Chapter 1 – Eastbound
“There comes a time in every rightly constructed boy’s life that he has a raging desire to go somewhere and dig for hidden treasure” – Mark Twain
One empty plastic milk jug on the kitchen table, a bottle of grape juice, pineapple juice, ginger ale, orange juice, five lemons and a fifth of Gin sitting on the counter. This is what would soon be mixed together in a flourish of activity that ended at rest in a Styrofoam iced chilled cooler.
Back in the late 60’s, my Uncle Ed’s “ Recipe”, also known as “Purple Passion” by some, is what the Judge liked to travel with on his way to “The Rivah”.
“Jimmy, Perry, are y’all ready to go?.…Come on! Get out here and get in the car!” My dad’s voice was rather pronounced and large. Booming may be a good way to describe it. The voice of authority. Both a mental health judge and an attorney, my dad had a way of making you listen to him with respect and dignity.
Anaheim Nathaniel Baugh, nickname, “Nate” also known as…The Judge. Son of Emanuel Dawson Baugh, also…a southern Judge, liked nothing better than to throw us boys in the car and haul ass down interstate 64 East to spend each weekend of our young lives on our boat in the York River.
Heading out of Charlottesville towards the Interstate, I was tucked away in the back seat with a bag of Cheetoes in one hand and a root beer in the other. I was one happy kid. Nothing brought me as much joy as going to the Rivah with Dad. On the way out we would pass this huge building with a big sign that said, “Belleview”. This is where I would sometimes visit my mother.
A 23 foot wooden Owens may not be considered a yacht by today’s standards, however to a six-year-old boy it was the only boat in the world! York River Yacht Haven in those days was a paradise for us kids. Along with a cast of characters that would make the “Rat Pack” look tame. Boats, Booze and Booty is what captains on the dock were all about.
“A” dock is where we kept our boat and that pier was the one with always the most action. There was also B dock, C dock, D dock E dock, and then there were also the covered boat sheds. It seemed like on Fridays and Saturdays the entire marina swarmed to “A” dock and the crabs on those pilings were monsters!
At the end of “A” dock was a tee pier that was only about 50 yards away from the inlet and beach. Us kids would get a running start and jump off the pier and swim to the nearby beach. There waiting was always a bunch of our buddies in tin boats and Boston Whalers. Jay Jack, Bruce, Duck, and Skipper all had Whalers with 50 horsepower’s and were the biggest outboards available at that time. These kids ruled Sarah’s Creek. Those guys with the Whalers were the coolest kids on the water.
Starting around age, five my life was lived in sullen suburbia during the week, and weekends at a crab catcher’s paradise the York River and Sara’s Creek. That is about all I did once Dad pulled into the parking lot on Fridays at the Marina was to swim and catch Crabs. We had plenty of buddies our age to hang around with, running down the docks screaming, “Look at the size of this one!”
Meanwhile the Judge and his buddies were sipping on what was left of their tasty toddies and cooking up grilled mammoth steaks above the plank wood docks. Fresh Backfin Chesapeake Bay blue crab meat, thick steak and salad, is usually all we ate on the weekends. It was a wonderful cheerful exciting life and one I desperately did not want to go away.
My brother and I made a good team on our little tin boat. We had painted the hull red and the boat leaked like a sieve. I had taken one of the Judge’s empty milk jug containers and cut it in half to use as a bailer. We did not have anything fancy like bilge pumps in those days. I would yell,
“Hey Perry! Lets jump in the boat! You grab the tiller killer and I will start bailing!” Off we went. Venturing off in our leaky red tin boat with our monstrous 1966, 9.5 outboard, having more fun than a barrel of monkeys.
My brother and I always kept straw grass in the boat. Back in the day, those engines’ “pissers”, or cooling system were always getting clogged. We would use a strand to keep the exhaust lines free of debris and also stuffed the straw in the leaky rivets of the tin hull.
As a child, one Christmas in Charlottesville, my brother Perry and I had opened all our presents under the tree and were happy as two clams and a stick of butter, when my dad asked, “Did yall boys look outside the window?”
Pulling back the shades in our little brick ranch, there was a colossal, gorgeous, gleaming green Glastron 16-foot ski boat! I ran outside in amazement and simply just could not believe my eyes, never forgetting the first thing I asked my dad.
“Dad love it, but…where is the engine?”
The Judge said, “Oh don’t worry, that little 9.5 will push it until we get a bigger one”.
Dad was quite the horse trader. He had legally represented someone who couldn’t pay his fee, but did own a used 50 horsepower outboard. So after putting around slowly with that 9.5 for a month or so, we finally got the 50 installed and began to run up and down the river like a Mexican border patrol. After our weekends at the marina I hated the fact that we would have to go back to school on Mondays.
I did a lot of growing up on the docks of Sara’s Creek.
It was on “A” dock, the first pier by the parking lot where I received my first passionate kiss. This is something that a young boy never forgets. I guess back then cougars were around like they are today because this 15 year-old blond hottie was in the sprit of things and decided to lay one on me at the t-pier.
I will never forget that I thought it was the most disgusting awful thing that had ever happened to me and was not even sure what it was. Bewildered is really how I felt. After she left and walked back to her boat I figured it was her tongue that had made that racket. My buddy Jay Jack ran up to me and said,
“Did she kiss you? WOW! COOL, MAN!
I answered, “I don’t really know what it was”.
Later I realized it was my first kiss. I just thought I better stick to catching crabs for a while because this was a little over my head. It’s obvious, that eventually I grew to later change my mind, of course, but at that time all I wanted was to catch fish, swim, go crabbing, eat pizza, play on boats, and see what “The Crew” was up to.
This turned out to be a large part of my lifetime goal.
Growing up on “The Rivah” on the weekends was always an event. Not a traditional lifestyle by any stretch of the means. The Judge and his boat cronies were always into practical jokes. I remember when our local mechanic Fred Farris grabbed his tow truck and we all followed him to our buddy Manny Cheeter’s place on route 14. Manny was a real character that was in the masonry buiz and lived with his wife in a trailer on the property. Fred pulled up to their trailer with his tow truck lights flashing and all of our vehicles behind him. Fred knocked on the trailer door and Manny’s wife answered. Fred asked confidently,
“Can Manny come out and play?”
Mrs. Cheeter said, “NO! You drunks take your cars and get the hell outa here and leave my Manny alone!
Fred pointed a finger at his tow truck and voiced loudly,
“If you don’t let him out…. I am gonna hook your trailer up and tow your ass outa here. NOW! Let Manny out to play!”
The door slammed. What happened next?
Well Fred Farris did start to hook up his tow truck to Manny’s trailer. It was all a joke and in fun. Sure enough it was only a minute before Manny came out and we all went over to Manny’s boat, the Judge and the boys were ready to party now. The trailer was left alone unscathed and still attached to its pluming. The smoke coming out of Mrs. Cheeter’s head must have smelt awful.
Funny things can happen on the water. When we got back to the marina Manny was excited about showing all of us what new device he recently installed on his rather nice boat. After the Judge and the boys brought all their hooch on board, Manny preceded to tell us about the brand new electric toilet that just came out and had never been used. It had a macerator grinder in the base of the head, which would chew up just about anything. Manny was so excited he stood by the boat bar and mixed a tall drink, when all of the sudden, we all heard this…..
BRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRWWWWWWWWAAAAAAA. BBBBBRRRRRRWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWAAAA. Then some sort of swirling sounds.
The door to the head opened up in front of us there stood my Uncle Ed, the greatest partier of them all! The smell of what was killed, sacrificed, or whatever it was in the head was unreal. We all gagged. Manny screamed,
“What the hell are you doin!”
Uncle Ed said, “Manny I love your new toilet but…… do you have a plunger?”
Manny in a VERY loud voice said, “You shit in my brand new toilet before I even got to sit on it… AND you have already plugged it up? Damn YOU!”
Uncle Ed then walked over and mixed a drink and we all started laughing hysterically. To this day it was the worst smell I have ever smelled on a boat. Including forgotten dead fish.
My Uncle Ed was one heck of a character and besides my dad was my favorite person on earth. Yes, Ed was the life of every party and everyone including myself could not wait until he walked into a room, stepped on a boat, or just caught him walking on the dock.
Uncle Ed was very funny, a big partier, and also my dad’s best friend and legal associate. Ed was also a juvenile Judge in Charlottesville. They worked hard during the week providing the best they could for their families, and then partied like rock stars on the weekends, but with boats instead of buses.
Not all of the crew at the marina was married. Some of the guys were single like Ricky Johnson. Rick was good friends with the Judge, Uncle Ed, Toddy Grog, Johnny Major, Manny, Percy Parker, Travis Tully, and Doc Ravage, otherwise known as…….
The Crew was made up of all professional men who worked hard Monday through Friday and opened the release valve on the weekends. At the Marina you would never know who was going to be there at any time and there were always new people showing up.
Ricky was a little younger than the rest of the boys in the Crew and had a slew of women on his boat non-stop. I could not imagine how this guy could get so many women and so easily. It just seemed like magic. It was only later in years until I understood how he did it.
When I was a teenager I asked my dad about it. He explained to me their secret. Remember the Judge and “The Crew” may have been the weekend warriors when it came to having fun but they were also highly intelligent gifted lawyers, doctors, and judges that got to where they were because they were smart, talented and determined.
They were also keen enough to know there is more than one way to skin a cat.
So when it came time that some of the boys wanted some female companionship for the weekend, they did not go out on dates, hang out in bars, or go to class reunions to see who is still single. Now remember this is way back in the day before internet dating sites. This was a time back before computers, before cell phones, and color TV’s were only just coming on the market. It was the late 60’s.
These guys were too smart for their own good. What they would do is put an ad in the newspaper for women who like to spend some time on boats, and then hold interviews at the office on Wednesdays for the upcoming weekend. Hey, what can I say… It worked big time. Ricky and the few other boys that were single never were without women for the weekends.
I remember back, running swiftly up and down the docks on a Friday when I saw one woman check into Percy’s boat. Then when I was catching crabs off his pilings on Saturday the woman had changed. It was someone else. Then on Sunday when he was leaving the marina, he was again, with a different lady. The boys had figured out the newspaper trick and used it successfully and regularly for years.
Percy was what I called, “The Sinatra” of the group. Percy looked a bit like Frank Sinatra and acted a lot like him. Blue-eyed, very suave, debonair, funny, very intelligent, retired with money and the ladies just loved him to death. Some 40 years later, Percy would pass away quietly in his sleep and yes, with a lovely lady by his side and a smile on his face.
Being just a little kid in the 60’s, none of the womanizing at the marina mattered much to me. I was too young to appreciate what dating was all about anyway. If it was not a boat, a crab, foosball table or a pizza, I was not that interested.
For some reason I just understood the humor of it all and mostly really appreciated how much fun everyone seemed to be having at the docks. It was very contagious and joyous. We kids glorified aluminum boats, outboard motors, fishing, clamming, crabbing, and were having more fun than James Bond at a Playboy rally.
For me being a young boy I had it all. But it was all at the marina. We had an awesome swimming pool, a breakfast restaurant, a separate restaurant for dinner and a nightclub with live music all on the water! There was even a ship’s store, and of course hundreds of boats that also had many parents with kids that were all looking for something to do. Well, we did it all and it mostly consisted of running around in Boston Whalers and tin boats with screaming two stroke outboards that barely left a wake. My brother and I were always motoring off in our little boats to find our own treasures and adventures on the York River.
I would find later in life that the treasure I was always in search for was my youth.
Being a huge music fan I loved going into the marina’s nightclub on the weekends with my dad. Back then as long as you were with your parent, it was okay to be in the nightclub. Heck we river rats used to even sit at the bar and drink bitter Shirley Temples until they would run out of Cherry Juice.
The funny thing is I thought this lifestyle was normal. Growing up on the water with all the amenities and good healthy fun things to do for us kids was just something that everyone did. The thought of living a boring, dull, stay at home lifestyle scared me to death! My biggest fear is that one-day it all would be gone.
No more marina, no more dock life, no more river rat buddies, nothing. The more the Judge talked about building a house on the Rappahannock River the more I feared my dock life would soon vanish. It was scary. Just thinking that Dad would move the boat somewhere else or even worse, build a house and not be at any marina would really make me disturbed and depressed. I was just a kid and what ever would happen was not much I could do about it anyway. I just learned to glorify and relish every day I had on the docks, and I did it in abundance.
When the fog rolls in off the river the true test of a thick fog is whether or not you can see your hand in front of your face. That is a thick fog. I saw such a fog for myself once when the Judge helped a friend move his boat from the upper Bay down to the York River on what would be a rather scary overnight trip.
I was too young to go on this excursion with my dad. He did not want me going on a break-in overnight cruise at my age so I stayed back on the dock with some of the kids and moms. My dad’s party was to arrive somewhere around 8pm, which turned into 9 pm, 10, 11, 12, and then 1 in the morning. I was so scared and totally distraught. The feeling overwhelmed me that the Judge was lost at sea, drowned on a sunken vessel sitting on the bottom of the Chesapeake Bay. I could not stop crying. I felt like a total wimp and was mostly worried that I would never see my favorite person again, my father.
We’d called the coast guard to start a search. There was no radio contact with the boat at all. Things were not looking good. The next day morning came and still no Dad. At this time things started to get quite scary for everybody and the marina was going nuts. Just the thought of the Judge, Uncle Ed and two others succumbing to the waters of the Chesapeake had everyone in an emotional turmoil… Especially me.
The fog was not lifting, which made things worse for everyone. Keep in mind in that time there was no GPS, Loran, Radar, or Epirb’s, and most of the boats rarely had life rafts back then, only life jackets. VHF radios were fixed and there were not even hand helds.
I was at the point where hope was diminishing and truly felt that I had lost my father.
Within the hour the fog parted at the inlet and there was just one boat. It was dad and “The Crew”. Slowly, very slowly inching their way back to the marina. Once we got them secured to the dock the Judge was a little surprised at how worried everyone was. Well, they were like a day late and not even the Coast Guard could find them. Dad sat us down, mixed a cocktail and began to tell us the story, which to this day I am not sure I believe.
The Judge started explaining, “Well we sort of …… in the fog…… in the boat…….ran over a house. We knocked off one of the shafts and one prop and had to crawl our way back in the fog”.
I said, “How do you run over a house in your boat Dad?”
Never did I get a real good answer except there were ruins of some house in some part of the Chesapeake Bay, and they ran over it. Looking back on it the incident probably was a good thing. The lost prop and shaft in turn made them cruise at near idle speed, which made for a safer running speed in what was the thickest fog I have ever seen in my life.
So what we thought was the worst thing possible actually ended up to be a blessing. This is a lesson I would continue to learn throughout my life. The Judge never talked much about that trip afterwards. I think he felt bad he had made so many people so worried. Things happen on the water, it is just a part of boating. This would not be the first or last scare I would have throughout my lifetime of living around the water.
Once the fog lifted that day everyone was in pretty good spirits, meaning the crew had the liquid sprits running by mid-day, the pool was open, and steaks were once again beginning to burn on “A” dock.
Life is good again.
The Judge did not have an exclusive on running aground in the Bay or anywhere else. My brother Perry and I were pretty fearless when it came to running our outboards. Perry really got into racing the boats and creeking where no ten year old has gone before.
The definition of creeking is maneuvering your boat in such shallow water until usually, you run aground. Perry and I got to be experts at this and with a 9.9 tiller motor on the tin boat, we could just go about anywhere—Except FINLEY!
Finley was a “Danger” area located at the back of Sara’s Creek. The danger was not in running aground but getting shot by some red neck waterman. My dad warned me that if we went back there and motored too close to a dock, we could get shot. I was raised with stories about people who ventured back into Finley and never ventured back out. Evidently, some of the stories had been true. Finley is not a place you want to be stranded in either by car or boat. These are people who are mostly old time watermen whose families date back to the days this country was settled…and I think they still live in the same house!
Finley is a place that always reminded me of that scene in Deliverance, you know….the pig. Nuff said.
Fortunately the Judge and “The Crew” knew some folks back in Finley and sort of had clearance, however not us kids. We were to stay far away from the back of Sara’s creek, and we did.
……………………As far as anyone knows.
The marina was the center of our universe and at the center was the swimming pool, and by the swimming pool was the largest most beautiful distinct Magnolia Tree one will ever see. This tree was a monument to the marina and cars would circle around and around the parking lot just to see this tree.
On Sunday mornings the local minister would come to the marina and hold church service right under the Magnolia before giving his first service down the street. This to me was awesome and certainly was my idea of going to church. He would bring a few folks from the choir and start the “Magnolia” service right under the tree with some of the most beautiful hymns you ever heard.
As the choir sang, people would be coming out of their boats in robes, shorts, and even just underwear sometimes. Usually half the people had bloody marys or screwdrivers in hand singing merrily along with the choir. Voices would sing high and low…
“When we’ve been here ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun. We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise, Than when we’ve first begun”.
The parking lot would soon be overfilled with people while the minister gave his elated sermon under the Magnolia Tree. Some of us were so inspired that we even went to his church service afterwards. Even as a young boy this made a huge impression on me.
I thought this is how the Lord would have done it. Go to the people who need it the most and preach in nature without any regard to status, denominations, race, or outside influence. Just give the message in the way the Lord wants it to be given. Even some 40 years later my memories of those Sunday services under the old Magnolia tree are some of the most memorable in my lifetime. This would be the beginning of my life long faith. Faith that would eventually pull me out of some rather difficult times.
Fishing trips were always a highlight and the filets cooked back at the dock were what I lived for. I enjoyed catching fish but I loved cooking them and eating them more. My early love for cooking was mostly due to hanging out with my Uncle Ed.
Ed LOVED to cook stuff up on the dock or his galley, or at his home. I learned some interesting recipes from my uncle like fresh “Buzzard Meat Surprise”. Ed would put me in charge of trying to make bluefish cakes which I did, and he was going to fix the meat. Ed’s definition of “buzzard meat” was any meat that was on super sale, or sometimes given away, at the end of the meat counter. He never really knew what it was so he affectionately called it,
On this day Ed had Johnny Major helped him with his dish, buzzard meat and gravy in a pot roast bag. They put this meat in a plastic bag with a bunch of vegetables and made a gravy bath. After about an hour and many a cocktail, Ed checked the Buzzard roast only to find the bag had melted all over the meat and it smelled and tasted AWFUL!!
But I had an idea. I had made these bluefish cakes that were really good, then I put the gravy from the buzzard meat onto the bluefish cakes and VOILA! Perfection! Best darn thing we ever tasted. The buzzard meat was so bad no one could eat it. So on the way out to the trash we threw it out in the woods and left it for the buzzards. It did become yummy buzzard meat after all.
As a young boy cooking on the docks with the fresh fish and blue crabs we caught was something that would stick with me for a lifetime. When “The Crew” cooked steaks there was never any such thing as purchasing a packaged steak like you would today.
All steaks were immense, cut fresh locally from the butcher and usually around two inches thick. Since the butcher liked to party with the crew, often times he would just meet us all at the dock with stacks of white butcher paper filled with the thickest juiciest steaks you ever saw. The food was usually so good, we did not go out much except for one thing………..PIZZA!
My love for pizza is not only because I worshiped the pie, it is also probably somewhat psychological. The memories of getting in the car leaving the marina to go to Mimi’s Pizza and Phoosball Palace stick in my mind like glue. Order up! “The Crew” would order several pies while us kids tore into the phoosball tables. At such a young age I had a real knack for the phoose. I would beat everybody back home and was considered one of the best young players in Charlottesville. However playing in Gloucester meant that us kids at the pizza joint would be playing the kids from, you guessed it…. FINLEY!
These rednecks were the BEST players I ever saw. You could not even see the spin, their hands were so fast it was all just a blur. Whenever I played those guys all I heard was PING PING PING PING!!!!
I was not bothered by it more like in awe. I mostly wondered if those guys not having any teeth had anything to do with them being such great phooseball players. After getting my butt kicked by the local Guinea kids it was time for the saucy pizza chow served up by Mimi herself.
Nick’s was another popular place that “The Crew would venture to. Nick’s Seafood in Yorktown was a place the Judge would go to by boat, tie up at the Warf Restaurant, and go have dinner. You have never had lobster until you have had it from Nick’s. Actually back in the late sixties Nicks was known all over the United States as one of the legendary restaurants on the east coast. Everyone knew about it. Elegant stone Greek statues everywhere, fountains, and décor of the mid 50’s is what set the scene. Food was awesome, but gone now.
Like my early childhood things were starting to move on, fade, and soon vanish. This was my biggest fear. I did not want to let go of the lifestyle I was accustomed to and loved as a young boy running around the docks catching crabs.
The dock life.
Sometimes a good fishing trip could cure anyone’s blues, and that is what it was time for. Uncle Ed had this great idea to take his boat down to Virginia Beach at Rudee Inlet and fish for our favorite, bluefish. The Judge, Ed, Johnny, myself and about three others all ventured out into what was one of the roughest seas we have ever been in. Water was coming over the fly bridge and none of us could see anything.
What we did see was 18-pound bluefish being steadily pulled in over the stern of Ed’s sport fisherman. We just nailed these fish and since we loved to eat them we kept them all. When it was all said and done we had around 700 pounds of bluefish in the boat. It was time to head in. Unfortunately the swells at the inlet were way too high to be able to just run in. These waves were eight to ten feet tall, a very serious sea condition that made even the locals wait it out to ride the right wave.
Uncle Ed was anxiously impatient and just decided to run through the swells but the waves were faster than the boat. I was a little kid looking off the back of the stern straight to the sky and all I could see was this 10 foot wave getting ready to combat and engulf us. It did. As the wave came under the boat it turned the 36-foot sport fisherman on it’s side exposing both shafts and props clean out of the water spinning with resonating screeching sounds of cavitation. The engines roared as the RPM increased with propulsion that was waterless. The boat was taking on water instantly and bluefish were swimming in the vee berth. The port prop fortunately got a brief bite of the sea and the boat started to roll over to the port side, filled with water and swamped.
Captain Ed rapidly spun the boat around and headed back to sea. The first wave threw the bow up so high a lot of the water in the boat went through and over the stern, along with everything else. Once stable, about 500 yards off the inlet, and a lot of water pumped out, Uncle Ed tried it again. This time, again, he did not wait for the right wave and just plunged forward. Mistake!
Now I was on the fly bridge with my lifejacket on and was ready to swim to shore. I felt comfortable with this plan, because there were not a lot of other options. The next gigantic wave approached the stern, turning the boat on it’s side again, pushing the sport fisherman toward the rock jetties. I said,
“Dad, no problem…. I am swimming the rest of the way!”
I prepared to just step in the water, because it was sinking on its side and the water was parallel to the fly bridge. I’d rather swim than stay, on a sinking boat with the bluefish.
The Judge grabbed me with his arm, pulled me to the center of the fly bridge and instructed me to not move. I sort of thought this was a BAD idea, but he was my dad, so I listened.
Just before we were to hit the rocks on the jetty, one of the props bit the water, causing the boat to right itself again. Now, Ed was not going to head back to sea, we were full force pointing this swamped boat to the bottom of the inlet and praying the pumps would catch up before we sank.
Those Sundays by the Magnolia tree must have paid off, because by the grace of God we made it to the dock.
Even after we were tied up for quite some time, the pumps were still running. I was in a state of shock. Someone had called the ambulance when they saw the boat broached in the inlet and paramedics were waiting for us at the fish cleaning station. They checked all of us out and everyone was accounted for.
I sure wish the hell they had Xanex back then.
I asked to be able to go clean the bluefish to help calm me down. I was allowed to, after all we did have 700 pounds of fish to clean. It was two hours later, when Uncle Ed came over with a big cocktail in hand. He asked me how was I doing and I told him that I have not been able to feel my knees since I got off the boat. I was so scared and stunned, I could not really feel anything around my legs, and it was cold, very cold.
Uncle Ed looked at me and said,
“Let me see your filet knife, Jimmy”.
He then started going through the trash bags of bluefish heads from my fish cleaning. He said,
“Look, take the knife and go right behind the cheek, cut back and down to the eyeball and you will have a bluefish cheek Filet. Deeeeelicious!”
I thought, “WOW, that was pretty cool Uncle Ed!”
So I started cleaning the rest of the bluefish and also cutting out the cheek meat. This was Ed’s way of helping me get my mind off what had happened and to calm down. It worked.
Remember, “The Crew” could drink alcohol after all this happened, my youth did not allow me the privilege. There was some damage to the boat, and it had to remain at the dock for a while so we called a friend to take us back to Yorktown. I was not ready for another boat ride, anyway.
Back at the Marina in Gloucester, the first thing I did was to go to the bathroom. It had been a wild trip and I drank enough coke on the way back to fill Dad’s empty gallon milk jug purple passion container. I went off by myself to the restroom and did not realize until this day that I suffered from claustrophobia.
The marina had changed locks on the bathroom door and I did not have the code. I was able to open the door just fine, but when it closed it was like solitary confinement.
After taking a 5-minute leak, the door would not open. Claustrophobia can be a strange thing. All of the sudden, everything started to feel smaller and very confined. In a matter of minutes, I felt like I was inside a small box that was starting to crush my head in.
I panicked. I was screaming for help, however, there was no one around to listen. I was praying that there must be SOMEONE else in this world besides me, that surely has to open this door and use the bathroom!
But no, the door would not be opened for any reason.
Like a flash I realized that the metal ashtray would make for a perfect propelling object to bust through the window near the ceiling in the bathroom. It worked.
A million pieces of glass shattered everywhere and then I started screaming at the top of my lungs. The dock master flew into the bathroom with a look on his face like I will never forget. He was panicked as well. I am sure he thought someone was being murdered or something, because I was screaming at the top of my voice. I sprinted out of the door then stood still. I could breathe now.
My dad was standing there with one hell of a puzzled look on his face. My tears were gone and I was fine, like nothing had happened at all. The second I was outside, everything was perfect. All the Judge said was,
“Sorry, Dock Master”.
Everyone at the marina was always in a party mode. In the morning, it was bloody marys, mid day was beer and purple passion, afternoon and evenings was scotch, vodka, or bourbon. This was the late 60’s and boaters just flat out partied all the time, at least the boaters I knew.
Looking back at my early childhood it is easy to see now why people would use the weekend on their boats as a huge release.
I mean really, back then, time and distance traveled in a car or boat was measured by a six-pack, a case, or a gallon jug. This was before “MADD” and none of the crew ever got a DUI or had any accidents.
To this day I am not sure why, but the guys never got in any real trouble. At worst one of “The Crew” would get drunk and fall down on someone’s boat. That’s about it. All of the good times on the weekends, all of the practical jokes, all the drinking, crab catching, fish catching, motor boating, womanizing, all of it was a fantastic time. It was reality, but a reality that would only last a couple of days a week.
There was a reason everyone tried to have such a good time. Because what was back home in Charlottesville, was nothing to smile about. It was always that way. Never really knew what to expect when I was at home.
The screams could be heard emanating out of our small brink rancher on Larribee Lane for at least three blocks. What, at one time, would be considered possession of an evil entity, now is usually called severe mental illness. The windows would rattle and actually vibrate, when my mother would bellow the most horrendous, deafening screech known on this earth.
The house filled with red lights flashing and people in medic uniforms were busting at the door. Four grown men trying to hold down my mother as she thrashed violently on the floor and then seemed to elevate in the air. The straps were not enough to hold her down. My ears were ringing from the noise of a resonant, operatic scream and the sounds of the squealing sirens from the ambulance.
The ambulatory stretcher seemed to fill the entire living room. She was not going easy. In Mom’s eyes, there were paratroopers that had dropped down from the ceiling and had guns pulled on her ready to fire. There was also a train on a track that was going through the house and we were all getting ready to be run over.
In a delusional mental paranoid schizophrenic state, she probably thought the medics trying to strap her in the stretcher were the army of paratroopers trying to get her. Thus, making the delusion a reality in her mind, and the harder the straps were pulled, the louder the screams.
A small crowed began to form outside the house. These were the inquisitive neighbors trying to see what was happening. I remember the red strobing lights going round and round on their faces with jaws dropped to the ground.
No one has heard a sound like my mother’s thundering screams. Mom was an opera singer, that was once offered a position with The Metropolitan Opera in New York City. She was that talented. Everyone around knew what a voice she had.
When she soloed in church, you could hear her voice from outside the building when she sang. Never have I heard such a voice, ever.
Once the medics had her ambulatory and the back doors of the ambulance were shut, I could still hear her voice screaming in full operatic horror, as I stood inside the house with the front door closed.
She was that loud. The red lights began to fade, as the ambulance sped off into the darkness. Left inside the house, were my brother Perry, my dad, and I. It would remain that way for quite a while.
Mom had gone into such a paranoid delusional state, that it took 13 shock treatments, once at the hospital, just to calm her down. Total hysteria and paranoia beyond comprehension.
The paratroopers had followed her to the hospital and stood guard in her room. That is what she saw, in her eyes.
My mother was diagnosed as a full throttle paranoid schizophrenic. She had been delusional to the point where she was burning down the kitchen, to try to kill the invaders dropping down from the ceiling. All she could see was walls covered in blood and she was franticly trying to escape the intruders.
Not exactly a safe place to raise young kids. This was my father’s dilemma. He had no choice, but to admit Mom and get her the best treatment she could get.
This all happened when I was very young and my mother started to have mental illness with the birth of my brother Perry. That is what started her imbalance. Then once I was born, well let’s just say that tipped the scales. Yes, my birth is what caused my mother to go totally mental. There was nothing I could do.
Sometimes, I guess things can go sour just by being born.
I never really knew my mom. Her mental illness started before I was born. All I knew was the crazy woman, who saw things burned down the kitchen, and screamed like a demon that drank holy water. It is very sad to have a mother that you never really have known.
All I knew is what my dad told me about her before she got sick. The Judge would sit me down and show me pictures of my mom when she was a bit younger. The most beautiful woman you ever saw with a voice that only God could have created. A real beauty with more talent than one person should ever be allowed to have. Dad spoke very highly of my mother and made us realize that it was not her fault she got sick.
It was no one’s fault.
My mother’s family, just about all of them, were unbelievably gifted and talented in music and the arts. While Mom was the opera singer, her brother was about the best bluegrass player in the state of Virginia. All of her sisters were very talented singers and musicians.
Talent just ran in their family. It was nothing for me to visit my mom and there were five guitars in the back room being, ripped to shreds by the fastest most talented fingers ever. When my ncle would play bluegrass his hands just looked like a blur. Even my brother could just look at a guitar, and it would start to play.
Although I never really knew my mother before she got sick, I owe a lot to her. Whatever creative and musical talent I possess, I got from my mother’s side of the family. It shows too, I started playing piano and organ when I was around eight years old and have not stopped since. I later degreed in music at 24 years old.
There is something very surreal about a mental institution. When I was a young kid, visiting Mom at the crazy ward, was about the strangest thing I ever encountered. I actually lived “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”. No kidding, most everybody at the institution was zombied out, some of the strangest, creepy people I ever saw.
My mother was not really too coherent, when she was in the institution. She was drugged up pretty good. The mental health industry has come a long way, since then and a lot of people live normal lives, with the current medications that are available today. However, in the sixties, there was not a lot more than shock treatments and a few meds that did sort of zombiefy the patient.
This was my life. Going to elementary school, visiting Mom at the mental institution, and catching crabs on the weekends. Little did I know, that soon my time at home in Charlottesville, would be even getting worse.
My dad was in a hard situation. His wife was confined to a mental ward, he had a law practice that he was building and required a lot of his time, and he had two kids that were coming home from school everyday, at three o clock. This meant, that he would have to find sitters to cover us boys, until he got home from work.
I don’t know how many people we went through. At one point, it felt like one a week. It was not like we were bad kids or anything, we just hated these old ladies that dad found to watch us. It was horrible. They smelled too. All I wanted, was a mother that was not crazy and to get these old ladies out of my house.
Simple, right? No… I didn’t get my wish.
I really only had one parent. My dad was both mother and father and he did the best he could and was the best dad a son could have. Unfortunately, he could not do it all, something had to give. The judge knew that there would have to be some sort of replacement “Mother” that could help with the kids. Time had passed and my dad divorced. He had to.
My brother and I would continue to visit Mom in the institutions, which I hated. I never wanted to go. My mother was always out of it and the entire situation just gave me the total creeps. This is why I never really enjoyed visiting my mother, just all of it was too weird for me and I was just a young kid anyway.
As the many years would soon pass my mother would continue to be in and out of institutions. However, with the advancement in new medications, she eventually did better and got a job at the power company. She retired some 20 years later. As she aged her mental illness worsened and she also had a stroke. She is permanently in a medical retirement home and is watched closely. She is being well taken care of.
My mother was a strong willed person, with great talent who overcame her illness enough to lead a productive life. I may not have ever known my mom before she got sick, however there is no way I could have been more proud of her.
The thing is, as bad as it is when you’re a kid, to have to watch your mother in a straight jacket, being hauled off to the mental ward. There are things worse, as I would soon find out.
-The Judge got remarried. Now the hell really starts.