We were living in Atlanta when my husband was transferred to New York. “Oh, you poor dear,” the little old ladies at church whispered. “Taking those darling little children up to that cold northern place.” They were horrified. We were thrilled.
I’d only been to New York once, when Dick was interviewed for his job with RCA. We’d been treated royally, lovely hotel, dinner at Sardis’s, and excellent seats to see Paint Your Wagon.
But with four young children, my husband’s suburban upbringing, and my country background, we knew we couldn’t live in a Manhattan apartment. My father had always warned me, “You can take the girl out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the girl.” And so we bought a big Tudor house in Tenafly, New Jersey. The lot was large and had a brook. Perfect for our little brood.
Tenafly was like a lovely English village with a small shopping area within walking distance. Wonderful bakery, deli, library, gift shops, coffee shops, beauty salon. I loved it. And I loved going into the city. Dick liked having me come in and join him in the evenings. I never complained.
My first trip in was an afternoon. Dick gave me precise instructions. I was to park the car at the end of the George Washington Bridge and walk the short distance to the subway. As he was telling me which staircase to take, I interrupted him. “I’m a grown woman who can read. I’m sure I’ll manage.”
I parked the car. Found the subway and took the first stairway and hopped on the subway car. Piece of cake! The only problem was that after a short while, the car stopped. “End of the line,” the conductor said.
“Oh no! I’m to meet my husband. How do I get back?”
The conductor laughed. “No problem. We’re headed back.” He pointed to the lone drunk across the aisle. “Don’t worry about him. He’s asleep.”
When I finally arrived, my husband was pale, his hands clutching the bars at the entrance. He was terrified. I was cool, as if this was something I did every day, but inside, I was just as scared. This was a whole new game for me.
I wasn’t much better when it came to driving in the city. I did, for I didn’t want to miss out on all the fun—opening nights, cocktail parties, fancy dinners. Dick carpooled with his boss. It was nearly impossible to get a taxi to drive you to New Jersey, and so I drove so we’d have a car to get home. Going out in the evening was a great change from my daily chores of being wife and mother. I had a wonderful baby sitter, an elderly woman who arrived with her little hat with a veil, an apron, and her arm full of books. I thought I’d be okay, for I’d been driving since I was thirteen. It couldn’t be that bad. But it was. On my first trip in, I was to pick Dick up at 6:30pm as we had reservations somewhere. His office was in Rockefeller Center. So I drove up 5th Avenue, approached the Center and turned left. It was a one-way going the other way. So at Rockefeller Plaza, I turned right. Another one-way—the wrong way. A group of chauffeurs were gathered at the curb, smoking and chatting. They all waved and bowed formally to me. I waved back. At the corner, I turned right and there was Dick talking with his boss. I read his lips. “Oh…my…God…That’s my wife.”
I parked the car and quickly slid into the passenger seat. Dick took over. The evening was lovely and nothing was said about my driving. As we drove home that evening across the George Washington Bridge, I looked out the back window. The skyline was magnificent. I never got over the awe of seeing it. Big city. Country girl. I never got very good at the driving in Manhattan business, but I never got a ticket, never had an accident. John Denver liked being a country boy. I like being a country girl, wouldn’t change a thing.