Houseboat Winter – Signs of Life
By Ted and Roxanne Thompson
The other weekend, my wife, Roxanne, and I were aboard the Phoenix, our reconditioned 1975 40-foot Seamaster houseboat. We fixed ourselves a fine, hearty breakfast on Sunday morning. The heaters were cranked up, and we were warm and cozy in our boat, sitting at the table, looking through the misty window at the black-water lake and the foggy shoreline. It was rainy and wintry and gray — a good day to be nowhere but inside looking out. As usual on these deep winter days, we had the dock to ourselves.
Everywhere was the homey aroma of our just-finished cooking. We were having eggs over-easy, pan-fried sausage and toasty waffles. I reached over from my seat at the table, pulled open the fridge, and came out with a small jar of peach preserves to spread over the last hot, buttered waffle.
As I twisted the lid and heard the satisfying pop of vacuum releasing from the jar, I remembered where that small souvenir jar of peach jam had come from. It was something our friends, Brenda and Phil, had brought to the boat on the last group trip over Labor Day. Hm. How nice. I spread the stuff generously on my waffle, and as I took the first tasty bite, I smiled a little and thought to myself, “Thanks, Brender. Good of you, sweetie.”
I ate the waffle and washed it down with cold milk, and as the rain poured down outside, I sat in our warm cabin and considered the little jar of peach preserves. I thought about how it happened to be on the boat for us to spread on our waffles that cold, rainy Sunday morning.
Interesting. Here we are, all by ourselves on the houseboat on a gray winter’s day—a million miles from summer, no friends around, and suddenly Brenda and Phil pop in to say “Hi.” I answered aloud as I finished off the last bite of warm, peachy waffle. “Hi guys. Thanks for the jelly.” Then I got to looking around and thinking. How could I believe there were no friends nearby? Just look. Look anywhere, everywhere.
Over there under the wine rack is a shot glass that Brenda and Phil left several months ago. Here are some coasters that read, “Ted’s Bar” brought to the boat by Steve. From the hook under his well-worn hat hangs his electric bug shocker, that looks deceptively like a tennis racket and has brought more than one of our too-curious friends out of his seat during testing.
I sat at the table and let my mind’s eye wander all over the Phoenix. Under the floor, Jim and Poe’s inflatable bed—their own portable yacht suite, permanently reserved for their visits. A pair of floating water loungers, also brought by Jim and Poe, awaiting warm temperatures for us all to use. Under the cabinet, Tommy’s intrepid coffeepot, one tin soldier that has done selfless yeoman’s duty for so many wounded troops on so many holiday mornings.
In our bedroom, up on the shelf…a hard-to-find book that was discovered months ago at an obscure used bookstore in Branson, snagged by Brian and brought aboard to live on the Phoenix, to entertain or distract or amuse. On the shelf beside our bed, a gilt-edged, ruby crystal candle glass from Suzi and Max that never fails to bring a golden flicker to sparkling bedroom eyes.
On my back, at that very moment, a Cardinals T-shirt, one of my favorites—a shirt that mysteriously appeared on the boat, owner unknown. One I wore for two years before discovering by accident that it was Kit’s before it was mine. No way was she getting it back. She didn’t even ask.
Up on top, a fine sunshade still containing the sweat of my son-in-law, Ben, who spearheaded the installation and saw it through to completion. On the superstructure, a bright red, white and blue nautical flag, flown freely in a hundred thousand breezes since my brother and sister-in-law, Raymond and Marlene, brought it to the Phoenix because they knew this is where it belonged.
On the counter where I’d left them the afternoon before, a pair of wrap-around sunglasses, handed to me off-handedly by Gary at the end of a Labor Day party, just because I had mentioned that I liked them. In the drawer, a deck of playing cards with which I have ungraciously conceded several hundred dollars’ worth of quarters, dimes and nickels to better players.
On the wine rack, a bottle of Scotty’s award-winning homemade wine, still corked, waiting until the next time we make lasagna, spaghetti or steak and mushrooms in our little galley. And right beside it, a couple of empty bottles to return to him for refilling the next time he comes aboard.
By the window, a silly cane with honker and coin purse and mirror, given to me as a joke on my 50th birthday by Norm and Carol from Colorado. And behind me on the wall, suitably framed, one of the finest photographs I’ve ever seen, certainly that I’ve ever owned — a photo of the Phoenix itself, sitting placidly on calm lake water under blue fall skies. A moment in relaxed autumn time, expertly captured by Norm with his fancy wide-angle camera, now occupying a place of central focus in our cozy marine cabin.
There’s more, much more. I looked around and saw it all, and I had a wonderful sensation as I realized how wrong I was on that drizzly winter morning. No friends around? Nonsense. This boat is crawling with our friends. Always.
Of all the things I’ve done to try to make the Phoenix beautiful, to make this boat our own, nothing compares to the improvements they have made. The useful little items they thoughtfully brought. The entertaining little souvenirs they left purposefully behind. The laughs that will forever echo. The memories that will forever remain. These are our love of the Phoenix.
Thanks for being there with us, my friends, on that cold winter’s morning. Thanks for being there, all those good times. Thanks for being there then, and now, and always.
Ted and Roxanne Thompson
Flight of the Phoenix
Table Rock Lake, Arkansas
Ted A. Thompson is a freelance writer living in Harrison, Ark., with numerous published stories and articles. He welcomes emails and comments and can be contacted at TedThompson@alltel.net.