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Frankly, We'd Sooner Old

Frankly, We’d Sooner Old
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In New England, old is good while new is, at best, suspect. For instance, in the vague but nonetheless real social scheme of things, old houses are better than new houses. Old companies are better to work for than new companies. Better to own an old barn than to build a brand-new one. Old wooden boats are wonderful. New fiberglass boats, particularly fiberglass motorboats, are not. Old-time New Englanders are not inclined to wear showy new clothes. As Cleveland Amory once wrote, “For a woman to dress too smartly … is to open herself to the charge that she is a social climber.” Of course, that sounds ridiculous today but nonetheless I think wearing slightly threadbare clothing that has been owned for years is still, in some circles (particularly just north of Boston), a sign of gentility. (Old but not stained!)

I haven’t visited any of the three yacht clubs in Marblehead, Massachusetts, for some years, but I remember how each used to demonstrate physically its place on the New England social ladder. Out on Marblehead Neck, where so many of the summer people have their places, are the Eastern Yacht Club and the Corinthian Yacht Club. Old families with old money — that is, families that have been in the area (including the Boston area) for generations — belong to the Eastern Yacht Club whose clubhouse, it seemed to me, looked as if it might collapse during the next storm. It needed stain or paint, there always seemed to be a loose board or two out on the porch, and the dining and other facilities were modest, though with a certain quiet, old charm. The Eastern was — and still is, I’m sure — THE club to belong to.

The Corinthian Yacht Club, on the other hand, attracted people with new money and its clubhouse and docks were new, meticulously maintained, modern and rather posh. To, say, a Texan or anyone else not knowledgeable in New England ways, inspection of the physical facilities of the Eastern and the Corinthian back in those days would have caused the Corinthian to be the immediate and obvious choice. And from the old New England point of view, that would be all well and good. Let ’em enjoy the Corinthian. As someone once said, “A Texan may be many things, including, sometimes, a braggart — but he can never be a snob.”

Then there was the Boston Yacht Club, located across the harbor from the “Neck,” in the town of Marblehead. As far as I know, it’s still the place for those not in any way interested — or able to be interested — in social considerations. So the clubhouse was neither obviously old nor obviously new, neither run down nor posh. It was comfortable, practical, and I’m sure that’s what it is today. Some Marbleheaders, particularly the young ones who come from old money, join both the Eastern and the Boston clubs. That’s known as covering your bases.

As for me, I don’t currently belong to a club of any kind. On the other hand, at least I’m old, but, come to think of it, on that score, I guess I’d sooner young.

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Frankly, We'd Sooner Old

Updated Saturday, May 1st, 2004

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