Sea Siren: the Ultimate Liveaboard Mother
A young Cap’n Fatty and his mother, Marie Goodlander, the Sea Siren, were right at home aboard their schooner Elizabeth. At 94, Marie proves she still can handle the helm when she joins Fatty and Carolyn for a sail aboard their new boat, Ganesh.
It’s a cold, windy, wintery morning in Chicago, and our 52-foot schooner is on the hard and half buried under tarpaulins and snow. It’s the mid-1950s. I’m young, and I’m huddled over a steaming coffee cup. We’re midway through a major rebuild: Many planks are missing from the hull; only a few new ones have been steam-bent back into place. My mother is making a bacon and cheese omelet on our roaring Shipmate coal stove. The rest of us are gathered at the galley table. Father is preparing to head off to work, and my two sisters, Carole and Gale, are taking turns yanking each other’s ponytail. All is well.
Unexpectedly, we hear a noise outside. There’s a flutter of light as the tarpaulin is lifted.
It seems a young couple is touring the shipyard, and moments earlier they’d come across the majestic Elizabeth. The boat is massive. Built in 1924 by the Morse Brothers of Thomaston, Maine, she towers over the rest of the boats in the yard.
“Lookee here, honey,” the man says to the woman. “Some fool’s trying to fix up this ol’ schooner. Ain’t that ambitious!”
The man ducks under the scaffolding that rings the hull, stoops down, unties the snow-dusted tarpaulin, spies the large gap in the missing planking, and suddenly finds himself standing upright in the middle of our main cabin and happy little home.
He’s as shocked to see us as we are to see him. My mother waves an eggy spatula in his direction and says, “How do you like your eggs?”
His jaw drops in total amazement, Without thinking, he calls out to his woman in the snow, “My god! They’re eating in there!”
Like a jack-in-the-box, he disappears from view, leaving the tarp flapping and the cold air flooding in. We can hear him hastily scurrying away.
“Scrambled,” says my father.
“Runny,” says Carole.
“Letting in the cold—that boils me!” says Gale.
I’m too young to be fast, but I get there. “Sunny side up, says this son!”
“Those are some good yolks,” says my father.
I’m squirming in my seat, so excited that I have to be careful not to pee. I’ve got one! “Don’t egg me on!” I say.
Everyone laughs. Lubbers are so weird! It’s useless to attempt to understand them. We believe it might be all the dirt they inhale or the automotive exhaust fumes.
We’re different. We’re not just a family; we’re a crew, a tribe, a very small nation of sailing revolutionaries. We’re odd, and happy to be so. For many years afterward, whenever the going would get weird ashore, we’d sing out to each other, “My god! They’re eating in there!”
My mother and I draw pictures all day at the galley table. We hold them up to show to each other and then hug because we’ve produced such excellent examples of artistic expression. I’m Picasso; she’s da Vinci. The world will soon know of us. We can hear the applause building like summer’s thunder in the distance.
Carole and Gale come home, climb up the topsides on the lashed-to-the-rail ladder, and fling themselves (and their schoolbooks) into the adjacent dinette seats. We hold up our pictures one by one, and they always find something to praise.
This is just one of my 10 billion childhood memories, but my mother clings to the scene down through the decades with utter clarity. “Remember when we used to draw pictures at the galley table of the Elizabeth, and then the girls would come home?” she’s said to me throughout her long life—even as orderlies wheel her back inside her room or she’s taken off for hip surgery or she’s just adrift on the whimsical clouds of memory that now sometimes befuddle her 94-year-old brain.