I kept seeing the old folks sitting on the patio of the rest home when the Mariner II would pass going down the Estuary. They would wave and to their delight we would sound our horn. My Grandmothers faces reflected back and my memories of their love for me warmed me. I missed them so very much. Both had died in a rest home. They had received excellent care, living well into their nineties. It must have been difficult for these strong independent women to have so little control over their lives. It seemed to me each day must seem like the last, the sameness deadly.
One day I telephoned the Rest Home and spoke to the Director. I told her I would like to take 25 patients on a cruise. It would be a four hour cocktail, dinner cruise with gourmet food and live music. They were to received the same first class , white glove service we charged thousands of dollars for to our corporations. So if they were on medication or special diets to adjust them accordingly.
I didn’t want to kill anyone.
This was to be a day where they were allowed to eat and drink what ever they wanted. There was to be no staff members. I felt they were probably tired of seeing the same faces. This was to be an adventure. We were going to create a new experience for them. The Director was thrilled and agreed to my terms. I allowed the Director to accompany them on the cruise.
That night I went to the Yacht Club and told the members that I would be holding interviews for crew to take the old folks on a cruise. I wanted one crew member for each passenger. They would be assigned one elderly person and their main duty was to ask them to tell them their life story. They must be interested in and willing to devote their full attention to their passenger for the duration of the cruise. I felt that the most needed commodity was a fresh listener with whom to share their experiences. To my delight, we were overwhelmed with members wanting to donate their time to crew. We ended up with a waiting list and promised to keep them in mind for the next time. It seems there were many members with fond memories of their grandparents.
When I told my suppliers what we were doing they volunteered to donate food and liquor, without my asking. All anyone wants is the opportunity to give. The power is in the giving. There is no more enriching feeling than being part of a good act.
The day of the cruise patients were wheeled down the dock in wheel chairs. I had stressed to the Director that the passengers must be mobile as the yacht was multi-level with ladders that would not accommodate wheel chairs. I was near panic as I watched these poor fragile people hobble down the endless dock with canes, walkers and wheel chairs. The Director assured me that once we boarded them and got them seated they would be fine. So we tugged, pulled and carried what seemed like fine delicate china. A few moans and slight whimpers later and we finally had them settled aboard the Mariner II.
The Yacht Club members arrived ready to crew, dressed in their white formal yachting attire with Blue Blazers and white gloves. Which was normal dress for the Mariner II staff.
Larry Martinez, our talented banjo player arrived along with our Coast Guard Certified Captain. Each crew member was told to select their passenger for the duration of the cruise and to see to their dinks and food but most important to listen to them speak of their lives. The bar was opened and the endless silver trays of food began to emerge from the galley; Smoked Salmon Pâté, Smoked Oyster Pâté and Chicken Liver Pâté served on thin slices of San Francisco Sour Dough Baggett. Next came large broiled mushrooms stuffed with Jimmie Dean Hot Sausage and cream cheese. Followed by Quiche Lorraine and Quiche Florentine. Hot Ginger Brandy Chicken presented on bamboo skewers were passed.
The bartender; my son David was getting drink orders for “four fingers of scotch”, “Double Martini on the Rocks”, “ Do you have any Four Roses?”
“Can I really have what I want? Then I will have one of each”. The bartender replied; “One of each what”? To which the aged little lady answered; “One of everything you have, young man!” I am not sure but I think she made a fair attempt at accomplishing that task.
As we were cruising down the Estuary, I suddenly remembered Joe Carpenter, a singing bartender at the Overland House , one of the many Irish Bars on Jack London Square. He could sing all of the old Al Jolson songs. I went to the Fly bridge and placed a ship to shore telephone call to his home. His wife answered and informed me he was working on his boat at Swenson’s Boat Yard. I looked up and we were just coming up on the boat yard. I instructed the Skipper to pull a long side the boat yard dock. I then got on the load speaker and hailed Joe. He came up out of the hull of his boat with a look of great surprise. Which was not nearly as surprised as he was about to be, when I ask him to stop what he was working on and hop aboard to sing for my passengers. But great and generous person that he was he boarded my fancy yacht in his work overalls and grease stained face. When he sang “Mammy” on bended knee to one of the little old ladies, somehow his attire seemed appropriate. There was not a dry eye or goose bump free person on that boat. My, it was a fine moment.
As the Sautéed Scallops Marinated in Champagne was served, I ventured out to the aft deck and saw an old Gentleman looking at the wake of the boat with tears wetting his cheeks. I asked him how he was feeling and he said , he was so happy to be back on a boat and feel the water under him. He had worked all his life as a fisherman on a boat in Russia and this would probably be the last time he would be on a boat, it meant so much to him. I informed his crew person of the old Russian Fisherman and instructed him to ask him to tell him some of his sea stories. I don’t believe either one of them moved from that spot the entire cruise. Whether they bothered with the food or drink I don’t know. Each time I saw them their heads were bent close together and his assigned crew member, who happened to be that years President of the Yacht Club, was engrossed with the old sailor’s tales.
There was the sweetest, dearest little old lady all dressed in purple and lilac complete with hat and white gloves. She looked like something from a Norman Rockwell painting of someone’s Grandmother. I had a short conversation with her and was totally touched by her. I made a mental note to call the Rest Home and arrange to take her to lunch one day. I wanted to know her better, she was so perfect. I ask her name and was told it was; “Miss Betty”. She had kindest voice. I telephoned the Rest Home several weeks later and asked about Miss Betty. I gushed about how very sweet and dear I found her to be and how I wanted to take her to lunch. The Director giggled and said; “Oh yes, our little Miss Betty, we found a gun under her pillow and had to transfer her to a mental facility.”
I mumbled something about; “Never mind, maybe another lady, another time.” And hung up.
As the Oysters on the half shell and the Steamed in Beer Cherry Stone Clams were passed, I made my way to the bow of the boat, seated there was a woman I remembered had been wheeled down the dock and carried on board. I ask if she was warm enough sitting there in the full wind of the bay and she smiled and said she wanted to feel the cold, it make her feel alive. Then her crew person ask her to continue. She proceeded to sing at the top of her voice; “We Were Sailing Along On Moon Light Bay.” Although her voice had a few cracks it was a lovely rendition. I don’t know how many encores she sang. Her crew person was at rapt attention. She was the Star!
My foster sister; Lolly Lewis was in the salon clearing the marble coffee table to make room for the silver tray of Cracked Dungeness Crab. Seated on one of the velvet couches was an old gentleman in his late eighties. He had some palsy. We very carefully placed him on one of the couches out of the weather because he looked so fragile. As Lolly was bending over her bottom was at his eye level and just inches away. This big, fine round woman’s bottom was just to much to resist. He got a twinkle in his eye and gently reached out and lightly patted it. Lolly, without missing a beat turned her head and smiled, saying ;”Careful there, Darling, you might hurt yourself on that.” He was delighted, chuckled devilishly. I backed into the Galley, closed the door and howled with laughter. Lolly made that old man’s day and who knows what memories she stirred in him.
My son David, was tending bar in the Wheel House as the under ten count, Prawns Allegro were being passed. He was singing “Bye, Bye Black Bird”, with a woman named Winnie. She was a lively lady with evening make-up and a cocktail dress on. She was the one ordering, “one of everything”. She was vamping him and he was being playful with her. He said to her;”One of these nights, Winnie my girl, I am going to come over to that Home and sneak you out and take you night clubbing around the Square.” It was several years later that I found out, after several drinks one night, he and a buddy actually did. He said it was one of the most fun nights he ever had. However, sneaking her back in almost got him arrested.
When the boat pulled into the home dock, the entire group of passengers were smiling, laughing and refusing help disembarking. They all walked up the long dock on their own. Later we found ten canes and five walkers left on board.
For weeks afterwards the Yacht Club members shared stories of their charges. Then they started asking when we could do another cruise with the elderly. Everyone was so enriched by the experience that by popular demand it became an annual event.