One of the great things about the Christmas break is the opportunity it offers to spend some time at my parents’ house on the Mississippi Gulf Coast and hang out with my siblings and their families.
What’s more fun than coming to your family home and pretending you’re 16 again and need to eat constantly to feed your growing body? When I’m at my parents’ it seems unnatural not to be chewing.
One of the other things I love about being in Gautier over the holidays is seeing the Mississippi Sound in the winter. Their house is on the Sound, so my childhood was spent fishing, sailing, floundering and throwing mud balls at my brothers. Most of those are summer activities, though. Once our short winter actually sets in, the Sound becomes a different place.
First of all, the wind picks up and the water isn’t as accommodating as usual. The winter sunsets put their summer counterparts to shame, which seems odd, but the sun shifting a few degrees in the sky makes an amazing difference. The fishing is still good off the pier when there’s enough water, but going out in a boat becomes a more hazardous and unpleasant proposition.
I was reminded of that earlier this week as we sat in the sun room watching TV. My father looked out and said, “Looks like he’s going under.” We turned our heads to the south and sure enough, there was a small fishing boat with its bow sticking up in the air and water rooster-tailing behind the engine, and it was headed toward our pier.
Most of my family reacted as they generally do in an emergency and went back to watching TV, but I decided to be the Boy Scout and help these poor people. I try to do at least one good deed during Christmas in hopes it will make God and Santa less angry with me.
Rushing down to the dock wearing just jeans and a T-shirt, I realized quickly the 15-mph wind and 50-degree temperature made it pretty bitter on the water. The people in the boat must have been freezing. As they got closer, I could see a very heavy man lying on the bow obviously trying to weigh it down, to no avail. There was another very rotund woman in the boat and then the “captain.”
I yelled over to ask them if they were OK and the captain hollered back that they were taking on water. It seemed like I could smell the beer on his breath even 20 feet away in a stiff wind. Somewhere in the back of my mind I began to suspect he might be Biblically hammered.
When the captain slammed his 17-foot open fisherman into the dock and tried to throw the anchor to me to tie it off, my suspicions were verified. The bottom of the boat was littered with beer cans, as well as about 25 blue crabs all just floating around in the beer and salt water. I didn’t see any nets, so it was pretty obvious the three had been out drinking and stealing from the crab pots littered about the Sound.
The other obvious thing was that the passengers wanted off the boat. They were soaked and freezing. The very heavy man tried to climb onto the dock, his blue jeans slipping so that he mooned me and my kids, brother and father, who’d just arrived. He managed to crawl onto the dock and sat there panting like he might have a heart attack.
The woman, who was nearly as heavy, needed to be pulled onto the dock. Miraculously the small boat immediately popped up in the water. I handed the captain a bucket and he started bailing, careful not to toss over any beer cans. I got on board to help and he told me about 15 times, “don’t throw anything over that don’t belong there.” Eventually we got almost all of the water out.
My father explained where a boat launch was so the guy could get there and wait for his friends to bring the truck. I think somewhere into his third case of beer the captain may have lost his sense of direction, though. We pointed him in the right direction and he took off, with his boat rooster-tailing water into the air. I had declined his request that I join him on the ride aboard his sinking boat with freezing cold water lapping over the gunnels.
We got the other two into my dad’s truck and cranked the heat to help thaw them out, then started heading to Ocean Springs to get their truck. Along the way it became clear the water had activated something that did not smell good on one or both of them. By the time we got to Ocean Springs my brother called to tell me the captain was back and circling behind the dock.
My brother got him to come to the dock and handed him the phone, and I gave the man and woman my phone. A long, winding conversation commenced with the captain describing a boat launch on some spit of land in Ocean Springs and trying to elicit a guarantee from the others they would be there to get him. “I don’t need you to try, I need you to tell me you’re going to be there!” he yelled.
He also kept telling them if they didn’t help him he’d have to call his father and then “it’ll all be over.” The captain looked to be in his 40s, so the fear of his father seemed unusual. He said it ominously enough, though, I wondered if his dad would show up like Chuck Norris and start throwing spinning-heel kicks everywhere. I took the phone and told the man to get going and his friends would be there. The drunken captain gunned his vessel and took off into the darkness.
The passengers gunned their truck and also headed off into the night in search of a boat ramp none of us had ever heard of. The only cell phone either possessed had been floating around with the crabs in beer-water, so the chances of success seemed remote. But I have faith in the ability of a wasted redneck to achieve almost anything, so I’m hoping the captain and crew are spending a joyous Christmas feasting on stolen crabs, knocking back a few hundred beers and duct-taping the bottom of the boat.
On the way back home, our passengers’ lingering smell coming from the soaked back seats reminded us no good deed goes unpunished.