By Norbert Rug
Some of my fondest memories from childhood are of the times my family and I would go sailing on my father’s boat. He had a Lightning Class sailboat named Claire. It was a 19-foot centerboard sloop that was originally designed as an affordable family day-sailor and racing boat. You would drop the centerboard, which was a large steel plate, once you left port. This would stabilize the boat and help to keep it from tipping over.
Claire could also be used as a racing boat with a crew of three. It had an additional sail called a spinnaker for racing. The spinnaker replaced the jib sail and was a large parachute-like sail.
You would set the sails and steer using a tiller in a combination with moving the main sail and the jib sail. When my father yelled, “coming about!” it meant we were changing direction and the boom was going to move – most likely in your direction.
This was one piece of wood you didn’t want to see coming your way. If you didn’t get knocked overboard, you would at the very least end up with a decent-size bump on your head.
We were moored at a dock at a small private marina located at the foot of LaSalle Park in Buffalo. I think it was called the Motor Boat Club of Buffalo. I considered this name rather ironic.
The landscape has changed dramatically in the following years, but I believe it was where the Outer Harbor marina is today. We would sail out to the breakwall, where my father would tie up so we could go swimming. It wasn’t really swimming, per se, because my siblings and I would have life jackets on and were tied to a “line” so my parents could haul us in if needed.
We often sailed past the grain elevators and on to Lake Erie.
After a day of sailing, we might go to the clubhouse where I would have a basket of salty, hot french fries for dinner.
I remember the jukebox in the bar area – it was a Wurlitzer Bubbler Jukebox. My parents would give us quarters and we would feed it. We were able to play three songs for a quarter. There was also an upright piano, where I learned to play my first piece, “Chopsticks.”
If we didn’t go to the clubhouse, we would stop at Ted’s first hot dog stand at the foot of Massachusetts Avenue under the Peace Bridge.
On the way home, we would fall asleep in the back behind the rear seat of my father’s 1956 Ford Ranch Wagon. This was long before seat belt laws or even seat belts.
Dwight D. Eisenhower was president back then. I still like Ike. It was a time of optimism, with an improving economy.
Those were the days of “party lines” on your phone and black-and-white TV. We watched “Leave It to Beaver,” “Gunsmoke,” “Father Knows Best,” “I Love Lucy” and “The Honeymooners” with Jackie Gleason and Art Carney. And I never missed “The Mickey Mouse Club” due to a crush I had on Annette Funicello, whom I was sure I would marry when I grew up.
Those were carefree days and home was a safe haven. We had no need for a security system and if you locked your house at all, the key was in the milk chute.
You could walk or ride your bike alone to school, and your mom would be at home with a glass of cold milk and some homemade cookies when you returned.
I remember sharing the back seat of the family car with my siblings and watching a drive-in movie on a Friday night.
It’s a shame that children today don’t have the opportunity for the childhood I had.