year of high school, I would beg my parents to take our family on vacation. Instead, I found myself turning a mud pit into a pretend concrete manufacturing plant with my younger brother, or starting my own taxicab service throughout the land of our ranch, with imaginary friends from all over the world.

I contribute some of my worldliness to them.

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My mother would pat me on the top of my head as she happily strolled by our concrete business for her morning walks and say, "People would pay big bucks to be able to spend their spring break at the ranch, miss. Your time will come."

While it may not have been the Mexican cruise or Florida Keys adventure I was dreaming of, spring breaks on the ranch taught me the endless possibilities of one's imagination.

Another wave crashed toward the shoreline and I took another step closer.

My toes finally met water, and I remember this moment perfectly; it was like my mom said — my moment would eventually come.

I looked around my shoulder once more, making sure the coast was clear behind me and I took the plunge right into the Pacific waters of San Diego, clothes and all. I felt the rush of these unknown waters. There must have been something in the water, because ever since then I was addicted to the rush of exploration.

While my mother and father weren't too impressed with my display of freedom that resulted in my extremely drenched clothing and chattering teeth, all of us piled into the back of our four-door rental Taurus and continued our trek toward the Mexican border.

My parents never scolded me for taking the plunge and getting my feet wet, whether that was literally in an actual body of foreign water, or figuratively by taking a risk and experiencing something new.

My dad was thrilled about seeing old Mexico, the eclectic collections of street vendors, the rich and bold flavors of the fresh fish tacos, and a time to put his third language that he acquired while working on the ranch since he was young to the test. He couldn't wait to find trinkets for our ranch home, but there was something else that was making him even happier. Like a child finally revealing a secret he had kept for days, my dad pulled this trinket out of his pocket and placed it in front of my damp face.

"Look what we found in that quaint beach shop while you were exploring with the fish, " he said.

It was a simple, white shiny ceramic sign, about the size of his hand, with an ocean blue border and a brightly-colored fish below the words.

The sign read, "Dream big, plan well, work hard, smile always, and good things will happen."

I blinked rapidly a couple of times to clear the salt water from my eyes.

I smiled because I always dreamed of swimming in the ocean.

I spent an entire spring planning the trip with my mother.

I worked hard on the ranch, whether in the corrals or for one of my many self-started businesses.

And although it was on a smaller scale than maybe the sign was trying to portray, that moment with our bodies so close together and crammed that our noses touched, laughing at our dad for another one of his philosophical touching moments, was a good thing.

I knew then that this simple handcrafted sign would follow us to now.

And it seems that this expression has become a pillar of strength for our family. And now, nine years later, this expression is spelled out in barbed wire across the side of our ranch home.

When life gets ahead of us, my father holds the original sign in his weathered and callused working hands and smiles because he knows that, even on a bad day, good things will still happen as long as we dream big, we plan well and we smile always.

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