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Sailing

by John Malone

One winter, when I was about thirteen or fourteen, my father and my uncle Clancy Horton decided to build racing dinghies up in the loft in my grandfathers barn in Moon Township, Pennsylvania. They each bought a pre-cut, ready-to-assemble kit from Douglass and McLeod, the designers and builders of the hot new one-design Thistle Class sailing dinghy. Clancy was a naval architect and boat builder from Massachusetts who had started building boats when he was a teenager, so Papa and I counted on him to guide us through the process.

Like a lot of do-it-yourself projects, building a Thistle from a kit turned out to be a lot harder than it looked when we started. Also, working winter weekends in that unheated barn was no picnic. Then, in the spring when we were finished and ready to take the boats out and load them on trailers, Clancy accidentally dropped a heavy block and tackle on Papa and almost killed him. Narrowly missing his head, the block struck a glancing blow on the back of his neck. Clancy then had the effrontery to shout down from the loft, Hey, Jack, are you all right? The next time, dont forget to duck! Papa went around for weeks wearing one of those stiff collars around his neck. That was the worst thing that happened that winter, but it was only the first in a long series of adventures and misadventures involving me, my family and our sailboat.

But first, let me tell you about my Papa and Uncle Clancy. They were both married to younger daughters of Kirtland C. Gardner, the Vice President (later President and then Chairman) of United Engineering and Foundry Company, a conglomerate that built and operated steel mills and foundries all over the world. Granddaddy Gardners aristocratic father owned the first steam yacht on the Great Lakes and was a three-term mayor of Cleveland and, for a short while, a business partner of John D, Rockefeller. Papa and Clancy came from much more modest backgrounds. My other grandfather, Walter Malone was a self-made business man who started out as an office boy after graduating from high school and became a partner in an industrial supply warehouse in downtown Pittsburgh. Clancys father was a wholesale butcher, as was his grandfather.

When Papa and Clancy married the two younger Gardner girls, Isabel and Louise, Granddaddy gave each daughter a piece of his country estate as a wedding gift. He wanted to keep them nearby, and he succeeded. Papa and Clancy each built houses on the western side of Springbank, Granny and Granddaddys big house where we all gathered each Sunday for dinner after church. Both of them felt overshadowed by the Gardner side of the family. Papa answered the door one day to receive a package delivery for my mother from Joseph Horne Co., a Pittsburgh department store. The delivery man smiled at Papa and greeted him, Package for your wife, Mr. Gardner!

Given their common predicament as Gardners-in-law, it was no surprise that Papa and Clancy would become buddies, in spite of a ten-year age difference. They shared a lot of interests and talents that their two Gardner brothers-in-law didnt. They both loved to build model ships and airplanes, were fond of European cultures and languages and got pleasantly drunk on the weekends. Both had gone to sea as engine room cadets during their youth. Papa loved the sea and always envied Clancys superior boating skills and knowledge. Try as he might, though, he was never able to get the knack of sailing small boats, something at which Clancy excelled and seemed to possess in his very blood and bone. Papa never stopped trying, though.

It was only natural, therefore, when Clancy decided to buy a kit and build a Thistle in the Gardners barn, that Papa would follow suit and buy one too. He offered to help Clancy build his boat if Clancy would help us build ours. I say ours because I was recruited at a very early stage to be the gopher for the project. I was delighted to be included, because in those days I gravitated strongly toward Clancy and my aunt Louise, a.k.a. Weezie. Before the boat-building project got underway, I used to hang out at their house on weekends, helping them listen to their collection of 78 rpm records and eating sandwiches. Clancy and Weezie would snuggle on their living room couch, drinking beer, kissing and petting while the music played. They didnt seem to mind having a curious adolescent nephew as their audience.

I thought it quite remarkable that grownups would carry on like that. Papa and Mama never did. I remember sometimes hearing strange muffled sounds through their locked bedroom door on weekends, and once, while exploring my fathers toiletries in his dressing room, coming across a box of his condoms. (I had no idea what they were at the time!) But the idea of the two of them spending a weekend afternoon petting on the living room couch was unimaginable. Not that Mama wouldnt have liked it. She was a very touchy-feely type, always grabbing me and my sisters and trying to hug and kiss us. When she had a few drinks, she would try to grab Papa too, but he never seemed to reciprocate, at least not when I was around. I think it made Mama sad and frustrated that Papa didnt like her public displays of affection.

Page Two of Sailing, Part One>>

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