Golding debuts ‘Life Between the Levees’
The men and women who navigate the rivers are a special breed.
Riverboat captains are away from home weeks at a time, and in a moment’s notice danger may arise while maneuvering through the “brown water.”
Despite these hardships, the allure of the river outweighs the obstacles, and in her latest book, “Life Between the Levees,” Vicksburg resident Melody Golding documents real life accounts of riverboat pilots, while also capturing dynamic images.
Thursday, from 5:30 to 7 p.m. at Lorelei Books, 1103 Washington St., Golding will hold a book signing. Also on hand for the event, will be several of the riverboat pilots highlighted in the book.
As the author of two previous books, “Katrina: Mississippi Women Remember” and “Panther Tract: Wild Boar Hunting in the Mississippi Delta,” which are both part of the Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of American History Archives, Golding said it had been because of her “unique” ties to the river that she had been allowed to go behind the scenes of a riverboat pilot.
“Today it is nearly impossible for a person, who is not connected to the river or authorized to be on the river, to be able to go out on a working vessel,” she said.
But Golding’s husband, Steve, is the owner of Golding Barge Line, a family-owned business in Vicksburg that dates back to 1965.
And unlike her earlier projects, Golding said “Life Between the Levees” has consumed a decade of her life.
“This project took me 10 years to complete, but it was easy to stay motivated because each and every story was so different and so important to river history,” she said.
During her interviews, Golding said she followed a basic line of questions that was asked of every pilot.
“But of course every story was unique,” she said.
While all of the stories are entertaining, Golding said, they also offer a cultural and historical account of the men and women who pilot the more than 10,000 miles of waterways in the United States.
From William V. Torner, who was born in 1915, to Max Taber, who was born in 1987, the book chronicles more than 70 years of riverboat piloting.
“The stories start with those who were ‘broke in’ by early steamboat pilots, who had piloted from the late 1800s,” she said, to the pilots who now use preset-day technology, which includes computers, radar and sonar.
In choosing the subjects of the book, Golding said, “I looked for diversity and flavor.”
She said many of the interviews took hours, with plenty of laughter and tears.
“I always carried a box of tissues,” Golding said.
There was also a wide range of equipment she took with her on the journeys, she said, which included cameras, audio equipment, power cords, batteries, battery back-ups, “and my writing pads, pens, and highlighters.”
In addition to all her gear, she was also required to wear a Coast Guard-approved and aregulation life jacket.
In gathering her stories from the riverboat pilots, Golding said, she traveled hundreds of miles on the river.
And through her travels, Golding described the project as rewarding.
‘“Life Between the Levees” has indeed had a positive impact on my life, in that I have made so many new friends, and sadly also lost so many friends who are in the book,” Golding said. “Their stories have enriched my life, and as I reflect on them, I am so humbled that these pilots trusted me to tell their stories.”