Marilyn Bailey Remembers the Ava
Marilyn Bailey McKeown was 10 when her daddy Joe Bailey bought the Ava from Texaco. McKeown now lives in Australia and keeps up on her hometown news by reading The Record’s Web site each week. She read the recent story and was moved to share her memories of the time that her family owned the yacht.
“My dad went to the auction at Texaco to buy some kitchen equipment for the restaurant that he and mom were going to open at Joe Bailey’s Fish Camp,” she writes.
“Momma and daddy liked to tease me and they told me that they had bought a little boat at the auction.
“I was standing outside with mom, waiting for the boat to arrive. I looked around the bend and saw the Ava coming around the bend near the area of the Cow Bayou Bridge. The boat kept coming and coming and coming. My 10-year-old imagination started to function and I began to imagine myself moving onto the boat and going to far off lands and having great adventures.”
The yacht was docked between the bridge and the fish camp. That was McKeown’s favorite swimming area. “I hated swimming around it, I was afraid that an alligator would come up from the bottom and snatch me away,” she writes.
The Ava needed work. Friends and family volunteered to do the improvements to her. Viola Tillery made drapes and bedspreads. June and Vernon Pepper, A.J. or O.J. Porterfield, Clifton Delahoussaye and some other friends scrubbed, sanded, painted and polished all that needed attention. Even McKeown’s friends that visited were put to work. Bettye Guidry, a friend of McKeowns and a former Orangefield resident wrote several years ago that she remembered all the sanding and varnishing that had to be done. “It was never ending,” wrote Guidry. “Polished wooden floors were everywhere.”
Inside the boat was magic to the 10-year-old. Inside the lounge and dining areas was half-wall paneling. The dining room had mirrors, lots of wood and windows. There was a piano, a large table, a bar and comfortable chairs. The Ava was lavishly furnished.
“The galley was one of my favorite areas because it had a dumbwaiter. I had never seen one before. It was linked to the dining room above with a bell at each end to let someone know that the food was ready. The dumbwaiter was a great thing to play with. We would pass secrete messages,” McKeown writes.
The engine room contained two nearly new diesel engines. There was a telegraph in the pilothouse and the engine room to send orders about the engine speed and direction. “You could move the handles and it would go ‘Ding, ding, Ding’ in the engine room. I was not allowed to go into the engine room when the yacht was moving unless an adult was with me,” McKeown recalls.
Turning the Ava around was a challenge for the captain. It took a delicate ballet of going forward and backward and not hitting the bridge pylons. Finally the Ava would be turned and headed down the bayou towards the Intracoastal Waterway.
“I only remember going on one overnight trip,” McKeown remembers. “I can’t remember where we went, but I do remember watching the shoreline and the flocks of birds taking off and an occasional tugboat, barge or ship.
“My friend and I played canasta and listened to a singer belting out songs and playing the piano. We ate shrimp and hamburgers and played with out Barbie dolls on the top deck.
“Eventually we went to sleep in one of the rooms that had eight bunks. The vibrations of the motors and the melodies lulled us into a deep sleep.”
After the Ava sat idle for a few years, the family sold her. She was taken to Mississippi, dry-docked and used as a restaurant.
The little girl has grown up, matured and moved a half-world away from her years on Cow Bayou and her Bridge City home. Her years on the Ava are decades past. The memories are still so vivid that the smell of diesel fuel can place her back in the engine room. The smell of a sea breeze reminds her of the times she was aboard, watching the sea grass move with the waves. And in those times, the lady becomes a little girl again.