High Heels Clacking on A Great Lakes Freighter’s Deck

It was in May or June of 1950, and the Great Lakes Sailor I had met the Sept. before was getting into a dock on the Rouge River aboard the old J.L Reiss.  We had dated during the winter because he was staying with his Aunt, a neighbor, and working at a wire shop while waiting for the boats to fit-out in the spring.  Now he had called to ask me to meet him at the dock about 25 miles away, and to tell me the Captain had invited us for dinner….in the ship’s dining room.

A Romantic Date At A Dock On The River Rouge

This was a BIG date!  So I dressed in my favorite skirt and blouse, with matching jacket and high-heeled shoes, and I was good to go. I was 16 years old, but my next birthday was coming up in July and he had already given me my present: a new ’51 Studebaker…the one with the bullet nose, so I headed for the Rouge River.  After finding the dock, he was there to meet me at the gate, show me where to park,  and then we walked down to the boat together.

Young Ladies Didn’t Often Climb Steamboat Ladders In The Year Of 1950

When I saw the high ladder I would have to climb, I knew I’d made a ghastly mistake and it was going to be a challenge to climb the ladder in a tight skirt and 3-inch heels!   But up I climbed,  and he was very close behind me…with good reason when you think about it, because there was a fellow standing at the bottom of the ladder holding it in place.

After we reached the deck he called out a couple of times, “Woman Aboard!”  I learned later it was to warn any of the guys who might be going from their rooms to the communal bathroom to take showers.

A Touch of Unexpected “Class” On A Working Ship

The Captain met us in the Galley and ushered us into the dining room,  and I was shocked!  I hadn’t expected to see the highly polished wood paneling, or the wall lights sparkling, or the white table cloth.  I can’t remember what we had for dinner, but it was delicious.  The Captain was very interesting to talk with, and I was so impressed by the entire experience.  I was even glad I’d worn my heels, although it was a whole new trick going back down the ladder with them on.    My Great Lakes Sailor was close behind me all the way down, though.  He was my hero then, and remained my hero over the next 53 years.   That was my first of many visits to the boat, at various docks.


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