Mississippi River Quest - Page 14
Nothing all that interesting happened today. I am on a fairy remote stretch of river and
there aren't really any people out here. Barge traffic was heavier toady than I have ever
seen it. I suppose it will get worse as I move south. The only time they really bother me
is when I want to cross the river. There's nothing I can really do about it so I suppose I'll
just have to pick a side of the river and stay there.
I wanted to listen to my radio today, but was only able to pick up two stations. One was
hip hop, the other a religious channel. I decided it would be a good day to just listen to
the river and let my mind wander. The problem with wandering is my thoughts always
find a way to something that pisses me off and I have a hard time moving on. Today it
was the way my dad's estate was handled. I may be angry about that for the rest of my
As my dad got sicker, his girlfriend started asking me what my plans were after his
passing. I should have told her to fuck off and walked away, but I didn't. I knew my dad
would never ask me and I wanted to help him.
At the time, I wanted to sell the farm. I hated it. I hated everything that had happened to
me there, and with a hospital bed and a commode in the dining room, the place
seemed more like a place to die than a place to live. Later my speaking the truth would
come back to haunt me.
By now, his girlfriend was always around. She treated my dad like a small child. I hated
the way she acted. My dad might not be able to care for himself, but he was a grown
man. She also decided she was a doctor. She would decide which pills were and
weren't making him sick and medicate him accordingly. Any time his condition
changed, she noted how much better he was doing. To hear her talk, you would think
he was about to make a full recovery.
I was never able to spend time with my dad alone. She was always there. I often sat in
my room or went kayaking when I would have preferred to have been with my dad. I just
had to get away from her. When I return, I'll finally have a good long talk with my dad.
Just me and him at his grave.
I reached Natchez, Mississippi about 2:00 this afternoon. My next big town will be Baton
Rouge. My map showed a casino in town and I thought it would be a good idea to hit
the buffet. Judging from the number of obese people boarding the boat, I was looking
forward to a good one. Unfortunately, I was let down. I spent eight dollars for food that
was mediocre at best. At least I didn't leave hungry. I refilled my water and headed out.
This evening, I came upon some people grilling on a sand bar. I made sure to pass
close by, hoping for a handout. Sure enough, I was invited over for hot dogs and beer.
Shortly after stopping, a storm began to approach. The boaters took off and I set up my
camp. The wind picked up out of nowhere. I retreated to my tent to avoid the stinging
sand. Had I not stopped for the BBQ I would have been caught on the water and it could
have been quite bad. I honestly feel that someone is watching out for me on this trip. It
may be God, my father, or both.
After the wind died down, another boat stopped by. A kayak is somewhat of a novelty on
the Lower Mississippi and attracts a fair amount of attention. I talked and drank beer
with these boaters for a bit before they took off. I turned down an offer to ride back to the
bar with them. There are many reasons why that could turn out badly. Even without a
trip to the bar, I am feeling pretty good tonight. At least everyone has been friendly.
After several short stays in the hospital, my dad became too sick to stay at home and
was admitted to the hospital for the last time. At this time, hospice would have been the
appropriate place for him. Of all my family I was the only one who actually visited the
hospice house. It was beautiful. A brick house in the woods with a caring staff. My dad
could have had a bird feeder outside his window. He loved birds, and I could have
brought the dog to his room whenever he wanted. Instead, he would die in a hospital
By this time his girlfriend had quit her job and moved into the hospital room with him.
She made all the decisions. She said that hospice only wanted to kill him and that he
should stay in the hospital. When she was away I asked my dad if he was ready for
hospice. He said Yes.
The hospital was always noisy. His room had a view of the air conditioner on the
adjacent rooftop. Every week his insurance would threaten to stop paying unless he
went into hospice. If that were to happen his girlfriend planned to move in with my aunt
and take care of him there. The hospital was a shithole compared with hospice, and
they wouldn't even go see the hospice house. Hospice isn't in the business of killing
people. They let people die with dignity, not in a noisy hospital room. I did everything I
could to get my dad into hospice, but his girlfriend and two sisters controlled him by that
point. They felt he would live longer in the hospital and didn't give a damn about the
quality of his life.
I found a great classic country station on my radio and stayed up late last night enjoying
the music. I woke up tired this morning and found that my great station from last night
plays all hot new country in the day time. I put the radio away preferring silence.
The morning was hot and hazy. I knew a thunderstorm would be coming. By
mid-morning a dark cloud was moving across the horizon. I was expecting a quick
storm so I put on my rain coat rather than set up camp.
The thunderstorm passed quickly, but an hour later it was still raining. It was evident I
either needed to hit the water or set up camp. I decided to paddle. The rain continued
for five hours. There was no wind and the cool rain was a relief after all this hot weather.
Lately, many of the upstream towboats have been throttling back their engines as I
pass. When they are considerate enough to do this, they make almost no wake instead
of the two to four foot waves I often run into in their wakes. I'm sure this wastes a
considerable amount of diesel fuel, but it makes paddling easier. Hopefully, more of
them will start doing this.
With my dad in the hospital, it was time to get out of my dead end job. I took a job as an
equipment mechanic at a nearby gravel quarry. I worked three days a week with the
promise of full time work after my dad's passing.
I was much happier at my new job. I liked what I was doing, my coworkers were sober,
and the pay was much better. Throughout my dad's illness they allowed me all the time
off I needed and were very compassionate about my situation.
Going to the hospital became part of my daily routine. I would go straight there after
work, and my days off I split between outdoor activities and the hospital. I would usually
go out in the morning and visit him in the afternoon.
I hated the hospital. I hated the strange families around with their private crises. I hated
the smell of the place, the noise, and commotion. I was sure I would contract some
strange disease there from spending so much time amongst the lepers, but I went
every day because I loved my dad.
The morning started off beautifully, bright sunny skies, cool temperatures and a light
breeze. Things went down hill from there.
Just like yesterday, a dark bank of clouds started rolling up river around 11:00 am. I
pulled onto a sandbar and flipped the boat over to keep the rain out. The sky got dark
and lightning started flashing. The thunder and lightning lasted for about an hour.
There was no rain. After the storm passed, I hit the water and it began to rain. Soon the
rain quit and was replaced by thunder and lightning. After another dry thunderstorm, it
began raining. I paddled in the rain for most of the afternoon.
There is more rain in the forecast. I hope it holds off for a few days. All my stuff is wet. I
hate getting up in the morning and putting on wet sandy clothes, not to mention the fact
that all my things smell even worse wet than they do dry.
I pulled up to a ferry landing today to throw away some trash and stretch my legs. It was
here that I met my first Cajun. He was a fast talker and I really couldn't understand what
the hell he was saying, so I told him I really needed to make some more miles today
and took off.
My dad spent several months in the hospital. By mid-winter he was nearing the end of
his race. His vocal cords were paralyzed and he could no longer talk. He
communicated through notes.
I would pull up a chair next to his and hug him, something we never did when he was
healthy, and we would weep together. He would whisper to me I love you bunches and
bunches, and I'm going to miss you. I would tell him the same.
I cried a lot writing that last paragraph. It wasn't until I cried with my dad that I realized
how much he loved me, and how much I loved him. I wish it hadn't taken cancer to
bring us to that point.
I was thinking today of when I was a kid and my dad accidentally ran over our dog with
the Ford Fairlane. It broke her back and hips. She needed to be put down, but he
couldn't shoot her. He had to have the vet come out and put her down. That was the
only time before he got sick I can remember him crying in front of me.