It was early summer 1971. School was out. Time for my annual flight from Orlando to New York, uh, I mean New Jersey. I rode the plane up North like a nice person (as usual). Disembarked at the brand new terminal at Newark Airport. Ran into my Dad’s arms. We got into the car. Everything normal.
“How was your flight?” Dad asked as he tried to merge into the right lane, some angry driver honking furiously. I looked to my right to see a cobra-faced man spewing venom in the car next to me. Reflexively, I turned my gaze away, out the front. A flock of New Jersey state birds let loose and took to the skies.
“Great,” I lied. Seventh grade had been a tough year at Trinity Prep School, my new school that year. What exactly had been “great” was that it was summer vacation and it was over. On the last day of class, everybody had tossed their books to Hoe Brown, the class beast, who manually tore up each one into several strips of paper.
“How are things with you?” I asked.
He ignored my question and said, “I have something to tell you.” He looked at me for a moment. We had survived the merge okay and were headed northbound on the New Jersey Turnpike, toward the glistening swamps and after that Weehawken.
I looked at him expectantly.
“I got married!”
“Huh, what?!” I looked out the windows cross-eyed at the passing marshlands. I was oblivious of the dozens of the dead mobsters buried there, and they ignored me in return.
“I got married!” he repeated.
This would be wife no. 4. What the hell had I gotten into? I scratched my head and thought to myself, wait until my Mom hears about this!
A SPRING WEDDING
The whole affair went down as follows. Sometime in the winter, after the release of the blockbuster film “Love Story,” Dad had decided to get a pioneer woman to join him in Weehawken. Catting around in the city for this role had drawn a series of blanks. Either the lady in question did not want to come live across the river, or Dad couldn’t see her as a (semi) permanent companion. So he decided to go at it from a different route. He would go on a cruise and masquerade as an eligible bachelor. It really wasn’t a ruse, of course – in fact, he really was single. Just that it was the fourth time. Never mind the details.
In between ports of call in the Bahamas on the Love Boat, he spied a young beautiful blond woman by the pool. He swam over and smashed the ice on the pond with “would you like to use my swim mask?” Turns out her name was Gloria Hope Lundberg and she was on the cruise with her Mom and Dad, Adeline (known as Addie) and Sten. An invitation to join for dinner was exchanged and soon they were thick as thieves. The budding cruise romance got noticed and one night they were invited to join the captain’s table.
The Lundbergs were a Swedish-American family who arrived on our shores from Scandinavia earlier in the last century and settled in the simpatico Norwegian community in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. In 1964, the Verrazano Narrows Bridge was completed to bitter local opposition. It was around this time that Sten and Addie moved their family of eight (themselves, 2 children, and 4 cats) out of New York City to the leafier confines of Stony Brook on Long Island’s North Shore. It was a family that relished their Swedish heritage – Aquavit was offered at each meal, herring was the main course — even for breakfast and dessert — and glögg and stollen were freely doled out at Christmastime.
The newly completed Verrazano Narrows Bridge and Bay Ridge, Brooklyn in 1964.
Over the Meadowlands, we cruised northward on the Turnpike. Dad got serious for a moment. “Now, Gloria is 22 years old,” he said. I did the math in my head. She was 9 years older than me! In 1971, Dad was 53, a 31 year difference from his young bride. Wow! I thought.
“No messing around with your new stepmother!” he warned sternly. I choked on my eyeballs as I was appalled at the implication! At 13 years old, I knew less than nothing about women, dating, and whatever else came with the deal. OK, my Grandmother, after a couple of glasses of wine, had let it slip one night that “English men like to come from behind” (whatever that meant!). But this?! How could he accuse me, his faithful son, of any possible such inclination? How about if I meet her first and start off with polite conversation? Not go straight into hubba-hubba mode?
The point, of course, was that Gloria and I were not so far apart in age as the crows flies. In fact, Dad was closer in age to Gloria’s mother that he was to his new bride! I stared out the window awkwardly, bewildered by Dad’s proto-accusation, wishing I could disappear for the rest of the conversation.
After the cruise, a whirl-wind romance ensued, complete with marriage proposal, and, well, the marriage ceremony itself on a perfect spring day, the trees in full bloom at a church in Setauket. The fourth Mrs. Olcott was here! A done deal!
I swallowed hard. “Will I meet her now, like in 20 minutes, at the new house?” Dad had already told me over the winter that he had moved from 974 Boulevard East to new, larger quarters in Weehawken. On a street called Hamilton Avenue, where, Dad said, the famous duel had taken place 167 year earlier (not actually correct — the duel occurred below the cliffs, please see my post DUEL AND DEATH).
“No,” he said. She’ll be arriving on Tuesday (it was Saturday). Three days.
NEW HOUSE, NEW LIFE
When I got to the new house, 19 Hamilton Avenue, I found a large gold-brick triple decker. On walking in, I noticed the same musty, moldy odor that I had remembered from my Grandfather’s house in South Ozone Park, Queens. Behind the two heavy front doors was a dark wood entry hall illuminated faintly by small stained glass windows. The office had been relocated to the first floor and I said hello to Mr. Strothman and the team on Monday morning. Dad’s apartment was on the third floor with another tenant living sandwiched in between on the second floor. I noticed that Gloria’s clothes and things had already been moved into the closets.
Monday dragged on and it was our last night as Father and Son together as a stag night couple. We cooked up some ground beef molded as steaks, with Rice-A-Roni (the San Francisco treat!) on the side. I knew that on the next day, new chapters in Dad’s (and my) life were to be unfolded.
Tuesday afternoon, I stood at the window, looking down on Hamilton Avenue on an overcast day. Gloria pulled up in a new blue Cadillac. Dad went outside to greet her. As she stepped out of the car, they embraced and kissed. I could see from the way she moved that there was an easy and gentle way about her. I felt reassured. When they came inside and I heard them both mounting the staircase, I turned to face the door. The time had come to meet her.
Mr. and Mrs. Bernard Olcott, circa 1971.