Family overboard – almost

Posted on July 14, 2020 by Leave a comment

“Don’t pick up the baby. Whatever you do, don’t pick up the baby.”
My father-in-law’s voice boomed over the intercom from the flying bridge of his vessel, the Marnie II, as I sat frozen in fear in the salon below.

 The 32-foot-long boat tossed and turned in 10-foot seas as rain pounded down, thunder crashed loudly and lightning slashed brightly through the dark summer sky.

 Obeying his strict command, I sat upright on the couch. I prayed hard and gripped the side of the baby bed, where my infant daughter Wendy, just six-weeks-old, soundly slept, too young to realize the nightmare going on around her. 

  It was Father’s Day, 1970. We had spent the night before on board the Marnie II at an Atlantic City marina, traveling there with friends from Cape May, our home port, and giving Wendy her first taste of boating.  

  By mid-day, it was time to get underway. So, under clear skies, we headed out the inlet for the trip back home.  

  Then, out of nowhere, a vicious storm came up, setting the Marnie II on a course for disaster. 

  What to do? John and his Dad, both seasoned seamen, knew we had gone too far to turn back and decided to power the boat head-on through the storm. Hopefully, we’d make it back safely with everyone dry, alive and unscathed.  

  Battling massive waves, they worried the boat might broach. That happens in storms when heavy seas and high winds push the boat side-on into the waves, causing it to roll violently, side to side, and possibly capsize.

  God forbid that should happen with our baby on board. How would we keep her safe in the stormy sea until help arrived? 

  Thankfully, the worst didn’t happen. The boat didn’t broach, as John and Dad expertly maneuvered Marnie II into the hurling waves all the way to Cape May.   

   As we came through the inlet, the storm miraculously stopped; the rain ceased; the sun came out. Oblivious to the horrendous storm she’d slept through, little Wendy awoke from her nap, smiling sweetly and ready to nurse.

  But that dreadful day didn’t deter our love of boating. 

  Later that summer, we decorated Marnie II for the Festival of Lights boat parade at Stone Harbor Yacht Club and won first prize as we did each year. 

   And in September, we three — John, Wendy and I — joined his folks on a 10-day cruise in the Chesapeake Bay, enjoying calm seas, sunny days and star-lit nights aboard Marnie II, a seaworthy vessel for sure.

Nancye Tuttle, a semi-retired journalist, lives in Wells. Wendy grew up and now lives in Baltimore, where she works for the U.S. government. Neither go boating any longer

Bombing the Ridge

Posted on June 30, 2020 by 2 Comments

Life was slow in my hometown of Glen Ridge, a sliver of a North Jersey suburban community, three miles long and three blocks wide and tucked between brawny Bloomfield to the south and moneyed Montclair to the north.

 When I was growing up there in the ‘50s and early ‘60s, dads worked, moms stayed home, cooking, cleaning and doing the wash.  And kids kept busy being kids.

   I walked to and from Forest Avenue School every day with my friends. For fun, I rode my bike and skinned my knees, roller-skated and skinned my knees, played hopscotch and skinned my knees.    

   All that exercise made me hungry by dinnertime and ready to dig into Mom’s marvelous meatloaf or robust roast chicken, served at 6 o’clock on the dot, along with her strict orders — “Be home before dark.”

  In seventh grade, things changed. Childhood innocence dissolved when I left the safe confines of grammar school and entered the wild world of “teenage-hood” at the big, bad junior-senior high school in the center of town.

   I learned the facts of life pretty fast there just by watching upper class couples strolling hand-in-hand in the hallways between classes and stealing a passionate kiss or two before parting ways — for 40 minutes.

    I had countless crushes and smoked in the girls’ room. I slow danced and went to my share of make-out parties. I rode in cars with boys. 

 By 11th grade, I felt almost grown up. I knew all there was to know about dating, drive-ins and going steady. I was a brazen hussy, at least according to Mom who angrily called me that after she saw the blonde streak I had proudly peroxided in my hair. 

  By then, I’d kissed my share of boys and had worn Pete Clark’s ring around my neck for a while, a sure sign that we were a couple and madly in love — for a month or two.

  But one big rite of passage remained in my Happy Days world before I’d really be grown up. I had to get my driver’s license and I needed to Bomb the Ridge.

  Bombing the Ridge was a uniquely Glen Ridge term for the favored weekend sport of pressing your car’s gas pedal to the floor and taking off at 60, 70 or 80 miles an hour down Ridgewood Avenue, the borough’s wide, tree-lined main thoroughfare. 

  It resembled the Greased Lightning scene in the movie Grease. But we weren’t drag racing. Our goal was to see how fast we could make the car go at the start and then let it roll to a stop, a mile or so down Ridgewood Avenue, without ever stepping on the brake. 

   I had no souped-up jalopy with orange flames painted on its fenders when I Bombed the Ridge. Instead, I drove Dad’s oversized Dodge station wagon with a push button transmission, three plush, couch-like seats that accommodated nine comfortably and automatic windows that glided open and shut at the touch of a switch.

   The beige bomber beauty resembled an oversized creampuff, not some speed demon car that you could crank up to 70 miles per hour in a matter of seconds. 

  The night I tried to Bomb the Ridge, I crammed 10 or 12 girlfriends into Dad’s blimp of a car. The weight of all those bodies alone made reaching maximum speed difficult, if not impossible. 

   But we piled in, then I pressed my foot on the gas all the way to the floor. The old Dodge spit, sputtered and moved grudgingly along — at about 5 miles an hour.

   “Uh, wait,” whispered my friend Jean, seated beside me on the front seat. “Did you check the gas?”

  I looked at the gas gauge and knew what was wrong.

 You couldn’t Bomb the Ridge on an empty tank. So instead of ripping down Ridgewood Avenue at 70 going on 80 miles an hour, my friends hopped out of the car, and then huffing and puffing, pushed Dad’s Dodge and me all the way to the gas station two miles away.

My tin ear

Posted on June 30, 2020 by 1 Comment

“Nancye, just move your lips – and please, don’t sing.” 

Mr. Yaffa, the chorus director, pointed his conductor’s baton bluntly at me, as I stood on the sixth riser in the alto section of the 100-voice concert choir at Glen Ridge High School.

  His stern commandment made me feel about two inches tall and yearn to shrivel up and sink into the floor. I was only in the chorus to fill an empty space in the altos, he went on, and I wasn’t to sing one note in my monotone voice. That would ruin the upcoming concert. 

  The fact that I hadn’t inherited one iota of my family’s musical talents hit me head on with a resounding wallop once again.

  I grew up in a musically accomplished family, but I was born with a tin ear. My father played the violin and sang solos in his beautiful baritone voice in the church where I grew up. He followed in his father’s footsteps, since Grandpa had also sung solos in church years before Dad.

  My mother played piano by ear, and both of my sisters were excellent musicians, too. Lynne played piano, relishing her lessons and recitals. 

  Carole was blessed with a beautiful voice, so sweet and crystal clear that she and Dad performed as a duo when she was five or six in one of his lodge’s variety shows. Little Carole, her hair in curls, sat on Dad’s lap singing “Daddy dear, tell me, please. Is the world really round? Tell me where is the bluebird of happiness bound.” 

  Dad sang in response, “Little one, little one, yes, the world’s really round. And the bluebird you search for will surely be found.”

  Their performance was the hit of the show. They got a standing ovation and hearty round of bravos from the audience. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house after their duet.

  Me? I was proud of them, but actually more worried with keeping my stockings pulled up since Mom had given me permission to wear nylons for the first time that night.  But instead of a garter belt she’d given me a pair of her round, tight, elastic garters to hold the darn things up. Not an easy task for a 10-year-old on the cusp of adolescence, as the nylons crept down my legs and I kept hoisting them up, so they wouldn’t drop to my ankles. So embarrassing.

  I kept aspiring to be musical into my teens. I tried piano lessons with a nice young woman. But the notes looked like chicken scratch, and I couldn’t coordinate my hands to play the chords. Mother took a music class one summer and the kindly instructor agreed to listen to me sing. He said I wasn’t singing off-key. I just needed a little more confidence.

   Fine. So I joined the school chorus to sing in the alto section. But my confidence was instantly quashed when Mr. Yaffa harshly commanded me to just move my lips.

   I was more successful musically when the dancing started, and I did the jitter-bug, stroll and twist. Maybe I couldn’t carry a tune worth a damn, but I sure could bop to the beat and keep time to the music. And I did it on American Bandstand, not once but several times. Wow! That’s a memory for another time in another essay.

   In college, I found my voice, so to speak, when I discovered that I had a way with words. Even though I couldn’t sing them, I could write them and discovered my life’s calling. 

  I switched my major to English from elementary ed when I found out that the elementary majors had to learn to play piano in a music course. No “Twinkle, twinkle, little star” for me.  It was Shakespeare, British and American lit and journalism all the way.  I’ve never regretted my decision, and I’ve never looked back.

  These days, I write about music and musicians pretty regularly. Boston Pops conductor Keith Lockhart is a friend. I love listening to music from Beethoven, Bach and Brahms to the Beatles, Beach Boys and Bacharach.

   My sisters are still musical. They both sing in their church choirs. One even took lessons with a Metropolitan Opera soprano.

   But I still have more of a way with words than they do. Only I prefer writing them to singing them — unless I’m driving in the car by myself. Then I belt out the music with gusto, Mr. Yaffa be damned. 

Theater news

Posted on September 4, 2012 by Leave a comment

Enjoyed a lively chat today with actress Kathy St. George, a favorite of mine. She’ll be playing Roz in a production of 9 to 5 The Musical at North Shore Music Theater, opening later this month.
Also enjoyed reconnecting with nationally-known director Kate Whoriskey, a young woman who grew up in our neighborhood with my girls Wendy and Heather. Kate is directing a new play at the Huntington and is excited to be back in the old neighborhood, so to speak – Boston where she attended grad school at the ART.
Despite the name she’s made for herself, Kate remains refreshingly unaffected and thrilled to be doing what she’s doing.
Watch for interviews with both of these theatrical women in coming weeks in the Sun’s new whatdoUwannado section that launches next Thursday, Sept. 13.
Also check out the newly refurbished MRT that opens officially this Thursday with a dedication and ribbon cutting, then in previews for its 33rd season opener Homestead Crossing..can’t wait to enjoy those cushy new seats and the new lobby and box office…great theater for all in Lowell…
Stay tuned for more posts on my blog.
‘Til then, check out a show…..

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