In 1983, Rosemary Egan was a nimble 32 year old brunette who worked the rigging (or the galley) as a crewmember of a 282 foot Windjammer sailing vessel that plied the aqua waters of the Bahamian outer banks. This was not just any sailing vessel, but a real barkantine, a three-masted ship, square-rigged on the foremast and fore-and-aft-rigged on the other masts. Up to 30 guests paid for the privilege of waking up in cabins to the sound of sea birds, feasting on lobster, hammocking in the rigging, cannonballing into the ocean and participating in the sailing.
When not hoisting a jib, Rosemary could be found singing and dancing in off-off-Broadway productions. Show tunes were a specialty of hers. And if not sailing, singing, or dancing, she had a steady part-time gig as a Medical Assistant. It’s good to have multiple options.
You could say that she fit a certain profile.
One day after completing a cruise, she was waiting in line to check her luggage at Nassau International Airport for a return flight to Newark, New Jersey. Born in New York City, she had moved with her folks to Plainview, New Jersey as a youngster during the exodus out of the city proper in the 1960s and 1970s. Please see my posts “THE END OF AN ERA” and “WELCOME TO NEW JERSEY.”
As she struggled to move her luggage towards the check-in, a handsome stranger who resembled Jack Lord of Hawaii 5-O stepped in to help. He was awfully chatty and his eyes lit up when he learned that she was part of the crew for Windjammer cruises. He lifted her bag onto the check-in scale with utmost care and she watched her bag carted away into oblivion as it was promptly lost by the airline for days. It was an omen of things to come.
Her handy helper was a resident of a New Jersey township called Weehawken named Bernard Olcott. Back in her day job in the Doctor’s Office, her new BFF rang her constantly. Come to dinner with me, he pleaded! When she finally acceded, he drove 45 minutes down to Plainview to pick her up and took her back to Weehawken to dine on the Binghamton, a kitschy faux paddleboat moored off Lincoln Harbor offering panoramic views of the city skyline to the east.
When he learned that she could sing and dance to Nelson Eddy and Jeannette MacDonald, Dad wigged out. In a good way. Whenever he started a verse of ‘Indian Summer,’ Rosemary could finish it every time!
After dessert, even though it was only 7:15 PM, he offered to drive her back to Plainview. “I gotta go to bed every night by 8 PM,” he explained. They sang all those show tunes together on the ride down.
Hence commenced another of Dad’s whirlwind romances. He hounded Rosemary at the Doctor’s Office with his newest pick-up lines, “We’d be perfect together,” and “I’ll show you the world.” He wasn’t half wrong – sailing and show tunes are a rare combo in a 32 year old woman. At the time, however, I was wary of Dad making another excursion into marriage; dude was divorced already four times! I wanted him to be happy of course. It’s just that he was definitely better at dating rather than marriage. I mean what’s the rush?
“If I were a woman, I wouldn’t marry you,” I told him one afternoon. He seemed really hurt by the remark. I was just being candid. (Most of my friends agree I would make an extraordinarily ugly and unmarriageable woman).
Although Dad was ultimately divorced five times in his life, I was thankfully present for only two of them. Pat Terry’s was before my time. She went on to get divorced five times herself! I was well protected against the second one with my Mom, Michele Rousseau. I was the tender age of four at the time, but nevertheless did not fail to notice the stunning change of venue from 86th and Fifth to West Lucerne Circle and South Orange Avenue (a few blocks north of the recent tragedy at the Pulse Night Club). The third divorce with Graciela Levi Castillo, after some initial “disagreements,” was strictly a long distance affair, even from Dad’s point of view. All the same, I did get to see the bite mark on his arm.
The fourth divorce, with Gloria Lundberg, was my first to endure in full awareness. It was a dreary affair. I felt very sympathetic to Gloria. As recounted in my post “SOMETHING ABOUT DAD,” I witnessed some of the strange behavior she told me about, the things I had refused to believe at first blush. When legal papers were filed around 1981, Gloria asked me to testify on her behalf, which put me in the most awkward place imaginable. I had never, even since, ever felt so conflicted. I owed Dad everything, least of which was my loyalty. To Gloria, however, I owed the truth.
In a gesture of Realpolitik, I told her I couldn’t testify against my own father. Instead, I assured Gloria that I would lobby Dad on her behalf as a trusted adviser within the family. Still, I was left feeling hollow.
Not that Dad ever asked me for my opinion. He only ever addressed the subject of his fourth divorce once, at its onset. He picked me up in his car in Manhattan to join him driving to Shinnecock Hills one evening and told me the parable of the Persian carpet weaver.
“Sometimes,” he said, “the weaver makes a mistake. Some are discovered early and can easily be undone. Others are only discovered after thousands of knots. The wise weaver will work the mistake into the overall design rather than waste time needlessly.”
He then told me he was getting divorced from Gloria and that his marriage was only a simple flaw in the overall design. He would work around it. I was floored that he addressed it with me. We drove out in silence.
Back to Rosemary, who had a decision to make. At some point, she felt maybe she could see the world as a stewardess. “No!” Dad said, “Marry me!!” One last thing, she demanded. “I’m a Buddhist,” she said. “If you want to marry me, you have to convert.”
I kid you not, Dad became a Buddhist and married Rosemary at the Soka Gakki Temple in Flushing, Queens on June 7, 1985. “Nam Myoho Renge Kyo” they chanted in a ceremony with bells and drums before 25 astonished invited guests. The atmosphere was surreal and distinctly “other worldly.”
In the USA, land of the free, home of the brave, you have the right to marry whom you want. None of your friends, children, parents, brothers, business partners, inventors, sailors, ex-wives, religious advisers, police officers, or anyone, for that matter, has the right to deter you from pursuing happiness.
And, no matter how divergent your background is, or isn’t, you could even make it a Buddhist wedding! Nam Myoho Renge Kyo! Don’t get me wrong — I greatly admire all religions; the teaching of the Buddha resonates with me. There’s nothing like the serenity of a temple in Japan or China.
I just wish that Dad took this more seriously.