Jim ‘The Houseboat Poet’ McDonald
Born May 20, 1954 at Fort Belvoir, VA.
I’m not trying to impress anyone or appeal to your sympathy. Some of you have had it better than me and some of you have had it worse. All of you have had it different. This is my life, it’s just different than yours, that’s all.
In 1955 dad and the army moved me and mom to France. I was one year old. Eight months later my brother, George, was born at Camp Busac, France. We stayed there for three years, before moving to Lanham, MD, where my sister Debbie was born in 1960 at Fort Meade, MD.
Dad wanted to get us out of the suburb, so in ’65 he moved us to Hughesville, MD. in Charles County. There we had a tobacco farm which we all hated, except Dad. Now I would give my eye tooth for that farm, if I still had my eye tooth.
Often dad would scare us with his drinking; we never knew what to expect.
I vowed I would never be like him. He would tell us to work hard, eat good, and play hard. At some point an acre of the 8 1/2 acres was made into a baseball field for me and George. We used to play ball while listening to the Washington Senators on the radio.
I hated that farm, so, after my junior year at Thomas Stone High School, I married a gorgeous girl named Mickey. She was my first in many ways. During the next three years we had Jamie in 1973 and Billy in 1975.
Dad died of cancer three months after Billy was born. I got so drunk and cried for days. I never knew how much I would need dad’s guidance, until years later.
I drank and drugged heavily then, so it wasn’t long before Mickey left all three of us. We saw her twice the next year, but haven’t seen her since. That must have been hard on Jamie and Billy; it was hard on me.
When Mickey left, my drinking and drugging became a normal part of my life. To the extent I found it difficult to care about much else, the road to becoming my dad was set in place.
I became a mess, not much good for anything. I was a terrible son, an uncaring brother, a bad husband and an irresponsible father. Trouble with the law followed me everywhere I was. In and out of courts, jails and relationships. Somehow the three of us managed to stayed together, with mom always near by.
Me and the boys moved to Norfolk, VA. in 1980 hoping for a geographical cure. Mom loved visiting the boys and I in the summer, when she wasn’t driving the school bus. It was there that I met Diane at a local bar and fell in lust. Our interests were similar, drinking, drugging and sex. My objectives in life were not very gallant.
She was a beautiful, full blooded Cherokee with long black hair, long legs and big breast. You can tell where my values were. In ’85 the three of us along with Diane moved to Waldorf, MD and Diane and I married after my brother, George, committed suicide. Sadly, Diane was not a very faithful wife, and left us the following year.
The next four years I lived to drink. That’s all I wanted to do. I couldn’t stop drinking. Then, in 1989, the last time I was in jail. I made a decision to turn my life around.
I started to go to church and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings during that nine months of jail time. These meetings changed me dramatically and I stopped drinking and drugging. During this time I also accepted Christ Jesus in my heart and as my personal Savior.
A year or so after I was released, on June 6th of 1990, God used me to start a prison ministry in Charles County Detention Center. I started volunteering at the same jail I had been incarcerated, and I continued my ministry for the next ten years.
I met my third wife, Debbie, in 1993. That marriage failed because I had not fully matured. She left in ’95 and remarried quickly after our divorce was final.
I had my own place when Mom developed cancer. During the next year her condition became progressively worse. Becoming moms caregiver allowed us to develop a stronger, unbreakable bond. She was so proud that I was able to take care of her. To me, caring for her was a blessing.
During Mom’s illness, she would tell me stories about the old days in Mountain City, Tennessee. We sorted through all the old black and white photos and she told me stories about them. I wish I written down those snippets of my family history as many of them are now lost forever.
She died in 1998, of lymphoma. That year sent me into a whirlwind of financial loss, from which it would take me years to recover. However, in retrospect, it was the best year of my life.
My history as both a both a father and husband, embarrasses and disgust me. Thankfully, while the wives are gone, my sons and I have always remained a close-knit family. I managed to get them off to adulthood and they now have families of their own. I am so very proud of them.
I bought a townhouse, trailer and then a house, before I got sick with COPD and couldn’t work anymore. That’s when I lost my house. Now I live on an old beat up houseboat and I’m very content. I recently became known as ‘Jim The House Boat Poet McDonald’.
I gave up the hammer and the carpentry trade of over forty years and went to college to learn how to write. Don’t know how much I learned and where it will lead, but as I continue to blog I will find out and so will you. I hope to continue growing and I have high hopes for the future.
I don’t drink, drug or smoke anymore and I’m loving life just the way it is. To be sure “God’s not finished with me yet.”
Updated April 8, 2017