“The Lady with the Braid”

I was delighted when Mary Ann told me that my cousin, Helen, had invited us to join her family for a week’s stay at Journey’s End located on the Connecticut River in Southwestern New Hampshire. We had heard nice things about this collection of cabins, the cost was reasonable even for us and we had no other plans. We jumped at the chance and Helen contacted the owner, Margaret Riling, to introduce us. 

That Spring of 1971 was one to remember. Mary Ann was pregnant with our second child, Michael, who was born on April 30th. Two weeks later, I lost my job as a cargo surveyor. This blow, shocking as it was, didn’t blindside me. I saw it coming but I hadn’t prepared for the obvious until it happened. Business had been slow for some time but ignorance is bliss. 

The culprit was the advent of containerization. For generations, cargo arrived at ports like New York on wooden pallets that were unloaded and stored on piers until delivery. Containerization changed that forever. By 1971 the number of surveys our firm conducted throughout the port of New York was halved from those we conducted in 1969. My boss, Don Lamont, gave me two week’s pay and agreed to pay me for two additional weeks if I didn’t find another job. 

My top priority was to find a cash and carry job to put money in our pockets while I sought a change in careers. I found an opening as a claims adjuster for Boyd, Weir and Sewell who represented a German steamship company, Meyer Lines. I interviewed with the claims manager, Henry Meehan, who was being swamped by a backlog of claims. My background fit but first, I had to meet with the principal of the firm, Mister Strauss. Strauss sat me down in his office but ignored my resume. He removed a yellow legal pad from a desk draw and began to ask me questions without looking up, jotting down my answers on the pad. When he finished, he put down his pen, looked me in the eye and asked, “Do you have a drinking problem?” 

I told him that I did not, and I was hired. Of course, I had no vacation days so, as our scheduled week at Journey’s End grew near, I confessed my dilemma to my boss, Henry Meehan. Henry was nice enough to give me off the Monday of the weekend we were to arrive and the next Friday when I would return to bring my family home. Henry’s offer exceeded anything I could have expected. I decided that I would clear up as much of their claims backlog as I could in my hopefully short time at the firm. 

Meanwhile, I had already begun my search for a real position. I applied to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey for a position in their ports and airports division, the newly minted Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) and Marsh & McLennan as a hull insurance broker. The first two never panned out but I did secure a position at Marsh where I began the last week in August.

The time came for our Journey’s End vacation. Mary Ann and I headed north in our Dodge Dart with Beth, then twenty-months old, Michael, an infant of two months and our four-year-old mutt, Woffie. The ride was not without drama. Mary Ann made an exciting discovery as we headed out of Springfield, Mass when she realized Michael’s first tooth had popped through his gum. Not to be outdone, Beth put her hand in her mouth causing self-induced choking followed by vomit. Once things calmed down and we cleaned Beth, she announced that she could be sick again by saying, “Uh-oh, more schokin.” Fortunately, it was only a scare. 

We settled into Cabin No. 4, the Oriole, and I joined Don for a booze run to the Vermont and New Hampshire state package stores to get the best price. 

The weekend went by in a flash. Mary Ann’s mother, Dorothy arrived on Monday together with her grandmother, Kate to help with Beth and Michael in my absence. I reluctantly hit the road home Monday at mid-afternoon after their arrival.

Then, a strange thing happened just after I left my family and headed across the Connecticut River into Vermont and the southbound entrance to Interstate 91. The local AM radio station began playing a song I had never heard before. Its lyrics matched my mood just as I was about to begin my southbound journey: 

Would you care to stay till sunrise?

 It’s completely your decision,

it’s just that going home is such a ride.

Going home is such a ride,

going home is such a ride,

isn’t going home such a low and lonely ride?

I didn’t know the song was Dory Previn’s “The Lady with the Braid” that had just been released. It would haunt me for years to come until I finally re-discovered it on one of MS Previn’s albums.

My ride was uneventful except for the number of young semi-hippie hitchhikers who had taken to the road in that “summer of love.”

The following Friday, I left Middle Village at four in the morning and arrived a little after eight with a box of fresh Dunkin Doughnuts giving me a full last day before we headed home on Saturday. 

That Saturday was brutally hot, our Dodge Dart was without A/C and I still remember that long, hot ride through an oven called Connecticut. The only folks noticeably more miserable than us were motor cyclist in their leathers. Any breeze they found felt like a blow torch. 

Then and there I vowed our next car would have A/C.

(This piece was first published in 2018. With the title: “Journey’s End 1971.”)