Image: The Jolly Flatboatmen, George Caleb Bingham, 1846. National Gallery of Art.
They hadn’t always been a jolly bunch. Flatboatmen were of a particular breed. They worked hard, it wasn’t easy maneuvering
a flatboat across the water as tides and currents often manipulated the progress of the boat, and the boatmen had to work hard to get where they wanted to go.
Darcy Strong was one boatman who worked tirelessly. He had a family to support and took on as many jobs as he could. He cared little for his own well-being but only that he could provide for his growing family.
His wife, Dolores, stayed home and kept their home going. They had three kids, and Dolores had informed him that morning another was on the way. As if it wasn’t hard enough providing for the three she had, the prospect of another mouth to feed only made him more determined to work harder for them.
He loved his family, and he loved Dolores more than anything in this world. She had been the shy girl he noticed on the dock one morning awaiting with her dad as he collected his supplies from the load Darcy had helped deliver.
He struck up an awkward conversation with her, and she seemed to enjoy his attention. He met up with her a few times after work, and before long they had a relationship in which their physical desires were well and truly met.
Dolores fell pregnant, and her dad fronted Darcy when he discovered his sixteen-year-old daughter was in child with the question of what was Darcy going to do about it.
So, they married, with little idea of what they were getting into as both Darcy and Dolores had come from households where their respective parents had struggled to survive as their families grew.
Dolores quickly discovered she loved being a mother. She had a natural instinct for it, and her enthusiasm rubbed off on Darcy who was all about making life as enjoyable as possible for them both.
He determined to work hard, to provide what he could, to love and cherish Dolores no matter what fate threw at him.
So, their lives took on a cycle of work and children.
Darcy left for work each morning well before dawn and returned each evening exhausted but ever ready to help his wife with the household and family.
One day a change in fortune occurred to him.
He and the boat crew had a particularly difficult crossing as it had been raining and rain meant the rivers feeding into the lake they worked on was subject to new currents and eddies which often worked against them as they went about their work.
On this day a giant eddy developed in the middle of the lake and they found themselves caught up in it. It spun the boat out of control, and for a time it looked as though they might lose their boat if not their entire load.
Every crewman, Darcy included, worked feverishly to maintain control and in essence save themselves. It was a battle against the elements, and they eventually managed to get the boat under control and away from the perilous eddy.
Once calmed they could settle down and survey the damage. The load they were carrying had shifted, and the boat was somewhat lop-sided as it limped to shore, but thankfully no cargo had been lost.
On the shore, the owner of the cargo had watched the men valiantly working to save his merchandise. So impressed was he that upon the boat reaching the dock he produced a barrel of rum for the men to share.
Within an hour the boatmen had gone from exhausted boatmen to very jolly boatmen.
Darcy went home that night a little more the worse for wear than he might normally be. He told Dolores of his day and the adventure on-board the boat. Needless to say, she was well aware of his loosened tongue, and she quietly loved that aspect of her man.
Her jolly boatman fell asleep soon after his supper and Dolores watched as he slept and she fed the newest arrival, a bonny lassie they called Mabel.
In the morning before he left for work, Darcy would again be responsible for a new life being conceived.