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 just 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 town’s semi-pro baseball team, the Brooklyn Robins.
We eventually moved to the other side of the River, where we could get a better education and participate in organized sports, preferably, football. My dad took me to my first football game where my oldest brother Earl 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, one thing that stood out about my dad was his work ethic. My siblings and I always saw my father working in the yard, improving our home, and we would go across the bridge to work on my grandma’s house too. We also managed the landscaping at our church, Prospect Hill Baptist, and built its first kitchen.
Even though my dad was not educated through college, he could draw up a plan for construction of anything. He had an amazing engineer’s mind and if could dream it, he could build it.
I was a high schooler when we dug a hole in the backyard five feet deep 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. Concerned for the safety of the neighborhood kids who would sneak in to get a peek of the backyard fishery, we decided to fill in the pond. You should have seen the size of the fish when we decided to fill it! We dug another huge hole, this time in the basement foundation in the heart of winter, in order to build a fireplace, which I am proud to say is still functioning today. I remember the time when I was in college, and 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. There is a story in my neighborhood of my legendary father challenging a gang trying to take over our street; they never came back. Back when I was young we would fish well into the night along the River. When the sun goes down, the River gets really dark. 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,
“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. My brother, William, and I would stay really close to him in the pitch black night. We were happy to 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.
The other thing that stands out about my dad is his youthful appearance. He has 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 life. 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 my Father installed in me at an early age.
Thanks to all the Fathers that make a difference in their kid’s life.
Happy Father’s Day.
-Mark “River” Peoples
Mark River is a guide and teacher with Quapaw Canoe Company and is also the 1 Mississippi Southern Region Intern representing the Lower Mississippi River Foundation. Please go to www.bigmuddyisland.org for the Mark River Blog with photos, maps, videos, and other depictions of the Big River!