Houseboat's backyard was the river

Published online: Aug 17, 2010 News Joe Aaron - www.courierpress.com
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GOLCONDA - Few times in 78-year-old May Cox's life has the Ohio River, sometimes placid and sometimes raging wild, been very far away.

Even now, years after she moved ashore, it is little more than a stone's throw from her little white house in Old Golconda. And sometimes to catch the cooling breeze on a summer evening she will climb the grassy levee that protects the town and gaze in a restful way at the Ohio's muddy waters.

It brings back a lot of memories and an occasional twinge of homesickness, too.

A third of a century ago, she lived upon its choppy waters in a houseboat. It was there that six of her eight children were born and there that she raised five of them to maturity.

It was there, as a bride of 16, she came to live before her husband went off to World War I, and it was there she lived until all her children except one had left home.

Her husband had spent most of his life on a houseboat before she met him and it seemed only natural - to him, anyway - that they should continue to live that way. It made it handier for him to do his work as a commercial fisherman, and in the winter he trapped and hunted so that there was always wild game on their table.

The houseboat, 12 feet wide and 55 feet long, became their way of life. All their children grew up "swimming like muskrats," using the boat's deck for a diving board.

But Mrs. Cox never learned to swim a lick, though she fell overboard dozens of times and always grabbed hold of something.

She respected the water but was never afraid of it.

Once, when she was new to life on the choppy waters, she got seasick and thought she was going to die and sort of hoped she would. A lot of other visitors, including her mother, would hang miserably over the rail, bent double by seasickness.

Sometimes, looking for bigger fish, they would casually drift downriver, even onto the Mississippi. But they would return to Golconda, tying up at the mouth of Lusk Creek where it pours into the Ohio.

In springtime, when waters rose, they would move the boat into a protective creek, keeping the mooring lines slack enough so the boat wouldn't be dragged under.

She and her husband sold fish to townspeople off the dock, sometimes after unusually heavy catches working with practiced speed side by the side, cleaning fish until 2 a.m.

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