True life stories told in ’75 Plus’
NEIL GRABOWSKY/FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL
75 Plus: Seniors Life Stories
By GWEN OREL
New Jersey seniors have stories to tell.
They want you to know about fighting the Battle of the Bulge. About teaching movie stars to Cha Cha. About being in a movie with Whoopi Goldberg. About cooking 300 meatballs for Disney on Ice. About guarding the coffin of J.F.K.
There’s a lot more to a senior citizen’s life than illness or being someone’s granny.
Listen up, say authors Anthony V. Naturale, retired Montclair lieutenant, and Grange Lady Haig Rutan, of First Montclair House.
In “75 Plus: Seniors Life Stories” Rutan and Naturale have collected the fascinating tales of 42 senior citizens.
Some live at First Montclair House, an affordable senior citizen living community in town. Some are living independently or with family. Naturale is now a tenant of his son, in town.Some have passed on.
"75 Plus" co-authors Rutan and Naturale have known one another for 65 years. Both are Montclair High School graduates.
They’ll sign copies of the book this Sunday in town, along with several of the authors whose stories are included in it.
Naturale came up with the concept for "75 Plus." “Kids today aren’t with it as much, because of iPads, and on Sundays they have sports,” he said. “I wanted my kids, great-grandkids, to see what we have accomplished.”
“Right before my eyes, I was finding people with information they didn’t even know they had,” Rutan said.
The name “Lady Haig” was given to her by Dizzy Gillespie, when Rutan was dating pianist, future husband, Al Haig. Then later Miles Davis called her that too.
“I’m not royalty, but when I write, I use that name,” she said with a laugh. She goes by Grange or Peggy.
“75 Plus” has large, senior-friendly type, and fascinatingly, color pictures interspersed into the stories.
Unlike other nonfiction books, the pictures are not in the middle in a photo section, nor at the ends of chapters.
Instead, they are set into the stories themselves. They serve as section breaks, and function like slideshows, illustrating the words.
“I wanted to get what we were talking about at that time,” Naturale said.
“It gives you an idea of what the story is about,” said Catherine Cavignan, who is, with Grange, a resident of the senior living center First Montclair House resident who is included in the book.
Along with writing about her life, Cavignan also included her piece “The Bench,” about a bench she loves to sit on.”
“The Bench” received a certificate of recognition from the Legacies Writing contest, a senior citizen writing competition of Essex County. One of 17 kids, Cavignan is originally from New York City.
“There is no book on Amazon or eBay that has over 100 color pictures,” Rutan said. “It’s like a scrapbook.”
SUBJECTS AND STORIES
Montclair has evolved a lot over the years, Naturale said: “The houses and everything are such big mansions. A lot of the people moved out, because they can’t afford it.”
Rutan is a little nostalgic. “I couldn’t get away fast enough when I graduated from college,” she said. “But the further I went away from it...I was in Hawaii one morning washing my feet, and I met someone from Montclair, who said ‘my name is Cox,’ and I said, ‘A Dr. Cox delivered me.’
I grew up on Oxford Street. I went to Grove Street School. My grandfather lived at 198 Walnut Street”
Naturale, whose father was born in Italy, moved to Montclair from when he was 7-years-old.
The authors discovered interview subjects as they went about their lives. Ulrich Steinberg, the “movie star’s brother,” an old classmate of Rutan’s, was spotted in a diner one night when Grange and Rutan were out. “His sister used to walk to school with Elsy Steinberg. She became [movie star] Elaine Stewart,” Rutan said.
They found another subject while out listening to a saxophone player who is the retired chief of police of Nutley. Rutan recalled that his wife said, “See that guy over there? He handed the American flag to Jackie Kennedy at the funeral of President John. F. Kennedy.”
That was Clinton Taylor.
“We’ve got to go over and get him! Tony, go over and get him!” Rutan told Naturale.
Since most of the stories are interviews, they flow like conversation: not linearly.
Rutan has been told that she writes like bebop, and it’s true: a fact is raised, dropped, circled back to again.
Entertaining anecdotes and names float by:
Prince. Madonna. Marilyn Monroe. It jumps around. It’s fun.
There is almost a shorthand in some of the stories, as if the speakers are talking to you and assume you’ve met before.
Rutan said that people often assume she and Naturale are married: they do bicker affectionately like an old married couple. And at one point Rutan was supposed to marry Naturale’s brother, though she said she “doesn’t like that that is even brought up in the book,” she said, as she brought it up.
Naturale said his son hasn’t read the book yet. But he hopes he will.
Retired police officer Wally Sampson died while they were in the process of making the book. “So we felt bad, so we saw his son and said, ‘Look, we won’t put it in, whatever your choice,’’” Naturale said.
“The son said, ‘Definitely put it in. That’s a keepsake of my dad.’”