Monday, January 23, 2012

SHANTYBOAT BILL, A BOOK REVIEW: A Joyful Trip Down Memory Lane!


No, I enjoyed reading it imensely.

At last, I finished reading Tom Clancy/Mark Greaney's book Locked On.  To say that it was not a "page turner" is a gross understatement.  Each time I read one of Clancy's books written with a ghost writer I say that it will be the last time.  Then, I see one of those big books, with Tom Clancy in bold print and I hopefully buy it.  No more!  Travelling down the river in the exact same place where this book takes place, I stayed in one riverside camp site for three days because I could not put down Clancy's Rainbow Six.

Yesterday evening I started reading Shantyboat Bill.  I was so disappointed about midnight when I finished the 184 pages.  The Shanty had made it from my childhood home,on the left, to New Orleans but to my wishes it should have only made it to maybe Ashland, Kentucky.  In the book they made in excess of a hundred miles a day.  I think my best day going down the river was maybe 25 or 30 miles.  That was about what Harland Hubbard did in his trip down the Ohio and Mississippi in the '40's in his shantyboat.

Reading this book was like going back to my earliest childhood.  No, I didn't live on a shantyboat but my Dad tore down two old houses, straightening out the nails to reuse alongwith the lumber in building our home.  The people in the book did that to build a shantyboat.

Shantyboat Bill was a 12 year old boy being reared by his grandparents.  His grandmother reminded me so much of my maternal grandmother, Grandma Elliott seen in the picture below with the four youngest of her 13 children.  Big women who were in control of all around them.  The language spoken was what I grew up hearing.  Grandma added water and another spoonful of coffee to the pot and moved it to the front of the stove.

The first thing I do each morning, after my morning absolutions as my old friend, Virgil Villers, used to say, is to put on the coffee.  Ten cups of water into the pot with two measures of coffee from the 42 oz. can of Maxwell House, with the pot on "strong" I push the button and the coffee starts to drip.  If there was coffee to be had when I was a child, and often there was not, it was boiled over and over, adding water and "another spoon" of coffee.  On camping trips I still make "boiled coffee" to my son's disgust!

"Set down, Mr. Singleton, and take the weight off'n your feet", Grandma told him, "I'll fetch you a cup of coffee as soon as it hots up".  Thats just what my Mother would have said.  She sat at the end of the table and began to drink her own coffee with a spoon, ducking her head down to recieve each spoonful, slurping noisily.  Homer Staples poured a saucerful of coffee, said "Knock on wood," and rapped on the table.  Then he lifted his saucer and blew on it to cool the coffee and tilted it expertly into his mouth.  Seen my Dad do that so many times!

A most common practive when coffee was so scarce and was to be savoured not consumed.  We drink two cups of good coffee each morning without giving a thought to what a blessing it is.

After supper, which was the evening meal, my mother would "rid up", not clear the table.  If we were going to play dominoes or cards, she would just "upset the table", move things aside.  All her life, she "ridded up".  She has been gone 28 years and I still miss her so!

"Hark!" Grandpa said, turning his head to listen.  "Someone's coming down the hill carrying a lantern."  When was the last time you heard someone said "Hark"?  It was a common expression when I was a child.  Also, when did someone come to see  you carrying a lantern.  Who even owns a lantern these days?  (Well, yes, I do, but then I'm a different kind of nut to say the least).

"Why in tarnation is he coming down here at this time o' night?"  Tarnation?  I've heard my Grandpa Pierce use that word so many times.

"We need to recaulk and retar her and atter that, put a few bar'ls of water in the hull to start it swelling from the inside."  "Atter that", yep, very familiar.  Also, this sentence explains why I want to build my shanty on a raft floating on styrofoam blocks.  Nothing to leak!

When I started my highly successful 27 year career in Industrial Management, a mentor, a chemist by the name of John Borroff, counseled me about my bad language.  We had pumpkin pie for lunch.  I called it "punk'n pie".  He also informed me that what I called the  Canaw'ee River was spelled Kanawha and ended with an "wa" sound, not an "ee" sound.

My children, all with multiple degrees, often poke fun at the way I talk.  They will never know the effort I put forth to speak as well as I do.  Yes, I eventually became a Vice President with Prudential and was a sought after speaker across the country for some of the nation's largest businesses. Although I relinguished my Methodist Certified Lay Speaker credentials,  I still do public speaking.  Just for fun, I still say "feesh" and not "fish to rhyme with dish" and a few other choice words.  Un Huh!  And, it is chim-lee and not chimney as far as I'm concerned.
If you remember carrying water, light from a "coal oil" lamp, chopping firewood, the enormous waves from the old sternwheel steamboats, then you will enjoy this book as much as I have.

My three kids?  Naw, they'll never read about Shantyboat Bill.  I'm not sure they can pronounce all the "important" words.   

God Bless You and Yours


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