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Sailing, Part Two

by John Malone

(Part One)

After a couple of seasons of racing on little Pymatuning Reservoir, we decided to take our act on the road and enter some big regattas. Our first venture was the annual Inter-Lake Yachting Association regatta at Put-In-Bay, Ohio, just a mile or so from Granddaddy Gardners Ballast Island. This was a huge event, attracting hundreds of sailboats of all sizes and types from the entire Great Lakes region. Clancy, Papa and I decided to pool out talent and enter just one of the boats, the Weezie, named after my Aunt Louise. Clancy was the skipper, and Papa and I were the crew.

We found that the old adage about the small fish in a big pond held true. Winning races had seemed so easy at our little sailing club on the reservoir, but racing against the best boats and crews from all over the Great Lakes was another kettle of fish altogether, to mix metaphors! To make matters worse, the wind dropped and left us drifting. With three people on board, we couldnt keep up with the other Thistles, most of which carried only two. In the end, we withdrew from the race and were towed ignominiously back to Ballast Island behind a motorboat!

There was one more attempt at big time racing the following winter. We trailered the Weezie down to, Florida, to the annual St. Petersburg Yacht Club regatta, another big league sailing event. The only thing I remember about that trip was the awful sunburn I got the first day, which kept me from participating the rest of the weekend. I developed a high fever and had to stay in bed in a room in the Vinoy Park Hotel. The view from my hotel room window looked across a courtyard at a row of windows in the staff sleeping quarters, and I was able to forget the pain of my sunburn temporarily while watching some of the waitresses changing their clothes across the way. My younger sister, who was always telling on me, came in and caught me in the act of Peeping Tom and ran to Papa and Mama, who made me stop.

The Vinoy Park was then one of the most famous resort hotels in America, favored by elderly, well-to-do people. Grandmother Malone (the one who never smiled) always boarded the train in Pittsburgh in January and went to the Vinoy Park for the winter. Then, after returning to Pittsburgh for a few months in the spring, she would board another train and head north to The Lookout in Ogunquit, Maine, for the summer. On these trips she would carry her special putter aboard the train with her in a long fitted leather case. She was a card shark at the Canasta tables by night and a demon on the putting green by day. When we visited her in Florida or in Maine, which we often did, she would brag about how much money she had won that season.

One summer, while we were visiting Grandmother and staying in a cottage on the grounds of The Lookout, who should move in to the cottage next door to us but Richard Nixon! It was the summer of 1952, as I recall, and Nixon had just been chosen by Ike as his running mate. He was not yet a household word, but I was impressed. I remember coming out of our cottage one morning just as Nixon was heading for the golf course. I said, Good morning, Senator Nixon. Hi, neighbor, he replied, smiling that lopsided smile of his and extending his hand, always the politician.

I was thrilled at meeting him. I had just turned seventeen. As a child of World War II, I worshiped Eisenhower, as did most Americans. Papa was a staunch Republican, and he encouraged me to take an active interest in presidential politics that year as part of my education. I had just completed my fifth form year at The Hill School, a boys prep school in the eastern part of the state near Philadelphia. We had moved from the Gardner Compound in Moon Township down to Edgeworth Borough, next to the village of Sewickley on the Ohio River the year before (the summer I turned sixteen and got my drivers license), and the Allegheny County Republican Committee were looking for a someone to represent Edgeworth.

Although I was still too young to vote in the election, they made me a member of the committee anyway. As an affluent, country club suburb of Pittsburgh, Edgeworth was solid Republican, so election campaigns there were purely perfunctory. Might as well let a seventeen-year-old kid serve on the committee since nobody else was interested. Anyway, my name appeared on the ballot for the party primary that year, and I was elected. The only benefit of being a county committeeman was getting a front-row seat at the big Eisenhower rally in Pittsburgh late that summer and hearing Ike being good on a mike in person.

In September, I packed my foot locker and suitcase and boarded the train in Pittsburgh to return to The Hill School to begin my sixth form (senior) year. The Korean War was still smoldering in a stalemate along the 38th Parallel. Truman had narrowly prevented McArthur from launching a nuclear attack on North Korea, but his approval rating fell to 22%, so he did not run for re-election. Shortly after arriving back at school, we learned that Adlai Stevenson, the patrician, intellectual Governor of Illinois, would be making a whistle stop in Pottstown, the small town which The Hill School overlooked from its promontory. Politicians still campaigned by making whistle stop speeches from the rear platforms of railway cars in those days.

Early on a crisp fall morning, the entire student body was herded like unruly sheep down to the Pottstown Depot by our teachers (were they all Democrats?) to hear and see the Democratic candidate for president, a graduate of The Choate School, Princeton and Harvard Law in other words, one of our kind and yet, for some reason we rotten little preppies could not then fully grasp, a Democrat! We were curious, to say the least. Well, that articulate speech of Stevensons made me a convert within five minutes. I loved it. His keen intelligence, sincerity and compassion resounded through every sentence as he stood bundled in a camel hair overcoat, his breath steaming in the cold, damp air on the little platform at the rear of his railway car. I thought of the rambling, bumbling speech Ike had given at the Pittsburgh rally I attended. There was no comparison. When I got back to my room, I wrote a letter to the Allegheny County Republican Committee and resigned. I have been a proud, liberal Democrat ever since.

Eleven years later, in July, 1963, my wife Christa and I returned to America with our baby daughter Susanna from London, England, where I had studied economics for two years to prepare for a job at the World Bank. Christa, a beautiful young German immigrant who had miraculously appeared like an angel one wonderful day across the street from my bachelor apartment in Pittsburgh, had given up a job offer as a stewardess on Pan Am to become my wife. Little Susanna had her first birthday, complete with a gooey chocolate cake and one candle, a few days after we arrived back at my parents house in Edgeworth, and we were expecting a second child in December.

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