The Coffin-Makers’ River

Mom at the boat launch.
Mom at the boat launch.
According to www.britannica.com, Tombigbee comes from the Choctaw Indian tribe word for “coffin makers.”

It sounds like the coffin makers were the tribal undertakers of their day. Their job was to clean the bones of their dead and lay them to rest in boxes.

I just found out this little tidbit of information, but if I had known this, I would have never dipped a toe into the Tombigbee River.

The Tombigbee River, a tributary of the Mobile River, runs through the county where I grew up in rural south Alabama. In fact the creek in our pasture runs off into the Tombigbee.

During the summers, it was the closest place to launch a boat. Being in the coastal plains area of the state, the shore had beautiful white sand bars where we liked to go to.

To get there, we traveled down the main road to Huckabee, turned off onto a county road, and finally turned onto a hard-packed dirt road to get to the boat launch. Oddly enough, the only local cotton field that I knew of at the time was along that dirt road.

It seemed like it would take forever for Dad to get the boat launched. We would sit in the boat, in the intense summer heat, while he and Mom backed the boat trailer into the muddy, brown water. Then it took a while for Dad to crank the thing.

Boat launching takes skill.
Boat launching takes skill.

Whir, whir, whir! He’d try again, working on getting the engine started. I watched as oil or gas swirled rainbow colors into the water. Note to self: I probably don’t want to eat fish from that river.

Mom wrote "old boat, new truck" on the back of this photograph.
Mom wrote “old boat, new truck” on the back of this photograph.

Then we would ride in our boat until our faces were blistered and clenched from squinting in the bright Alabama sunlight. We would find a sparkling, white sandbar and swim until exhausted. Then we would ride some more in the boat.

Ben and I learned to water ski in that river. We didn’t go often enough to get any good at it, but I really did love to water ski. I had to learn to let go of the nylon rope when I fell. There were times that I forgot, and I got pulled under the water. There were times that I fell, and it felt like I broke every single rib in my chest. Still, I couldn’t get enough of it.

One time, one of our towels flew out of the boat. We watched it sink slowly, too late to go turn the speed boat around and rescue it. That totally creeped me out that something that we owned was going down, down, down into the deep…never to be seen again.

We once met some divers who had to go down there for some reason or another. They said that they could hardly see anything but mud.

I’ve also heard big fish stories. Make that “giant” fish stories. There is no telling what all is down at the bottom of that river. And I went over it with skis! It gives me chills just to think of it. {Shiver} The coffin-maker’s river.

I found some vintage Tombigbee River pictures that were taken before I was born. I can’t tell from the picture whether Papa Findley was teaching Dad how to ski, or if Dad was teaching Papa, but doesn’t Mom look cute in her little 1960’s swim get-up?

Learning to ski.  Papa with son-in-law, Dad.
Learning to ski. Papa with son-in-law, Dad.

Go, Dad!
Go, Dad!

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