Random Recollections of Caliente Characters
She lived alone aboard her small trawler for many years, telling her stories and taking in the active dock life around her—in the nice weather months. In those other months, she stayed inside that musty thing and got paler. She was known to all as Libby. And she had a past. The part of the past that was more widely known was that she and her former husband, Doc, bought that old boat in Florida. They sailed the Florida coast line and somehow got the boat to Caliente Isle on its own bottom. It is not known who the crew was but when it got here, Doc was soon history. Nobody knew much about him, such as whether he was a real doctor, or just a guy who went by “Doc.” In any event, from the day she arrived Libby was a real fixture in our harbor.
On her arrival, it is remembered that that Libby was middle-aged. It was also noted that she didn’t go off to work like most people. Although seemingly without employment she must have had some source of income to pay for berthing. You could say that she didn’t go out much. Instead, she just hung out on that boat, never leaving the dock, swapping stories with the people that walked by and chose to engage.
One guy that walked by all the time was Charlie, who at the time was serving as Harbormaster with his wife Judy. Like Libby, Charlie had a past. Nobody knew exact details but Charlie was known to take a toke now and then. He was also known to carry a gun on his hip. He said it was for show, to let people who boated by know that there was a guy with a gun on that island. A lot of us thought that maybe Charlie needed the gun for self-defense from certain boats that cruised by.
In any event, Charlie and Libby were sole mates. They both had sea stories. And both were probably telling each other the truth because both were known to be pretty handy in the small boats kept in the harbor for just messing about in. Libby for sure had several very small dinghies, all probably left behind by owners moving on from our island club. One was an aluminum row boat which she occasionally kept on the levee side of the footbridge to be used by anyone, anytime to row across when one forgot their gate key. That boat got used a lot as people were always forgetting their gate key and risked a strong chewing out if they had to bother the Harbormaster to walk down from the apartment to let them in—the Harbormaster who occasionally carried a gun but in a non-threatening way, if that is possible.
Well, Charlie eventually moved on to wherever old Caliente Harbormasters moved on to, they all being of a different breed. Libby, however, couldn’t move on because sadly she had no means to move on with. Her boat hadn’t run in many years and her net worth was probably pretty much a boat that didn’t run. After Charlie left, she would just sit on the rail of the boat and talk to anyone who would wander by. She wasn’t pushy but it was clear that a short conversation with anyone would be more than welcome and it is important to say that many if not all walkers stopped to chat, however briefly.
This went on for a while. It was known that she would sometimes earn some money selling junk from near-by yard sales on Ebay. Several of us remembered when she just happened to tell one of our married guys who walked by that she “really needed a man.” This guy saw an opportunity to play a practical joke on a friend in the harbor, far from Libby’s boat, who was known to have an eye for the ladies. He told him that “the woman on that boat over there just propositioned me.” Now, this guy whose name will go unsaid became pretty interested in Libby, a person whom he had apparently never met. The joke was that this unnamed man had an attractive, accomplished and very nice wife and when he went over to check Libby out he returned plenty pronto. You could say that Libby, who had had a rough life had by this time, had years that showed.
At some point Libby decided to sell her non-functioning boat and buy something a bit larger but what she found had never had an engine at all and was rough all over. Nevertheless, it was something with large decks she could sit out on and likely catch a little more sun, important as winter was coming on. It turned out to be a salmon-colored homemade houseboat, with a nice upper outside area for lounging, but clearly on its last legs. She tied it up outside, out from under any roofing at all. Here she could both get some sun and still catch the eye of passers-by through the door separating the harbor walkway from her deck so as to seek out conversation, still often offered by our good people on that dock.
Well, that old hulk didn’t make it through its first winter at Caliente. First, the roof flew off and had to be replaced with tarps and other stuff at hand. Then it took on water and started to sink. Some emergency repairs were made but club members were getting increasingly worried about Libby as her small life seemed to be taking a large, bad turn.
The next thing we knew was that old hulk of a floating home was in the boatyard down by the Bethel Island Bridge getting some work done. People were happy, thinking that things were looking up. But regrettably, Libby was gone, you could say with no forwarding address. It was said later, and we all wanted to believe, that she might have moved to live with former CIYCers who had befriended her and were now in the Central Valley somewhere. We never heard from her again nor did the boatyard owner who was looking for a pay check. What club members got from all this though was a memory of a really nice woman who had plenty of stories to tell, one who had had a pretty rough life but who had unevenly made it into her sixties by her wits alone. Libby was missed and plenty of stories were told by all in the years since, many of them concluding that Libby was for sure a true Caliente Character.