Category Archives: Marblehead

Usually a memoir

A Run-In with Henry Baay

Henry Baay's Little Harbor Boat Yard

Henry Baay’s Yacht Yard in Marblehead from a 1930s postcard. Photo courtesy of the Marblehead Historic Commission.

Henry Baay was not popular in Marblehead, Mass. when I was a kid in the 1940s. An immigrant from Holland, he owned two boat yards, one off Lee Street (where the apartments are now located) and one in Little Harbor. If he caught you playing around his boats or swimming off his docks, he’d chase you for several blocks and even further if you called him rude names

Chris Brown and I often cut through his Little Harbor boatyard on our way to Gashouse beach or to other boatyards. At age nine, we loved to play in the old boats or just watch yard operations. During workdays, we didn’t linger in Baay’s for fear of being caught by him. Other yard owners didn’t mind if you watched from a respectful and safe distance, but not Baay. He’d come after you. He looked like an old man, but he was very quick on his feet.

The derricks in his Little Harbor yard were anchored at the base near the corner of the largest boatshed. One Saturday, when no one seemed to be around, Chris and I untied the ropes hanging from the top of one of the derricks and began to swing the long high wooden boom back and forth. Baay, who had been working in his second floor office came out to see what was going on.

MV Henry Baay

Henry Baay at the helm in this Leslie Jones photo from the collections of the Boston Public Library. Jones worked for the Boston Herald Traveler from 1917-1956.

Chris escaped, but Baay, with white hair and an open shirt, grabbed me by the arm and dragged me upstairs to his office where he told me to sit by his desk. I was terrified. I knew how mean he was and had no idea what he might do to me. He asked my name and opened the telephone book. He got my father on the phone:

“Do you know that your son here placed himself in great danger by playing with the heavy derricks in my boatyard. If one of then fell he might have been killed,” he said in his harsh-sounding, crackly and accented voice.

Then he turned to me:

“Now go home and don’t let me see you playing such risky games again.”

The fear drained out of me, as I ran down the stairs and out of his yard.

Baay’s reaction to kids playing in his boatyard may have come from worries about liability in case a child was injured or killed. His unfenced facility with it derricks and open docks might be judged to be an attractive nuisance, and he might have to pay, or worse, lose his boatyard and boats, to say nothing of the anguish he would suffer. Why other boatyard owners facing the same risks didn’t react as he did was likely a result of their different personalities. Baay seemed disagreeable and harsh.

Henry Baay

Henry Baay at the helm in the Bahamas, from Boats, Boat Yards and Yachtsmen (Van Nostrand, New York, 1961)

Four years after my run-in with him in 1948, he sold the Little Harbor yard to a pleasant and friendly man named Dick Price who had no problems with kids in the boatyard. Baay converted the Lee Street yacht yard to a modern apartment development which he managed for maybe a decade more. Later he wrote a book about the problems of boatyards and yacht ownership, and retired to Florida. He acquired a yacht, the Trillium, which he sailed in the Bahamas during his last years. He died in Fort Lauderdale in 1975 at age 71, after battling cancer and heart disease.

For anyone who loves boats and the sea, Baay’s book Boats, Boatyards and Yachtsmen (Van Nostrand, New York, 1961) is a well-written and fascinating compendium of nautical expertise. He wrote before fiberglass had replaced wooden hulls on most recreational yachts, but his expertise on buying and selling boats of any kind holds today and must be respected.

When I arrived home in 1948, still shaking from my encounter with Baay, I expected my father to be angry, but he wasn’t. He wanted me to be careful, of course, but he pointed out that he had played in the railway yards in Salem when he was a boy my age, and had fallen off the top of a freight car.

The Story of Azor

How did the Azor books come to be?

The Story of Azor—How the people of Marblehead inspired Maude Crowley to publish five book about a boy growing up in a time long past. (Photo by Lynne Jastremski DeGrandpre)

How the Town of Marblehead and its people inspired my mother, Maude Crowley, to produce this treasured series that illuminates a child’s life in a time long past. I have the inside story and would be willing to produce a small book that reveals the author’s background and what it took to have the five books published by Oxford University Press. Plus, I have loads of press and radio interviews, high quality photos, and the original watercolor illustrations by Marblehead artist Ingrid Selmer-Larsen that were intended to go in the series.

“I just treasure them and it took me a long time to get not only mine, but my mother’s, as well, due to the book search and time,” writes Lynne Jastremski DeGrandpre who took this wonderful photo of the five books that my mother published between 1948 and 1960.

“I grew up in Marblehead in the ’70s. Your mom’s Azor series had a place of honor on my bookshelf, and I enjoyed walking the same streets as Azor and his friends. I now read the books to my girls, who enjoy recreating the same adventures when we go back to M’head each summer,” another Azor fan emailed me.

Dave in the summer of 1945

Dave at six at Grace Oliver’s Beach, Marblehead. (Photo by Therese Mitchell)

If you would like a book that gives the origin of the Azor stories and includes the unpublished artwork, I’ll go ahead with the project over the winter and spring. It’ll be available at reasonable cost in print and electronic form. Be sure to add your comments and suggestions to this post, Email me or check it out in the Azor of Marblehead group on Facebook.

Update on the Book

Dave's first Marblehead home.

3 Elm Street, Marblehead, in 1947, the year before the first Azor book came out.

Believe it or not, I’m still working on the memoir.  I started with a 210,699-word monster (merely 682 book pages – Who’d want to slog through that?) Now, with much paring and slicing I’m down to a 5th draft that weighs in at 71,743 words (a scant, almost digestible 232 paperback pages.)

And what happened to the 138,956 words I got rid of, you might well ask. Those words, with a little rearrangement, went into the 17 Reflection stories I’ve submitted to the Marblehead Reporter (11 published so far) and into the 29 blog posts I’ve put up here on my website. Talk about recycling!

What’s ahead? Well, for the memoir, its another round of polishing and then it’s off to a tough critic or two who know nothing about me and have never seen my writing.

For the blog I’ve got 5 or 6 new stories up my sleeve. Here’s one of them today.

 

The Heap

Dave's father's new car from 1935

1935 Pontiac like Dave’s father’s first new car, minus whitewalls, of course.

We did without a car for a couple of years when I was a kid. I must have been 8 when my father sold the Pontiac, his first new car that he bought in 1935. By 1947, the 12-year-old machine was spending more time in Edgar Bartlett’s garage than it did conveying us from place to place, and it chewed up batteries at an upsetting rate. Besides, he told my mother, we needed the money to pay bills.

What’s more, our Elm Street landlord had asked us not to park the pre-war Pontiac in the graveled driveway of his house, lest it mar the elegant appearance of his property. “Well, Maude,” he had said, “I’m afraid that it looks junky.” My mother, who came from a cosmopolitan New York family, saw the landlord’s request as a ludicrous example of provincial snobbery. But as much as she laughed at his pretensions, she was glad to see the Pontiac go.

A car was not essential. My father could walk to the station for the train to Boston and my mother could easily reach Stacey’s Market at the corner of Orne and Washington for groceries. The Gerry school was a short walk for me. My grandparents spent the summer of 1948 in Europe and lent us their 1938 Ford which functioned reliably while they were gone.

When I was 10, my father found a used 1947 Oldsmobile coupé which featured a Hydra-Matic drive, an automatic transmission first introduced in 1937. The car was a faded blue, which looked dingy to my mother. She urged my father to have it waxed at Orel Hansen’s Gulf station with a special treatment called “Blue Coral,” but he said that we couldn’t afford it. She had accepted the gray, utilitarian and lumpy appearance of the ’35 Pontiac and of my grandfather’s ’38 Ford because all pre-war cars looked that way But the new Oldsmobile should look spiffy, she believed, especially in the light of humiliation that our Pontiac had suffered at the hands of our snooty landlord.

The Olds Coupe as it was meant to be

1947 Olds Coupe at its best

We had moved by the time we got the ’47 Olds and didn’t have to worry about the new landlord; he lived in Washington, DC. My mother had learned to drive on the Pontiac and was entirely comfortable with its gearshift and clutch. In fact when I was little I rode unrestrained in the front seat beside her. Many kids my age and older rode this way. As a special treat she let me operate the floor shift while she depressed the clutch. But the Hydra-Matic transmission in the Oldsmobile was something else. “It never shifts when it should,” she complained, and she was right. At certain moderate speeds it downshifted without warning, jolting us forward in our seats. My father had no trouble with the Hydra-Matic drive; he had learned on a Model T Ford with its complex transmission and could drive anything.

We kept this car for 6 years and after a few Marblehead winters it too became a frequent visitor to Bartlett’s garage, often requiring battery charging or replacement. My mother’s initial concern about its appearance was replaced by real worry about its reliability, particular in cold weather. The town required off-street parking in the winter so that snow plows could get through and we rented space in a dirt lot near the house.   On some cold mornings, the car just wouldn’t start in spite of all the tricks my father knew, and he’d walk to the train station for his trip into Boston instead. But he always left enough juice in the battery so my mother would have a shot at starting it, in case the day warmed up.

One icy morning she and I walked to the lot and tried to start the car after we had brushed and shoveled a lot of snow. She turned the key, and a low rhythmic moaning issued from under the hood. Each time she turned the key the moaning resumed, but at a lower and lower pitch, as the battery exhausted its meager charge. I was 13 at the time and didn’t know enough about cold starting to give my mother useful advice, but I could tell when an engine was flooded just from the gasoline smell when we opened the hood. Then we had to wait for the gas to drain from the carburetor. “David. This time try jumping up and down on the bumper,” my mother commanded. It was a cold starting trick that seemed to work once in a while, although I never understood why it should. This time it didn’t.

How I settled on “The Heap” as a suitable pejorative for this vehicle I’m not sure. Modern terms like “junker,” “clunker,” and “beater,” weren’t in common use in the early 1950s, and “jalopy,” seemed too common. It’s easy to image that “Heap,” evolved as a contraction from a graphic expression of disgust. “This car is just heap of …” Well, you know what I mean.

1955 Chevrolet Model 150

Restored basic 1955 Model 150 Chevy. Hood ornament and fat tires added by the restorer. Ours lacked both and it was blue. Note the chrome-less windshield seal.

I don’t know how my father managed to find the money for a down payment on a 1955 Chevrolet, his second new car, after the ’35 Pontiac, that he was able to buy new. The Heap, I’m sure, made a quick trip to the junkyard. The Chevy was a modern wonder with its stylish windshield, bent back at the sides, clean blue color and spacious windows. It had a blessed manual transmission, with gearshift and clutch; no more unpredictable downshifting. A year later, when I was 17, I learned to drive in this car. My father maintained it carefully and it lasted well into my college years.

Maybe a year before the miracle of the ’55 Chevy, while we were still contending with the Heap, my father noticed a familiar car driving past us in the opposite direction on Elm Street. It was our 1935 Pontiac; its new owner had managed to coax another five years out if it, long after we had given it up for dead.

Update – Progress on Draft 3 and a New Marblehead Reporter Article

Dave Crowley and his mother

Dave looks as his mother, Maude Crowley, revises one of her manuscripts.

I won’t know how the third draft of the memoir will read until it’s finished, but at least I have method for handling the revision process, which I didn’t have before. Now I can leave it for other things and pick it up again without losing my place.  In the meantime, my teaching is done for the summer; I turned in my grades yesterday. And the first of a new series of my Reflections has just been published by the Marblehead  Reporter – Dr. Sturgis