Every Thursday a new episode of this amazing story by Robert Mitchell: A Summer to be Remembered. Enjoy the reading and your day!
In September of 1959 I had transferred to Mansfield State Teachers College to major in music. My dream was always to become an opera singer, but my parents convinced me to become a music teacher instead since we couldn’t afford for me to go to New York to study.
Summer of 1960 in Ocean Grove, New Jersey
Driving back and forth over the mountains from Lock Haven to Mansfield Pennsylvania that winter of 1959-1960 took nerves of steel. Those seventy miles for weekend breaks and holiday vacations in all that snow challenged even the snowplows. But Jan got us through. Her tiny Nash Metropolitan braved the worst storms. She was a fearless driver—nothing stopped her—she could have been a mailwoman. Those brutal winter storms, common to the Allegheny Mountains of north-central Pennsylvania, didn’t rattle her in the slightest. They rattled me, but I grew to trust her driving skills and her brave little Nash two-seater, with its iron-grip tires and trusty heater. When all else failed, when the windshield froze inside and out in the blinding snow and the wipers barely able to move, that heater kept us toasty.
On one trip she asked me if I’d like to be a bellhop next summer down on the Jersey shore.
“A job on the Jersey Shore? I’ve never been to the shore. I’ve never even seen an ocean. And earn money too? You bet I’d love to go.”
“You’re eighteen, aren’t you?”
“That’ll do,” she said with a big smile.
Jan explained that her uncle managed the North End Hotel on the boardwalk in Ocean Grove, New Jersey. She glanced over at me to see if I was listening—I was so quiet. “He’s looking for young guys to be bellhops. It’s a good job. You’ll get lots of tips and it’s not hard work. And there’s the boardwalk and the beach right there…”
“How do I sign up?”
True to her word she contacted her uncle—and I got myself a summer job. I pictured myself running across a beach in my bare feet, diving into the surf. What a thrill: waves crashing ashore, pretty girls all over the place, beach, sunshine, and great restaurants! Things were looking up for me.
Until the next trip home from school.
As we sat in the kitchen drinking coffee Dad was skeptical. He questioned my expenses and whether I would have enough money to cover my college tuition. Of course I hadn’t figured out all the details. I was still a kid! What do kids know?
I gave Mom a sideways, help-me-out-here glance, and nodded toward Dad. She picked up my cue and with her best cooing, soothing voice, “Now Ja-,” Mom always cut off the last “-ck” consonants of his name, “Robert says they’ll give him room and board right in the hotel. Any money he makes is his. He should make plenty of tips in a place like that, right on the boardwalk. Don’t you remember how Pop-pop loved Ocean Grove?” Pop-pop was Mom’s dad, much beloved by both of them.
Dad scowled and still was not convinced. He made it clear that he wasn’t going to get stuck for any of my expenses, “so you’d better be damned sure you earn enough yourself.” And he marched back into the adjoining print shop, coffee mug gripped so tight I thought it was going to squeal. “I’ve got work to do,” he growled as he left.
Mom and I looked at each other, I apprehensively. Slowly a smile curled the corners of her mouth upward. She looked at me with softer eyes than I had seen in a long time, “It’ll be all right, Robert. You’ll see.”
The village of Ocean Grove featured the Great Auditorium, which was used for both religious and concert purposes. That summer they had hired opera singers as resident soloists for both sacred and secular music presentations. And they all stayed at the North End Hotel. I recognized some of them from the posters around town as soon as they entered the hotel; others, from their voices as they spoke. One such singer was baritone Floyd Worthington.
From the moment he entered the lobby he had the aura of a celebrity. Although not quite as tall as I (five-nine), aside from his height he resembled Gary Cooper, with smooth light hair, tan fedora, long tan raincoat, the latter I suppose for style and just in case. But it was his voice that captured my attention. I hastened over to him to pick up his large suitcase as he stopped at the desk to register. The clerk then had little choice but to refer him to me. As I led him to the elevator and got on, I told him I had him pegged as a singer because of his resonant, deep voice.
“Well, young man, you’re quite right. I am indeed a singer.” He reached into a satchel he carried under his arm and retrieved a small poster with his picture, taking up half the front page, dressed in a formal overcoat, white gloves, white scarf, topped by a dark fedora. He handed it to me. “You may have this.” (I still do.) It read:
It’ll continue next Thursday. Nice day, Yareah readers!