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.
A year later, though I’ve grown, I’m still not allowed on deck during a blow. It’s rough, and our bow plunges in the troughs. The wind moans through the rig. Deck planks creak. “Marie!” my father calls urgently down through the companionway. “Get your foulies. I have to reef!”
I’m supposed to stay in my bunk, which is silly. I’m practically a man. I creep aft, climb the companionway stairs, and peer into the wave-tossed cockpit. I can see her at the wheel through the sheets of spray: my mother, my fellow artist. She looks so brave. A wave slaps her and displaces her thick glasses. She’s surprised but shrugs it off. “Come up! Come up!” my father is shouting. “Good! Hold her head to wind. Just a few more seconds, Marie!”
I scurry back into my bunk before they spot me. All is well again. They have it under control. King Neptune is a family friend. He might toy with us in order to teach us certain lessons, but he’s really a benign, loving soul. We’re safe. At sea, we’re home.
And then I’m 7 and the man of the house while my father delivers a fishing schooner to Campeche, Mexico. I’m awakened in the dark. They have flashlights and are whispering. Father warned me there’d be times like this. I must stay calm and show no fear. I strut aft. The Goodlander women were worried about being raped. I wasn’t sure what “being raped” was, but it didn’t seem to concern me.
“He’s right next to the boat!” my mother cries out in fright. “In the water!”
“The guy!” says one sister. The other backs her up: “He really is!”
I was scared, not of rapists but of bogeymen. I wasn’t sure what they were, either, but I knew I didn’t want to find out. Still, I was a man, and I had a job to do. I crept outside into the cockpit, slithered tentatively over the starboard coaming, and peered over the caprail down into the dark, scary, sloshing space between the boat and dock. Debris was trapped there: seaweed, logs, bottles. The boat was moving in the greasy swell, and the fenders groaned against the pilings. There was no moon, yet barnacles glistened. Crabs held up their claws. Silverfish slid out of sight.
I had to calm my stomach.
I leaned far over the rail to get a better view. I wanted desperately to report no rapist, no bogeyman, no problem.
But then the impossible: My blood froze when the rapist took a long, loud, deep breath.
I started screaming, so loudly that I barely noticed Carole flying past me and dashing down the path for the police.
Afterward, we had a good laugh with all the rescue personnel, cops, and firemen who’d discovered the turtle partially wrapped in a fishing net and thus caught between the boat and the dock, barely able to breathe. They hoisted it out, cut the net away, and set it free.
On another day, I return to Elizabeth after the mile-long trudge from the Mary A. White grammar school. At first, I think no one is home. Then I hear faint crying. I creep into the forecastle. My mother is slumped over her manual Royal typewriter. Her 400-page manuscript is scattered on the cabin sole. She raises her head. Her nose is running. She looks weird.
“I’ll never be published,” she says.
I sit beside her, put my arm around her, and say nothing. Life is hard sometimes. We just accept it; we allow it to wash over us. The tears flow. I attempt to imagine what it would be like if she ever were published, but I’ll have to wait many decades for her to receive her first acceptance, at the age of 88—and see that fierce fire of ferocious pride glowing in her eyes.
I’m older now—perhaps I’m 10 years of age. My father and I are working in Clearwater, Florida, to erect a giant swiveling bucket alongside a highway for a brand-new company called Kentucky Fried Chicken. The manager dashes out of the fast-food restaurant and shouts, “Elizabeth is sinking! There’s no shore power, and the pumps can’t keep up! Hurry!”
Within minutes, we’re in our old jalopy, heading back to Slip No. 7 at Vinoy Basin, in St. Petersburg, Florida. But the traffic is heavy and our car slow. It takes an agonizingly long time. We make the last turn on two wheels, expecting to see a crowd of gawkers milling around the sunken wreck. Instead, we see only Marie, and she’s manning a giant cast-iron pitcher pump that nobody but a real he-man can use, and she’s slowly pumping, stroke after stroke, with its eight-foot-long rusty handle.
She, too, is made of iron. She’s saved the boat, saved our lifestyle, saved our dignity. She’s the stout sea anchor of our sea-gypsy family. My father is grinning a shy, grateful smile as he shuts off the car. “She’s got a set of ovaries,” he says in admiration.