Judy Russell Goddard is in love. And the native Fair Havenite has a story to show and tell all about her lifetime love affair.
She’s proud. She wants to shout about it from the docks. Her love is not the unrequited, illicit sort. It’s not ugly. It’s beautiful. It’s natural. It’s fluid, soothing and embracing. It reciprocates. It wraps her up in its lulling tide rolls and reflections. Always has. Goddard has no shame in her love. She has reveled in it all her life. The subject of her love has manifested as her confidant, her adventure cohort, her champion, her consoler.
The subject of her love, her first best friend, is not human, though. Her husband and fellow Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School graduate, Tom, has that role. Though, you could say it has a body. In fact, it is a body — a body of sacred water to Goddard. It’s the Navesink River.
And she’s authored and illustrated a book about her true, enduring, Navesink love that she wants to share with the world, especially those who grew up in the area and have had the same best friend love affair going on forever — enduring.
Writing the book, aptly entitled My Navesink, became “a gift to myself,” Goddard said on Monday, the day after it was released for sale on Amazon. “What was unexpected, for me, about the publishing process of it is that it brought up so many wonderful memories.”
That’s because Goddard has known and courted her river love for a very long time. And the river has never left her, even when she has walked away from its shores. Like any true love, “it was my best friend,” Goddard said.
And like all best friends’ love stories, this one had its start when Goddard was very young.
“I had a rough childhood,” she said. “I often wandered down to the river. I quickly found that the river really did become a friend, really a best friend. I spent as much time there with it as I could. Early on, I discovered that my little hand fit through the chain link fence at the Shrewsbury Yacht Club. I spent most of my time there. I’d squeeze my hand through, pull the lock open and go onto the dock. I made some really good (people) friends there. I also spent summers at the Fair Haven Dock fishing for snappers. The river was just always there for me.”
Love stories come in many forms, and this was Goddard’s to tell. And all good love stories have a song, too, so, years back she wrote one about her Navesink.
Goddard was always a folk singer and guitar player. For a good 20 years she was. In fact, she took guitar lessons with the iconic Fair Havenite, Barbara Leslie, who owned the Whistle Stop. She ended up writing a song, dubbed My Navesink, in 1999. “I recorded an album and then I got sick,” she said. “I got Lyme disease. My throat was affected. The problem was that my throat never completely recovered. So, I gave up singing. I have been healthy for 15 years, but I can no longer sing, so I decided to take the song and turn it into something else — the book.”
But, before the book idea started to gel, she began painting — an alternative means to give her back the artistic voice she had lost.
She dabbled in oil painting, but wrestled with it a bit, her progress ebbing like the river. She was never quite happy with the process and results. “I needed to become more comfortable with it and I just wasn’t yet,” she said. So, finally, in the fall of 2018, the comfort flowed naturally like the tide. You could say her river love guided her to the right oils niche — the one that gave her the ease with the craft that she needed. She took a 10-hour workshop in North Carolina in the fall that she said changed everything for her as an artist and author. “It was then that I decided to author the book,” she said.
She got to work painting all these river scenes based on the verses of the 1999 song and, together, in the book, they became her newfound voice. “Every painting is a personal experience,” she said. “It’s been a real positive experience on a personal level. Just the entire process of painting, putting the book together and revisiting all those memories.”
Now, two years later, nearly to the day she began painting her river scenes, her My Navesink book is out and for sale on Amazon. The pandemic, she said, was a “blessing. Isolated, I just poured my life into the book.”
The book, which Goddard says she doesn’t want to call a children’s book, even though it is flush with childhood memories and certainly could be, is a small 6-by-9-inch 41-page paperback with 19 illustrations paired with 22 pages of song verse. “It’s really for both children and adults,” she said. “It’s for everyone.” The only painting that is not based on an actual memory is one of dolphins in the river, because “they just weren’t there back then,” she said. “So it was more like a daydream memory.”
Those who grew up in Fair Haven or Rumson shared plenty of those and the very real ones, too, toes in the sand, sailing, fishing or just sitting on the shores, embraced by the unending solace and smile their river never failed to bring them.
The book begins with the verse “I remember childhood days along your sandy strand.” So many do, Goddard said.
It’s a love affair had and cherished by countless kids in the area. So, Goddard invites all to remember and share in the boundless love the river offered to infinite childhoods and the memories of it that forever console those homesick adults.
My Navesink can be purchased on Amazon by clicking here. Goddard reminds all that there is also a free link to download the song.
She no longer lives in Fair Haven on the banks of her first love and best friend. She lives in the woods of Manchester on 16 acres and says she “asked God to please give me water (to be by) when we moved. I got it. There is a creek behind my house. I sit by a window and watch deer drink from it. We’ve had all sorts of critters visit. It’s a blessing, just like my Navesink was.”
Once pandemic restrictions are lifted, Goddard plans to have a book signing, ideally in Fair Haven near her Navesink.
Her next book, she said, will be called When You Live in the Woods.