These days, Conn Brown Harbor
is dominated by the big orange factory craft run by Gulf King Shrimp, but back then the rule was one man, one boat.
My mother's cousin, David, owned one that he built himself. I was there when he laid the keel, when he dropped the big diesel in with a rented cherry picker, when he christened her ('Nora', after his wife) with a bottle of sparkling cider from the Workingman's Bar, forty yards from the dock.
They knew David in the Workingman's, but not because he was a big drinker. He loved to play the guitar, and he met some other pickers down there every chance he got. The chances were rarer than he would have liked, because of the work on the shrimp boat, and because he worked swing shifts at the carbon black plant to put bread on the table.
I was just a gangly kid, but I got into the Workingman's myself sometimes, when David talked my mother into coming down to Aransas Pass to sit in on drums. Not many women frequented the Workingman's, but my mom was a clean, spare drummer, and she knew a joke or two, so everything was fine. I sat at the bar and drank ginger ale from a beer mug. I probably should have enjoyed it, but I couldn't be bothered at the time. Whenever I saw David, my tortured, maladjusted teenage boilers hit the redline, fueled by rich and oily thoughts about his daughter, Nadine.
In mature retrospect, Nadine was probably a fairly average girl, but at the time, she was the moon, the Nile, the Northwest Passage. Slim and blonde, dressed in thin cotton shifts, she pouted with mystery at my rambling revelations. Barefooted, she slouched so insouciantly at my manic suggestions that I would throw myself at the walls with desire. Her daddy wouldn't let her come with him to the bar, so I fidgeted on my stool, hoping that he and my mother would drink enough to get the urge to play on after those redneck shrimpers broke up for the night.
Back at David's place, we'd wake up the house, carrying on and carrying in the gear. My mother would switch over to piano, and David would stick a bass guitar in my hands, showing me the three notes he needed. Nora would take herself out to the kitchen to fix us some fried egg sandwiches or something. Nadine would emerge from the back of the house in her pajamas, rubbing the sleep from her eyes like the three-tailed pasha's first wife. She sang sweet, broken harmony to David's twanging lead, and I fumbled away at the bass, trying to catch her eye.
After David finished the boat, we didn't see very much of them. He would sometimes head down to the Mexican
coast for three months or so at a stretch, and I think times were generally hard for them. He had quit his job at the plant of course, and had taken out some big loans to build the Nora
. About a year after our last hoedown
, we got together at a family wedding. David looked a lot older, and Nadine was distant. She shook my hand. My mother had met a good singer/bassist in Corpus Christi
, and she talked her cousin into coming over to our house to play.
He came by himself, and they played for a while, but it didn't seem to click. The bassist excused herself, and while I noodled away on his guitar, David and my mother sat and talked over coffee. Nadine had gotten into some trouble. Well, in fact, David had come home unexpectedly one day, only to find her fucking a guy in the living room. She swore that she loved him, but he was a no account. He said that he would marry her, but David was against it. He had decided to sell the Nora and take his old job back - to try to make things the way they were before. My noodling took on a particularly quiet quality. My mother tried to talk him out of it, tried to convince him that she was grown, that he should let her go. At that point, they seemed to notice me, and their conversation stalled.
About three years later, David's mother died, and we gathered in Aransas Pass again. Nora wasn't there, because she and David had divorced, but Nadine, her husband, and their two kids attended. She had kept her figure pretty trim, but she looked every bit the wife and mother. After the funeral, we went back to the house where, in good Southern fashion, there were hams, and fried chicken, and casseroles, and ambrosias. I tried to tell Nadine about my bus trip down from college, but she still wasn't interested in my stories. Now, her little slouch was not so much insouciant as resigned. It didn't drive me crazy anymore, but it still pierced my heart.