Line-fisherman Joe decided that he wanted a shrimp boat. These big boats cost a lot of money. Line fishermen don’t often get to save the money that it takes to buy a shrimp boat, and in those days banks didn’t see commercial line fishermen as top credit risks, so a requested loan of that size was hard to come by. So Joe kept at work catching and selling catfish until he could afford to buy some steel. He bought enough to lay the keel for a shrimp boat in the 50 foot range. The size is vague in my memory but it was something like that. He continued to fish, pay his bills, buy food for his family, and buy a sheet of steel whenever he could. Gradually a very substantial hull came into being in Joe’s back yard. Once in a while someone would help him do something, but mostly he did it himself – the design, the cutting, the fitting and the welding. The design was in his head, there were no plans for this boat except his vision of what a shrimp boat should be. When the hull was finished enough to float, I watched Joe and some friends load the shrimp boat onto a very big flatbed truck (like the house movers use), drive it to a place on Bayou Teche where there was a low bank, and back the truck bed into the water to launch the boat just like you would launch a 14-foot bateau. Since Joe had never built a big steel boat like this before, there was some anxiety about how it would float, or indeed, if. Well, it did. And it was a beautiful thing to see, to see that big steel back yard creation come smoothly off of the truck and slowly come to rest like an animal born to the water. You could feel the pride and the satisfaction in the men and women who watched this event. In the truest sense, it was awesome.
Joe went on to finish the boat. He put an engine in it, and all the rest of what it takes to make a boat complete according to the laws of nature and the Coast Guard. He rigged it with butterfly nets and proceeded to teach himself to become a successful shrimper. And he did become successful. And he has traded up several times to gain bigger and better boats, and his sons have learned the trade as well, though they don’t practice it now, I believe.
After he built his boat, and learned to catch shrimp, he decided that he had a calling to become a religious leader. At this time I don’t believe he had much experience traveling outside of St. Mary Parish, except by water. But off he went and got himself admitted to a seminary in New Orleans. For the next several years he would fish or shrimp until he could afford to take off for a semester at the seminary. Eventually he fulfilled all the requirements to become ordained and he is now the pastor at a missionary church in St. Mary Parish, as well as a crawfisherman, a line fisherman and a shrimper. Last year I watched him preside over the funeral for one of our close friends in the fishing community. I couldn’t help but be amazed to see him doing this. Here was this young man who started by fishing with hooks for a living and now here he is officiating at one of the most important religious rites that we practice today. He is one of the people I think about when I wonder if I have the energy to persevere at some new thing that I want to do. I think of Joe and I have the courage to move ahead.
Napoleon, fit and happy, in the morning light is good to see.
The river is at 5.7 feet on the Butte La Rose gauge, going to 6.5 by Saturday. The Mississippi is falling in its mid-section, but both it and the Ohio are rising moderately in their upper reaches. We will get some more water in a little more than a week.
Rise and Shine, Jim