By Ryan Clark
Dawn breaks on the river as the space heater hums in the corner
and the waves slap the boat’s sides like a drummer keeping time.
He steers, guiding, letting the rudders turn. His breath comes
out in steady, white puffs, and he smiles and talks of how
he loves this routine. Back and forth. Back and forth.
He says some think it’s boring but he wouldn’t have it
any other way. Meet Paul Anderson, your Captain, as he takes you
to the other side. His scruffy gray beard hides an easy smile, and his hazel eyes
look bright and alert beneath a ballcap pulled low. “I’ll never claim I’ve seen
it all,” he says. “But I’ve seen a few things.” And you believe him, because he looks
trustworthy. Seaworthy. Honest. The smell of diesel fills your skin,
your nose, your coat, as he tells you how it all began, back when he was
just 12, when his father the carpenter lost his job and ended his own life.
“I guess he was stressed,” Paul says, “but we never thought he would do that.”
He turns the silver arm tiller, which steers the boat between Cincinnati’s riverside
and the small communities littered about northern Kentucky. He tells you how his
mother had to take a job, back in the days when women didn’t work. She became
a mail carrier, and she helped the family survive until Mr. Kottmeyer came calling.
He’ll tell you how Old Man Kottmeyer owned the ferry, and offered Paul a job
as a deckhand – which Paul kept all throughout high school.
And he’ll tell you how that job kept calling him back, after college, after
building houses, he always came back home, to the ferry. And when the opportunity
arose like a great wave – he bought it. He tells you how Raleigh Colston sold
the ferry in 1817, how George Anderson sold it again in 1865, how the Kottmeyers
bought it, and in 1996 how Paul bought it from them. And he’ll tell you how it’s just one
of four working ferries left in Kentucky. As the cars line up on either side of the bank,
Paul warms his ungloved hands and drinks a coffee. He pulls out a Bible –
King James version – and flips to a page. “Every day we read from it,” he says.
Psalm 144. “Send thine hand from above . . . and deliver me out of great waters,”
he reads. Over the past hour, 45 cars are ferried over. It’s an all day job, daybreak to sunset.
Who else would want it? His girls are grown and gone, he says.
But his 16-year-old son – he has worked on the ferry.
“I’d like to see what he wants to do,” Paul says. “You never know. God’s been good
to me, supported me all my life, I’ll let Him decide.” He takes a sip of coffee.
“But I suppose my wife and I could sell the business.” He looks out over the water.
“That would be a hard thing to do.”