Day 82: Sophie, Averie, and Maggie


Averie, Sophie, and Maggie

Dear Girls,

Well, it’s time to pack up and hit the road for home. Another spring break at the beach has come and gone.

When this season rolls around every year I’m afraid you three will be too grown to let me share this trip with you. The day is coming, but luckily for me this is not that year, and I pray it won’t be the next. We’ve made some good memories at this place.

It’s always a pleasure to be in the company of good kids. Thank you for being the kind of kids where there are never any worries or concerns. Thanks for just letting me come along. You three are the best. You’ll always be the darlings of Period Key to me.

How long will I bring you on spring break at the beach?

As long as you’ll let me.





Day 81: Mike Doyle

Dear Mike,

The more time passes, the easier it is to understand what a genuine compliment it is when you can think about someone and say to yourself, “He’s such a good man.” A good man gets harder and harder to find these days.

But you’re such a good man, Mike Doyle.

Honestly, it was a little scary entering those radio-tv copywriting classes the summer of ’87. Print journalists tell the story. The radio-tv people whittle it down to the bare bones. Both have their place, yet the styles are so different. You made me completely comfortable in that class, not like an outsider at all. And by summer’s end I became a better writer understanding the benefit of a balance between the two.

And that voice. I could listen to that voice for hours. There’s something about a voice made for radio. You know it when you hear it, so natural, so unforced. You know it’s a real pleasure when it’s a pleasure just to listen to someone speak.

Thank you for all your kindness, and for being the kind of person it’s always a pleasure to be around. It’s a great thing to say that about someone and really mean it.

Your friend,

Steve Watkins


Day 80: Stephanie Curton Kenley

Dear Stephanie,

When it’s time to assemble a team, you’re always looking for people with diverse qualities and individual talents. The pieces and parts should come together to complete the whole.

Stephanie and husband, David.

When it came time to hire a new development officer for a growing and diverse team eighteen years ago, you entered the picture at a moment when we needed something fresh. Some energy. Some spunk, if you don’t mind my saying. Every team needs a bright, young, spunky player who will challenge the old ways of thinking. I knew it would be you before the applications were ever mailed – before you even graduated, honestly.

Life moves so quickly.

A few days ago, Dana mentioned from across the room that you were off on a 40th birthday celebration vacation. It bewildered me.

“She’s not 40. She’s not even 30. You’re way off on that one,” I said.

“Well, that’s what it says,” she said.

“Something’s wrong. There’s no way that’s right.”

Sure enough, you’re celebrating the Big Four O today. I’m so happy for all the ways you’re still using your gifts and talents.

Stephanie and sons.

You have the family you always dreamed about and I know the responsibility you take most seriously is wife and mom. You’ve always known that family is the core of everything real. I suspect you learned that as a child.

You’re now a successful medical professional – a labor and delivery nurse ensuring the safety and care for new moms and babies as God creates new families at Arkansas Children’s Hospital every day. It’s hard to imagine you fulfilling a calling that fits you better.

I’m glad we were on the same team for a time. We all learned some lessons in fundraising we can apply to whatever it is we pursue, wherever we might pursue it.

It’s not even my job to be proud of you. I’m proud of you, nonetheless. I hope that’s okay.

Happy, birthday, kiddo. You’ll always be that spunky kid to me.

Your friend,

Steve Watkins



Day 79: Dan Wagaman


Dear Dan,

It’s funny how times change.

When I was a teenager spring break meant my dad got a week of free labor as we readied for cotton planting season. The suggestion of a vacation would have been laughable. My kids have almost always thought spring break is an automatic ticket to the beach.

It was a late-season, last-minute call last week and I knew it wouldn’t be easy finding a place. Thank you very much for going out of your way to accommodate a condo for a few days. I have to take these opportunities when they come. Every year I fear my youngest daughter will be too old for me on the next.

Thank you for helping us, and again, for going above and beyond the call. That’s increasingly a lost art in this world.

See you in about 8 hours. We’re Perido Key bound for SBMMXII.

Bringing the check,

Steve Watkins

Day 78: Trudy Ramirez

“No story is a straight line. The geometry of a human life is too imperfect and complex, too distorted by the laughter of time and the bewildering intricacies of fate to admit the straight line into its system of laws.” ~ Pat Conroy

Dear Trudy,

Sometimes, the most unassuming people are the ones who quietly and unexpectedly command your attention. Oftentimes, they’re the ones who make the real difference.

Such was the case with you as you became the first person I “followed” across the Way of St. James. It was invigorating coming along on your journey as you told your story from the inside out.

You weren’t looking for attention. But you surely got it.

Trudy Ramirez, who shortly after her pilgrimage, made a bold move for a new life in France.

Every day, hundreds of us checked the status for Trudy Ramirez. How far did she make it today?  Did she hold up across those mountains? I hope last night’s bad sleep didn’t affect her too much … We knew you’d tell the story exactly as it happened with no sugar-coating and, moreover, that we’d get a strong sense of it all from your soul. That’s what drew people to you, Trudy. You weren’t just story telling. You were soul telling. You brought us along.

My walk began two short months after yours, so it was exciting reading your daily accounts. But there was more to it than just enjoying your story. Your attitude did much to shape the manner in which I’d ultimately tell my own. For some, telling the story is as much a part of pilgrimage as the walk itself. What’s the point of even doing some things if you can’t tell the story? Some of us don’t even know what we think until we see it in the written word. It’s just how we process life. Occasionally our own therapy is working for an unknown greater good. That’s how your story worked for me.

Thank you for your transparency, and for telling the story your way. It’s safe to say I’m not the only one you impacted. Your footsteps made a lasting imprint on so many hearts.


Your fellow seeker,

Steve Watkins




Day 77: Pascal Brault

A wonderful photo of Pascal (left) and his dad, Fernand Brault. This must be in Montreal because you’d never have these heavy coats in Puerto Cayo.

Dear Pascal,

When your dad told me in January that you’d soon be coming for a visit to Puerto Cayo it was exciting to know I would meet more of his family.  Fern and Fredé are not only neighbors, but some of my favorite friends in the world. It is always a great pleasure to be in their company.

Enjoying good times with neighbors and new friends during a rooftop sunset party at my house last January. That’s Pascal, back right.

But it seemed a shame that you’d travel all the way from Montreal to Ecuador and stay in a hotel miles away when there’s an extra bedroom in Casa Azul right next door. And it was the least of favors I could do for all the ways your dad and Fredé have helped me over the years.

It was a real pleasure that you could wake up every morning and walk right over to begin your day. It didn’t take long on those short walks to learn the value of sunscreen and a hat at latitude 1. Haha.

Thank goodness you didn’t arrive one night earlier. If the upstairs window had fallen on you as it did on me in a dead sleep I would have never forgiven myself.

It was a pleasure to have you as a guest and I’m so glad you and your dad could spend some quality time together. It seems the world is doing so much to push cultures apart these days. We must do everything we can to reject the push and remember we are all brothers and sisters, and in this life together.

I hope you are well, and hope to see you again some day.

Your friend,

Steve Watkins


Day 76: Michael Duff


(Note: In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, here’s a short interview with Michael Duff, one of my favorite Irishmen on Camino.)

Dear Michael,

Irishman Michael Duff in one of my favorite photos from Camino 2015.

It was a cool and breezy morning still some 10 kilometers to the day’s destination in Santo Domingo, a landscape of open countryside, rolling hills, vineyards and young fields of grain as far as the eye could see.

Taking a seat on a patch of green grass I’d decided to rest me legs for a wee bit before the final trek into town. Your friend Joe already passed by with a kind word and a smile but he clearly had more walking on his mind.

You paused for a drink and we shared our stories. Before we knew it we were speaking as old friends. No, there are no rigid boundaries on the camino. We are all one family.

Thank you for one of the most refreshing conversations on the Way.

May neighbours respect you, trouble neglect you, the angels protect you, and Heaven accept you!

Day 75: Philippa Ní Mhuireasáin

Dear Philippa,

Happy birthday from across the pond!

It seemed like a good day to recall that special walk to Cruz de Ferro not so long ago. The two early-morning accidental meetings with Megan, then you and Lauren, made that short, two-kilometer walk special for us all. It was a day I’d long anticipated and am happy it was share with you all.

We met, and separated in the same day, but you were right there at the cathedral as I walked in that Sunday afternoon. It was so nice having you there and showing me the way to the Pilgrim’s Office. You didn’t hesitate a bit, and just took me right there. I regret not getting a photo of us that moment. Forty days of walking muddies your best intentions.

It was great following you a few months back when you returned to Santiago and walked on to Fisterra. That’s a great spirit, indeed. We are always walking the Path, aren’t we.

It was such a pleasure to meet someone with such great energy, spirit, and enthusiasm, and to add to my list of wonderful friends from the UK.

Happy birthday, and happy St. Patrick’s Day coming up. May the road rise up to meet ya!

Your pilgrim friend,

Steve Watkins


Day 74: Monette Buffaloes 1980 Junior High Championship Team

(Note: In 37 years we lost two members of this wonderful group, Doug Pannels, a feisty guard (#20, second from left) who died in a tragic auto accident at 19, and Shawn Perrin (#41) who we called the “garbage man,” and who played an unheralded, but  important role. He passed away unexpectedly two years ago. Our final achievement would not have been possible without them.)

Dear Teammates,

Oh, the splendid glory.

It was about this time of year, 37 long years ago. Gosh, that seems a long time. But we will never forget it, not a single player.

For years, we wore the grass away around every basketball goal in our parents’ back yards. We chose teams, replayed the championship games we’d seen on TV, emulated our favorite college and professional heroes. And each day we got better and better. More cohesive. More familiar with one another’s talents. And more determined. Everyone knew that ninth-grade year was destined for something special.

Everyone had their job. Everyone did their job.

Monette Buffaloes, Junior High, 1980. All Champions.

We went 14-0 before losing the first game, an over-achieving 30-6 by year’s end. Every team on the schedule fell to the mighty Buffs at least once that year.

The championship game was a thing of beauty. I remember almost every trip up and down that floor. Down by 10 at the half, we slowly, patiently worked our way back into the game and when the clock ticked zero the score revealed Buffs 43, Bearcats 42. We won it all. Went as far as a junior high team could go.

Champions. I wouldn’t give a plug nickel for a guy who’s never dreamed of winning it all in the big game.

I’m forever proud of what we did that year and think of it often. I love you guys so much. Thanks for everything everyone did in creating such a glorious memory.

Your teammate for life,

Steve – #34 junior high/#24 senior high



Day 73: The Preacher Who Told Me the Dirty Joke

Dear Pastor,

When you’re 16, the slightest influence can shape your view for the good or the bad for a very long time. Kids are so fragile. I’m thankfully recovered from your influence, probably nothing more than a momentary lapse in judgment, and realize it was just a mistake. But it was one of the great letdowns of my teenage years. Thinking about it still causes me to cringe.

My faith was so new, and I was so impressionable and curious with a desire to learn. The walk had just begun.

You’d served our small-town church a few years, there long enough to become “part of the community.”  And you were a nice man, too, not the most dynamic evangelist with the deepest messages, but a nice man with a friendly disposition. Everyone liked you.

Always the fan of our high school basketball team you never missed a game and would occasionally drop by the late afternoon practices observing from near the doorway and the old water fountain. You were there that day during a practice break just as a friend and I made our way in your direction for a drink.

What happened next is the surrealist of uncomfortable memories.

You pulled us to the side, as if somehow desperate for our approval, and you told us the dirtiest joke I’ve heard to this day. You were my church pastor. The moment was completely out of context with our relationship. You might as well have slapped me across the face with a brick. Did that really happen?

Now, I wasn’t the most innocent kid on the block, and created as much mischief as anyone, but that moment was so sickeningly wrong. Now what?

For lack of knowing what else to do, I remember faking an awkward laugh and turning to the practice floor. I will always recall it vividly as one of the most displeasing and frustrating moments of young adulthood. It’s unfortunate when poor human judgment affects a young person’s outlook toward something so important.

For years, there was nothing else to do except block the moment from my mind, pretend it didn’t happen. But things were never the same again. I suspect you knew it, too, as I kept a respectful distance.

This isn’t a note about forgiveness, pastor. I never really felt there was anything to forgive. I’m sorry for whatever was present in your life that moment that you felt compelled to act this way. We all make mistakes. But I’ve learned that consequences are brutal.

Yours truly,

Steve Watkins