Sometimes words are all we have to leave behind

Abraham Villarreal
3 min readFeb 26, 2024
I wonder if Captain Fred’s boat was one like this one and if he went out into endless waters like these.

We all have people in our lives that we remember for that one statement they made. The saying or the declaration they shared stuck somewhere inside your head. It’s the only thing you can clearly remember them saying, and it shapes everything you remember about them.

One of those people in my life was Captain Fred. I never know his full name. He’s one of those guys that everyone called Captain Fred. Captain became his first name and Fred his last. He was a rabble-rouser kind of guy and had one of those beards that was mostly white but yellow in those familiar places where beards are yellow.

Wherever he went, Captain Fred ruffled someone’s feathers, and for some reason I grew to like him. Not for his ruffling or for his white and yellow feathers, but because he lived life and he wanted others to know it.

You always knew when Captain Fred was nearby. He had a loud voice and a louder laugh. He wore an old Captain’s Hat. Not the regal black and white kind with embroidered gold leaves, but the blue kind that looked like it had fallen into the rough waters on several voyages.

We lived in a small town when we knew each other and one of the last things he ever told me was that he would “rather go out busted than rusted.” Captain Fred did look a little busted, a little like a beat-up boat. I was in my early twenties at the time, and I wasn’t sure what he meant. But he had a big life, a big beard, and a big smile when he said it, and I knew he was trying to tell me something I shouldn’t forget.

Now, many years later, I remember what he told me then. That I shouldn’t sit down and let life pass me by. That I should appreciate the bumps and the bruises I get along the way. That ending this life rusted means that I didn’t live a life at all.

Some people leave us with a memory of a smell or a laugh. I remember my grandparents for the way they made me feel. There’s a lady I once met at a soup kitchen whose face I could still perfectly see, every wrinkle and tattoo. Her name is gone, and so is her voice. She left me with her face.

Other people leave you with a saying, a phrase, or even a word. Captain Fred was one of those people. He wasn’t afraid of sharing even if many people turned the other way. Even if people felt like they had nothing to learn from him. It’s a nice thing to leave someone with a memory of your words.

A pastor once told me that I should “live in faith not in fear.” A friend’s mom had the habit of saying “si hay frijoles hay comida.” She said it more than a few times. One of my window-washer friends always begins what he’s saying by saying “pa que te voy a mentir,” meaning “why am I going to lie to you.” I like that because he’s trying to tell me something about what he’s about to tell me.

We all have something to say. Sometimes what we say is all we have.



Abraham Villarreal

People are interesting. I write about them and what makes them interesting.