My dad rented a big house in the summer of 1959 on Highway 82 in Sabine Pass, Texas, right on the Intracoastal Waterway where it met the Sabine River. This remote place must have been close to an airport my dad liked flying out of; there wasn’t another house for miles. As the photo shows, huge tankers and other ships would pass within 100 feet or so of our front yard, all day and night long. Sometimes they be lined up like cars on a highway.
Those boats were enormous; the one in this photo is typical; it’s the Texaco tanker Caltex Glasgow, and it was 524 feet long, according to a Net history of Texaco tankers.
Being stuck out in the middle of nowhere was boring for a seven-year-old kid. My only companion besides my brother was an ancient black man named Jim, who lived rent-free on the property in a ramshackle frame house. Jim wore a big white cowboy hat and made a living catching and penning alligator gars in the river and bayous and selling them to folks. Gars are ferocious fish, as much as seven feet long and well over 150 pounds each, as I learned watching Jim feed them horsemeat scraps every evening.
I followed Jim everywhere, as he was quite a storyteller, though some of his history was a tad off. He told me his daddy had been a slave freed by President Teddy Lincome, and that President Garfield had been shot by a maniac named Charley Guitar (close; it was Charles Guiteau).
Other than pestering Jim, there was little to do, but my mom didn’t like me getting close to that pen full of alligator gars.
My dad solved this problem by buying me, at a ship chandlery, a big cardboard box of about twenty three-foot by five-foot flags of various countries and a little flagpole. When a foreign ship went by our front yard, I’d put their flag on the pole and wave it with all my might. My mom wouldn’t let me walk across the highway to the Waterway, but usually someone on the ship would see me waving their country’s flag and I’d be rewarded with a mighty blast from the ship’s horn. Sometimes the fellows on the ship would yell and wave to me. It took about ten minutes for each ship to go by, and I’d see many ships a day.
It became a pretty nice summer, after all.