It’s a common lament among those in the river industry: “If only we had taped all those stories Capt. So-And-So had told us over the years.” No doubt, if you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it 100 times. For some reason, stories about the river just bear telling and most go unrecorded. But now, someone has taken the time and effort to put them down in writing and preserve them for the future.
Melody Golding, an internationally recognized photographer and author, who comes from a river family—she’s married to Steve Golding, owner of Golding Barge Line in Vicksburg—spent 10 years interviewing more than 100 towboat pilots. With an assortment of cameras, notebooks and a tape recorder, she traveled to river towns and often rode the boats to talk to the men and women whose recollections she sought.
“Life Between the Levees” begins with a narrative of a riverman who was born in 1915 and worked on the steam sternwheeler Reliance. He told about wheelbarrowing coal from a fuel flat to the vessel’s boilers while on the Monongahela River. Three hundred pages later, the book ends with the words of a pilot born in 1987, who runs excursion vessels on the Mississippi River with all the modern tools of navigation. Not only do the stories provide the reader with a sense of the progress that’s taken place in towboat life over the years, but they paint an entertaining picture of the people who make their living “between the sticks.”
One storyteller recounts a foggy night on the Atchafalaya River when the crew of a towboat tried to tie the boat off on a stump only to find out, when they threw the line, that it was a bear curled up on the bank. Other’s similar experiences add to the richness of the book.
Interspersed throughout the text are Golding’s colorful photographs depicting various aspects of river life—towboats, barges, deckhands, bridges, christenings, locks and dams, food being prepared in the galley, pilots and scenery.
“Please know that the reflections within this book are a very rare look into the personal lives of those who have dedicated their lives to the river,” Golding writes in the foreword. “It is authentic, honest, sometimes funny, outrageous, often sad, and even tragic as is true with all real-life stories no matter the profession.
“It is a slice of genuine American folklore,” she offers, and we think you will agree.
Published by the University Press of Mississippi, “Life Between the Levees,” at 344 pages and 9 by 11 inches, has 130 color photographs and a map. It is e-book available.
Benefits Seamen’s Church
All of the royalties from sale of the book will go to the Seamen’s Church Institute. Seamen’s Church will be selling the book at its offices in Houston, Texas, and Paducah, Ky.
Melody Golding’s previous books are “Katrina: Mississippi Women Remember” and “Panther Tract: Wild Boar Hunting in the Mississippi Delta,” both published by University Press of Mississippi. Her photography has also been published by the National Women’s Studies Association Journal (Johns Hopkins University Press) and the Royal Photographic Society Awards Journal, London, England.
The Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of American History Archives Center acquired her solo documentary exhibit on Hurricane Katrina and her documentary photography and oral history project on wild boar hunting. Her photographs are on display at the Department of Homeland Security and have been featured in solo exhibitions at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C., and at numerous universities, colleges, and museums.
Learn more about her work at www.melodygolding.com.