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Lower Mississippi River Dispatch

Vol 9 No. 6e, June 14, 2013

The Mark River Blog

Ode to my Father

In April this year, my father Earl Peoples Jr., celebrated his eightieth birthday. Unable to be in his presence at the time, this is what I would have said about him.

My father introduced me to the Mississippi River when I was four years old. My mother Iveara Peoples worked the night shift at a local retailer, so my father used these chances of babysitting to enjoy his favorite hobby, fishing.

At the time, we lived in a small town outside of East St. Louis called Brooklyn, where my father worked at the Mallinckrodt Chemical Company along the Mississippi River and as a part time police officer for the town. He was also the star player on the towns semi-pro baseball team, the Brooklyn Robins. We eventually moved to the other side of the River, where we could get a better eduction and participate in organized sports, preferably, football. My dad took me to my first football game, at Riverview Gardens High School, where my oldest brother Earl Peoples 111 ran the opening kickoff back for a touchdown. It was the first time I'd witnessed people of different cultures interacting and celebrating together. I was hooked.

When I was growing up, the one thing that stood out about my dad was his work ethic. During the week, my siblings and I always came home to my father working in the yard, improving our home, or we would go across the bridge to grandma's and work around their home. We also managed the landscaping at the church, Prospect Hill Baptist Church. We built the first kitchen at the church.

Even though not educated through college, he could draw up a plan for construction of anything. He had an engineer’s mind and if could dream it, he could build it.

I recall the time I was a high schooler when we dug a hole in the backyard five feet deep, with shovels, and made a fountain full of fish we caught in the Mississippi River. We had carp, buffalo, and bass in this backyard oasis. Over the years we let the small pond take care of itself and it flourished. You should have seen the size of the fish when we decided to fill it in due to safety concerns of the neighborhood kids who would sneak in to get a peek of the backyard fishery. Another story involved us digging a huge hole in the basement foundation, in the heart of winter, in order to build a fireplace, which is still functioning today. I remember the time when I was in college, when instead of giving me the summer off, we put a new roof on our house, with just hammers and nails. I stopped coming home for summers after that.

Another characteristic about my father was his bravery. Back when I was young we would fish well into the night along the River. There would be local river rats and hobos up and down the River looking for handouts and opportunities to take advantage of fisherman. My father always preached, "you never go to the River without protection." Whenever these circumstances came up, my father would have a short conversation and we would never see them again. Everyone knows that when the sun goes down, the River gets really dark. My brother, William, and I would stay really close to him in the pitch black night. We would stay there all night and leave in just enough time to get a little sleep before school. He never let anyone take advantage of our family. There's a story in my neighborhood where my father challenged a gang trying to take over our street and they never came back.

The other thing that stands out about my dad is his youthful appearance. He always looked young for his age. His energy for everyday life is contagious and had a profound effect on me as I meandered my way through my path. He still chops wood and maintains various rental properties.

I used to hate to come home after football, basketball, and track practice knowing my father would put me to work. I have always been his chief laborer. So today as I look at my accomplishments, I could not have achieved my goals in sports, life, and my stewardship to the River without the characteristics that my Father installed in me at an early age.

Thanks to all the Fathers that have made a difference in their kids life. Happy Father's Day. Mark River.

-Mark “River” Peoples

Mark River is a river guide and youth teacher with Quapaw Canoe Company and is also the 1 Mississippi Southern Region Intern representing the Lower Mississippi River Foundation.

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The Lower Mississippi River Dispatch is brought to you by the Lower Mississippi River Foundation. The LMRF is committed to creating better recreational access, understanding and appreciation of the free-flowing Lower Mississippi River.