River of No Return


The anchorage in Cocoa is tucked in on the south side of the causeway, close up to the town. It is shallow with no current, good holding, and protection from all points North and West.
That morning there were a handful transients in there, some that had stopped for the night to watch the Orion rocket launch up at Canaveral, a few locals on moorings, and the usual derelict or two. I was there with the Spirit of St Simons and her brand new mast to meet with the local sailmaker, Scott Morgan, and get measured up for a new suit. I tiptoed through the crowd till I found a spot, and eased down the plow. As we rounded up, I took a look around and wondered what my daddy would think.

Seventy five years ago, my folks lived straight across this river on Merritt Island. They rented a farm house right down on the water. It was known as the Winslow place. Dad had an uncle- the bridge tender, who helped him get a construction job over at Patrick AFB. They lived in a shack right out on the bridge. Mamma always told the story about how they would go out there on Sundays and do their laundry, hanging the wet clothes out on the line to dry in the breeze as the traffic rattled past. As I was growing up I heard many stories about this place. Tales of fishing, snakes, mosquitos, oranges, the heat, the diphtheria…

My daddy’s favorite story was about how he rowed all the way across the river to town on Thanksgiving day, and bought a pork loin for dinner. My mother was beside herself. She was terrified of the water, but he loved it. He was fascinated with everything about it -the colors of the open sky, the herons and ibis, the pink clouds of spoonbills.

I was born a few years later, and in a different place. When I was little, my favorite spot was in his lap. He would tell me stories about times past, when he was young and alive, and then he’d serenade me to sleep. He was a big Tennessee Ernie Ford fan:

“ Loaded sixteen Tons, and what do you get… another day older and deeper in debt…”
I could feel the notes as they formed and rose up out of his chest.
“St Peter don’t you ask me cause I cant go…I owe my soul to the company stoooooow….”

My favorite song was what I called “wederee”, or actually, River of No Return. There are a couple of you tube clips of it online, so you can still listen to it if you like. Marilyn Monroe sang it in the movie of the same name, but when I hear Tennessee Ernie Ford sing it I can see my father.

“There is a river, called the river of no return… sometimes its peaceful, sometimes wild and free…I lost my lover, on the River of No return… Waileree Wail erreeheehee. [no return no return].”

Late in the night sometimes I drift into this special place. It is a sanctuary of sorts, that we must all dream of from time to time. It is a place of images where one can re- taste that long dormant sensation of love, security and the blissful ignorance that comes with childhood. When I imagine heaven, it is always some variation of this place. Usually this vision involves water, cypress trees, soda crackers and Vianna sausages, campfires, boats and fish, the smell of spent shotgun shells and Tennessee Ernie Ford.

Its hard to mess up a pork loin. On the boat, I like to keep it simple. I just sear it up a little in my old friend, the cast iron skillet, drop the heat, and cover it. Let it simmer. It doesn’t take long. Put in some vegetables. Anything. Onions of course, but whatever you have. Carrots and potatoes might need par boiling first, unless you cut them up small. It doesn’t matter! If you are anchored up in the Indian River in late November, it is going to be good. A bottle of red wine will make it even better.

The old causeway bridge and the tender’s shack are long gone. The town has changed. The island has changed. The world has changed. But a pork loin with caramelized onions and carrots and red wine under a free and open sky is still as just as good as it ever was.

“ Wail-er -ree Wail-er-reeeeeee. [no return no return no return]”

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