Instead of the normal, mind-numbing, ho-hummery that is the quarterly executive board meeting, my co-workers and I trekked up to Hannibal-LaGrange College for the two-day meeting with our executive board. We capped it off with a dinner cruise on the M-I-crooked letter-crooked letter-I-crooked letter-crooked letter-I-humpback-humpback-I River.
Sure it was hokey and yes, the dinner buffet was school cafeteria-grade at best, but it still made for a surprisingly fun way to kill three hours.
The boat was, of course, christened the Mark Twain and despite the significant cheese factor, I began to get in the mood and enjoy the spirit of Mr. Twain. (The reader is no doubt aware that “Mark Twain” was merely a pseudonym for Samuel Langhorne Clemens. His nom de plume comes from the river boat practice of marking twain, which is measuring to ensure that the river is at least 12 (twain) feet deep and thus safe for the steam boat to navigate. It sounds like a normal enough name today, but to his contemporaries, I imagine it sounded odd.)
I’ve always liked Marky Mark Twain. I remember reading the dumbed-down Great Illustrated Classics (I owned and LOVED the entire series) versions of Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. In high school, I marveled at how some people could possibly be dumb enough to ban Huck Finn from school/public libraries. Twain is the father and patron saint of American humor (which is built on sarcasm, as opposed British humor which is based on puns and cross dressing) and was the inspiration for Foghorn Leghorn. He was a hip guy, and I bet he’d get a kick out of Tina Turner’s version of Proud Mary.
Then there’s the famous quote, “the report of my death was an exaggeration” (more colorful versions of this quote are even greater exaggerations). A few weeks ago, when Hannibal was battling record floods, CNN and other national news outlets erroneously reported that all of Hannibal, Twain’s hometown were under water. The clever editor of the Hannibal Courier-Post came up with this banner headline on the paper’s website: “The reports of our being under water are an exaggeration.”
Our riverboat was moored at a dock within sight of his boyhood home and whitewashed picket fence, the very one that inspired a rascally Tom Sawyer to conscript his friends into service. Less than a mile upstream is a small island that was the setting for several of Tom and Huck’s shenanigans. Outside of town is Injun Joe’s Go-Karts and Mini-Golf, but I’m not sure of their historical authenticity or literary significance.
The day was warm and it was pleasantly quiet on the boat, even with all the people on board. High up on the third deck, sitting just in front of the wheel house, all you could hear was the lapping of the waves, the gentle hum of the motor and the dulcet tones of the harmonica banjo courtesy of the evening’s live entertainer. His set list included such Mississippi River “classics” as Your Cheatin’ Heart, The Theme from The Beverly Hillbillies and various show tunes.Mamma Mia’s Dancing Queen not withstanding, I can see why Huck Finn and Jim answered the call of Old Man River. Although the engine was at full throttle and we were headed down stream, the River seemed slow, lazy and still. For the first time in my life, I wanted nothing more than a fishing line and a corncob pipe. That, or bust out the playing cards and start playing Mel Gibson and Jodie Foster for a million bucks.
It’s been a long time since I read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer or The Adventures of Huck Finn, but I know there’s an ever so appropriate Twain quote to describe this transient yet mostly sincere connection to the river. Surely a word smith such as he, a product of the Mississippi and a veteran steamboat pilot could express what I and my mild efforts cannot.
I get back home and Google “Twain quotes” for the perfect summation of the Mighty Mississippi and her vital essece. Here’s the best I could come up with:
It is good for steam boating, and good to drink; but it is worthless for all other purposes, except baptizing.
Leave it to Mark Twain to give a posthumous (probably sarcastic, he despised organized religion) shout out to a boat full of Baptists.
(Note: The photos are in no particular order)
Mark Twain’s statue, gazing out over the waters.