I think this will be the last entry in the series. Although the official end of summer isn't for a few weeks yet, Labor Day will soon be upon us, and there are signs that the season is coming to an end. Leaves have started to turn and fall, most of the perennials in the yard are spent, and the mornings are foggy - true late summer weather. I'm not sure I could come up with any more true summertime pleasures. And frankly, I'm not in a pleasure mood right now. I need a season change, a page turn, and a fresh outlook. It's time.
This last summertime treat is one that I've experienced every year since I was a little girl. Our small town on the Mississippi River gets a small taste of the steamboat era a few times during summer and fall, when paddlewheel steamboats pass by on their way up and down river. When I was young, only the Delta Queen came by - a wooden hull steamboat built in 1929. In the 70's the Mississippi Queen was added to the fleet, then the American Queen. There is also a local boat - the Julia Belle Swain, that makes more frequent trips.
Over the years, whenever the boats came through, it was such a special treat. Years ago, we would all pile into the car, and hurry down to the Lock and Dam to watch. Back then, the only way we knew the boat was coming was by hearing the steam whistle as it made an approach to town. So sometimes it was a mad dash, leaving the dinner half eaten, or mom in housecoat and kids in pajamas! Now, with websites and such, we know more accurately when the boats are due to pass through, but there is still much anticipation surrounding the event. Lots of people from all over show up down at the river, and a very festive atmosphere develops.
As the boat locks through, which can take 20 minutes or more, people on land shout back and forth with passengers on the boat. They throw candy or trinkets for the children. If we are lucky, and the boat comes at the right time, they play the calliope as they are locking through. There is no more amazing and unique sound than the music from a steam calliope bouncing off the surrounding bluffs and traveling down the river valley. It can be heard for quite a distance!
This year, the American Queen's first trip through was on a mild evening, and my brother and I had an impromptu picnic supper on the lawn at the Dam while waiting for the boat to arrive. We visited with friends and neighbors and enjoyed this tradition of summertime in a small town.
The boat will come by a few more times, on Autumn color trips, and I hope that I will get to see it again, and enjoy this lifelong tradition.