Chapter One - 1940-1958
The Early Years
(Equivalent to 35 Pages)
1940 - Ivy Hill Road, Lawrence Farms, Mt. Kisco, New York
In 1940, northern Westchester County was, and perhaps is still, the toniest place to live in the countryside in America – rolling hills, big houses, sweeping lawns. The Grand Central Harlem Division railroad puffed out of Manhattan’s Grand Central Station and whistled its way up through Bronxville and Scarsdale, on past Pleasantville - yes, Pleasantville, and beyond to the well-heeled villages of Chappaqua, Mt. Kisco, and Bedford. (For example, today, Chappaqua is home to President and Secretary Clinton; and Bedford is where Martha Stewart lives.)
In the thirties, The Dudley Lawrences, realtors from Bronxville, bought a huge section of land on Bedford Road exactly halfway between Chappaqua and Mt. Kisco, and called it Lawrence Farms. They built a nice house and waited for customers.
My father’s parents (Dr. and Mrs. Edward P. Carter) were among the first buyers. They built their house across from the Lawrence’s on Ivy Hill Road with views looking west over a lush valley and the hills beyond.
It was a bespoke, three-storey, white-shingled, black-shuttered, unadorned home of four bedrooms, four baths, entrance hall, living room, library, dining room, butler’s pantry, kitchen, and a wing with two maids’ rooms and a bath over the three-car garage. It also had a huge attic and basement, and sat on three, terraced, sloping acres of lawn, bushes, and trees.
When it was finished, they gave the house to my parents…and moved to Bronxville!
So my parents, Mr. and Mrs. (Marnie and Ned) Edward P. Carter, Jr., moved from their 13-room apartment at 1185 Park Avenue in Manhattan with my sister, Grace (whom I called “Dade,”) and my brother, Christopher (Chris). Dade was seven years older than me; Chris was ten years my senior.
Dad had been a statistician at Wood, Struthers, & Winthrop on Wall Street; now he bought The Greenwich Bookstore, an easy drive from the house.
Lawrence Farms was private. It was much too large to be walled in but it was fenced and “gated” – pairs of monumental fieldstone pillars flanked the four exits to the public roads.
Life was as it should be – not only did doctors make house calls, our Dr. Robinson came by horse!
Dade was going to Chappaqua’s Horace Greeley High School; Chris was a day-boy at The Harvey School in Hawthorne, a twenty-five-minute drive.
August 16, 1940 all was copacetic and then I arrived!
Dr. “Robby” announced my gender, “Cannon Fodder!” While the United States was not yet at war, most of the rest of the world was, and males were destined to be food for the cannons.
But all my mother worried about was why I didn’t smile.
Mother’s mother, Nanny, came down from Albany to help. I still remember her white and blue dress. I also remember my elegant baby carriage.
Finally, after six months, I smiled. All was well with the world.
The next summer, 1941 and not yet a year old, I was packed off in the car to the Adirondack Mountains to visit Granny and Poppy (my paternal grandparents) at the “The House in the Woods,” their camp. “Camp” - that’s what properties are called in the Adirondacks; like the forty-room “cottages” in Newport. I went nearly every summer all my life.
Back home in Westchester, someone took a photo of me on a “quadricycle” playing with our dog, “Bobbie.” I don’t remember him at all but Mom said he died from eating chicken bones, “They can splinter, you know.” (Our current dog, Lucky, eats everything!)
My first work of “art.”
This was home in Lawrence Farms. I still have the 1775 mirror. The lower left photo is at The House in the Woods.
How old was I when I went to kindergarten at The Pied Piper in Chappaqua? I don’t know but I remember bath time with the two ladies who ran the place; I even remember the bath soap with a Disney decal!
Of course I was in the Woods that summer.
Two days before my birthday, Poppy sat me down next to an old wooden radio in the living room. It had a long wire antenna, and as he carefully turned the big knob, it crackled and hummed.
At last a voice pierced the static announcing that it was V.J. Day - August 14, 1945!
Poppy explained that it was Victory over Japan Day - the day on which Japan surrendered in World War II, in effect ending the war.
The whole family listened again on September 2 when the signing of the surrender document occurred, officially ending World War II.
Books and Bicycles
I started my schooling at the King’s Street School at the top of King Street in Chappaqua. It was part of the Chappaqua School system and fed Horace Greeley High School. We would play in the back yard. There was a huge tree with wondrous roots and in the far right corner, peacocks displayed in a wire enclosure beyond the chain-link fence.
At the foot of our hill in Lawrence Farms, across Bedford Road, was our mailbox and The Reader’s Digest property. As I grew up, I learned to ride my bike on its smooth driveways and soon went for the mail every day I was free.
As I said, Lawrence Farms was private and much safer than the public roads. A five-minute ride from home was the Mt. Kisco Country Club. It has a stables where I learned to ride, an eighteen-hole course where I learned to play, and a swimming pool where I learned to swim and peek at the girls through holes in the wall between our locker room and theirs.
Between our house and the pool is The Kittle House, a restaurant/inn.
Its hilly driveway was fun to bicycle! In its 200-year old history, the Kittle House has been many things: a guesthouse, prohibition-era roadhouse, school, inn, and restaurant. It began in 1790 as a barn on “Ivy Hill Farm” and by the thirties had become The Lawrence Farms Inn. Nearby, The Westchester Playhouse, located next to the Country Club, was in its prime. The Playhouse has been birthplace of many illustrious careers, and the Inn, now The Kittle House, often played host to famous, and soon-to-be-famous, actors, including a young Henry Fonda, Margaret Sullivan, and Tallulah Bankhead. [Please go to the Comments Section, under the "Home" button to read more playhouse adventures from one of my best school friends, Chip Rowsome.]
The Playhouse, now moved to Manhattan, was a treasure trove to me. I was fascinated by the flyable sets, the lights, and the ropes and pulleys. Years later, in the Adirondacks, at various schools, in the Army, and in businesses, my sense of theatre was an important asset.
My best childhood friend was Henry Orr; he lived at the top of Ivy Hill Road. We were in each other’s pockets. We made mythical retreats under certain bushes, climbed favorite trees, soaped windows on Halloween, and chased the snow – especially in the blizzards of ‘47 and ‘48.
When fourth grade started, my class moved down the hill from King’s Street School to Horace Greeley High School, one of the finest high schools in the country, right in the center of Chappaqua. My new teacher was Mr. McGuire, the others had been women.
Chris is at Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts. My great grandfather, Franklin Carter, had been President of Williams for twenty years and my mother’s brother, Gardner, had gone there too. I think Chris wasn’t very happy there – having to compete with ghosts. What made it worse was that he came down with polio that summer. It affected his left leg. My father cried. He also bought him a television set to ease the long hours he had to stay in bed.
Dad had been interested in magic - he had a large library of books on magic and, in the attic, two small suitcases full of elegant tricks. In fact, the attic was full of magic for me – there were Vuitton trucks full of lavender silk gowns, costumes from Norway, lace from Ireland and Malta, and tortoise-shell combs. Scattered about were oil portraits, elegant tables and chairs, heavy golden drapes from the Park Avenue apartment, ermine capes, top hats, patent leather shoes, white ties and tails, bookcases of The Hardy Boys, hand-operated calculating machines, old Remington typewriters, and extra mahogany leaves for the dining room table.
I taught myself most of the tricks and performed for my Dad.
In the library were catalogs from magic-trick companies that also sold ventriloquist dummies. Now that’s magic!
I begged my mother to buy me a dummy for Christmas ‘49. I watched Paul Winchell and his dummy, Jerry Mahoney, on Chris’ TV every week, and practiced talking without moving my lips. I found it easy!
Mother had a special place for hiding birthday and Christmas presents - the top shelf of one of the maids’ room closets. There I discovered – I really wasn’t looking – Jerry Mahoney peering through the cellophane top of his box; and by the time Christmas arrived, was quite accomplished in making him come alive.
There was a strict family routine Christmas morning: First each of us awoke to find our stocking, bursting at the seams with goodies and always a tangerine, at the foot of our bed. We then had to have breakfast before we could go into the living room, the door of which had been draped with a sheet. Chris was still recuperating and Grace was home from boarding school; Nanny had come down from Albany in her big, black Buick, with her maid, chauffeured by Ben; and Granny and Poppy drove up from Bronxville. A chair or a place on a sofa was reserved for the presents for each.
Breakfast over, I was suitably “surprised” to see Jerry, and he became a part of our lives.
Fifth grade. I had a new project – to learn to play the trombone. The school provided the instrument and I learned to march in the band!
Taking it farther than most would, I even set up a bandstand in the basement and asked Nanny to buy me my own trombone. She gave me a big check and Mother and I bought the best – a very expensive Conn trombone.
Later, Mother said I was never as interested in playing the trombone after that. Obsessions are like that - It’s more fun to start something than maintain it.
I went up to the attic, carried down one of the mahogany table leaves and two filing cabinets to make a desk. Then I lugged down a giant Remington typewriter. Setting it all up in my bedroom, I typed a heading on a piece of foolscap (as Poppy would call it; just a piece of typing paper): “Ted Carter School of Ventriloquism.”
I think Jerry Mahoney “went the way of all flesh” so I got another dummy from a mail-order catalog. Mother suggested calling him Henny Friberg, a gardener we once had. Here he is looking on as I work.
I loved having a “project,” some would say an “obsession,” and this was my latest. For several years I was a member of the International Brotherhood of Ventriloquists, exchanged letters with other members, and was totally immersed.
While my father had only a two-week vacation, Granny and Poppy would look after me at their House in the Woods in the Adirondacks, every year, all summer long. My parents would come up in August to be with me for my birthday.
Granny and Poppy were helped by the McKenty’s. Henry and Esther had been our family “retainers” for decades. Their two children, Sally and Pat, were much older than me and friends to Dade and Chris.
Henry was the general factotum, Esther cleaned and cooked. At first they lived on the hill up from the foot of our lake, Clear Pond. Their house was a dark-red shingle affair with a front room and kitchen downstairs, and bedrooms upstairs, I guess. All I remember was the reek of kerosene that kept their little home alive. What they did when it was 25o below, I can’t guess.
About 5 o’clock every morning, Henry would arrive in his truck. I’d put on my overalls and meet him on the lower deck of the house. Inside was a coal furnace we never used during the summer, and a coal-fired, hot-water heater. Henry would spit in the coal bin – he chewed tobacco – and shovel some in the little stove. I’d watch from the shadows of the dank basement as he got the fire started. He rubbed up and down on the tall, galvanized water tank to feel the progress of the heat. Then he put in more coal, shake the lever to settle the coals, and give me a wink.
We would then walk to the boathouse where “Bobs II,” the 16-foot, 1940 Chris-Craft Utility, and “Blue Bird,” an old, steel rowboat lived. Past them and out the other side, the dark green, canvas-covered, Old Town canoe, circa 1920, sheltered next to the Pump House. Beyond was the Ice House.
There is still sawdust in the Ice House. In earlier years, Henry and his team would saw ice from the lake and fill the Ice House to get through the summer. I remember the ice box (refrigerator – but cooled by blocks of ice) on the kitchen porch but I didn’t know how it worked or where the ice came from. By the time I was four, it was replaced by a Frigidaire (frigid air ;-). We still call it an icebox.
In the Pump House was another coal stove that powered a pump that sucked water out of the lake (purer than most tap water anywhere today) and pushed it up halfway up Meenagha Mountain (more like a hill) to a huge tank.
So every morning, Henry had to get the water pump going. It was the same process as with the hot-water heater – more spit, more coals, more shaking of the lever. I loved to watch!
Some mornings, Esther would give me some bacon to bait our hooks, and Henry and I would row the Blue Bird down to the foot of the lake to catch breakfast. I quickly learned why it was called “fishing” and not “catching.” Sooner or later, we’d get Perch and Sunnies, but we held out for “Bullheads” – Catfish. I hated taking out the hook and was even more squeamish about the dangerous spine on the back of a Bullhead.
Esther would clean the fish and fry them, and Henry and I would eat them on the boathouse dock.
But most breakfasts were a family affair. Our dining room was in the northeast corner of the house with views up and down the lake. We usually had cereal, eggs, bacon, and biscuits or toast with home-made jam. Granny would make the toast on a hand-operated toaster I will try to describe:
I think it was made around 1915. She would place two pieces of bread on two pivoting racks, one on each side of a toaster-sized tower that was covered with resistance coils. When one side was done, she would hinge down the rack; the bread would slide down and could then be flipped up by the same rack to toast the other side – hard to describe, but fun to do.
Poppy’s routine was even more fascinating. He would sit down, take out his pocket watch and two wooden matches, and put his foot over the button in the floor that rang the buzzer in the kitchen.
Esther would be at the kitchen stove with an egg in a long-handled spoon poised over a boiling pot of water.
Poppy would check his watch, hit the buzzer, and Esther would put the egg in the water.
Exactly one minute later, Poppy would break one of the matches in two. He always knew, therefore, how much time had elapsed even if he got distracted.
One minute later, he would break the other match – two minutes down, one to go.
At the end of the third minute, Poppy would hit the buzzer and Esther would remove the egg, put it in an egg cup and bring it into the dining room – a perfectly cooked, 3-minute fresh egg!
Smiles all ‘round. (Why he didn’t trust her to time it herself, I’ll never know.)
1951 - Camp Dudley
While I was a seasoned Adirondacker with a glorious base on Clear Pond, Mom and Dad wanted to give Granny and Poppy a rest and me to interact with others my own age. They suggested that I go to camp.
Camp was something that a lot of our tribe did. Dad went to Camp Meenagha run by AFS - Adirondack-Florida School - on Clear Pond next door to “The House in the Woods;” Chris went to Camp Norway; and Mom and Dade each went to Camp Asquam – Dade was awarded the camp cup as the top camper.
One of Mother’s best friend’s son went to the YMCA’s Camp Dudley in Westport, NY on Lake Champlain in the Adirondacks only about an hour from “The House in the Woods” and said it was a valuable experience for him.
So Mother asked Mr. Bob Marshall, the Head of Camp Dudley, to visit us on Ivy Hill Road.
He explained: “Camp Dudley was founded in 1885 by a YMCA volunteer named Sumner F. Dudley with a goal of getting boys out of the city and to enjoy a more balanced summer. It is a place that celebrates timeless traditional values, inspiring boys and young men to seek something higher than their own self-interest. The Camp motto, ‘The Other Fellow First,’ is at the heart of Camp Life.”
He invited us to Bronxville to visit him and some of his staff and campers in Bronxville.
We went and besides meeting some nice boys, we met Chief Sunrise, the grandson of Chief Sitting Bull! I was not sure what he had to do with Dudley but, for reasons I can’t fathom, taught me how to tie a Windsor necktie knot (always can use another bit of trivia). I enrolled; I’m not sure what it cost, but today the tuition for the full seven-week season is $8,700.
Mom had name-labels made and sewed them on everything the camp checklist said I should bring, and off I went.
Camp Dudley has four levels of campers based on age – Cubs, Plebes, Juniors, and Seniors. Each camper has a unique number. Today, upon running into an alumnus, the first thing exchanged is one’s ID number - the smaller, the more revered. Mine is 8164; currently the individual numbers are over 16,000.
Each of us stayed in little log cabins with seven other campers of the same level, a more senior boy, and a cabin leader.
Each morning starts out with a cannon blast and reveille followed by Chapel Talk and breakfast in Beckman Dining hall at 8:00.
The first two activity periods happen after inspection – cabin neat and clean, and beds made - followed by choice-time and lunch. After lunch, there’s a one-and-a-half-hour rest period, then back to activities in the afternoon. There are three opportunities for swimming each day, as well as plenty of choice-time to balance out the structured activity periods.
Dinner is served at 6:00 and every evening has a different feel. There are Wednesday and Saturday Night shows in Witherbee Hall, and Council rings and divisional activities that are decades-old traditions. Each day ends with a cabin or mass vesper.
There were lots of team sports – not my scene. I spent my time in rowboats, on the rifle range, in the darkroom, or in the Arts & Crafts cabin. The only team activity I enjoyed was working as a stage hand; there was an extensive theatrical program including musicals. My first year, H.M.S. Pinafore was the tour de force.
There were also weird rituals like the “Snipe Hunt” (requiring croquet mallets), and the outbreak among Cubs of “ear lobes.” One of my first days, everyone in my cabin scowled at me and said I had “ear lobes,” and that I better get to the Infirmary fast.
Ingenuously, I went. The long-white-coated doctor took it very seriously, and peering at me through his forehead mirror (with a hole in it) said, “Yes, serious; we’ll have to do something about that.” He took out a small bottle, did something to my ear lobes, and sent me back to my cabin.
I walked in to peals of laughter, my buddies shoved me to the mirror and there I was with bright red ear lobes! This mercurochrome scam is attempted on every new boy.
The doctor and nurses were friendly and clever. If you complained of nothing very specific (and probably wanted to get out of some task) there were two basic remedies: a throat spray or an enema. Other than the ear lobes, I never complained.
It turned out that Chief Sunrise played a big role at Camp. He was a Sioux and was responsible for the horseback riding program. He also taught Indian culture and helped me create an Indian war club out of a tree root that today still looks like a blue chipmunk! Under his supervision, a glorious totem pole was carved and erected in front of a grove of Hemlock trees next to Witherbee Hall.
Speaking of theatre, Sunday Chapel at Camp Dudley was moving and unforgettable.
Situated on a hillside beneath dense boughs of soughing Pines, the Chapel is a pine-needle-covered, natural amphitheater descending to a wooden platform with a pump organ and a lectern. Singing the familiar hymns, I was touched by the observances to the trees, lake, air, and, yes, God. It made me feel good and I wanted to be better and show I really believed in the Camp’s motto: ‘The Other Fellow First.’
Forty-eight years later, I became a Director of the Vanderbilt YMCA on East 47th Street in Manhattan, and was honored as ‘Volunteer of the Year’ by the YMCA of Greater New York.
Camp Dudley was where I received my nick name. Phil Kerr, the son of one of my mother’s best friends who first suggested I go to Dudley, was a cabin-mate. My name tags said E.G.L. Carter, and Phil thought it would be easier to call me “Eagle” – pronouncing E. G. L. as “eegul.” I do have an “eagle eye,” so it’s appropriate.
1951 - “The House in the Woods”
When Camp was over, I went to “The House in the Woods,” the real “Rondondacks” to me.
Not having to share it with anyone, I adopted the “Blue Bird.” Poppy made a large wooden rudder that we fastened to the stern with a couple of screw eyes and hooks.
I would row to the top of the lake and, steering by the rudder, let the prevailing westerly glide me home. It was great but, of course, I wanted to go faster.
August 16, 1951 - my eleventh birthday - my wish came true. I got a 2½ hp Johnson Seahorse outboard motor – Wow!
At the western end of Clear Pond lived George and Mrs. Brett. He was the head of Macmillan Publishing in Manhattan and the Commodore of a swanky yacht club. The Brett’s had a wonderful small house of German architecture straddling a “cut” between our lake and “the flow” – the source of the water for our chain of lakes and rivers. They had a shiny Chris-Craft and virtually lived on the water as we all did. Sometimes George would swim the mile and a half down to our camp and emerge shouting, “Hello the house” …stark naked!
The Brett’s also had a house on the mainland and one summer had a student from the Netherlands staying there – Willem van Vliet, son of the Dutch Permanent Secretary of Agriculture. “Wim” (pronounced Vim) was going to Yale on a Fellowship.
Inevitably, Wim met Dade. None of us thought very much about it.
Several months later, I was awakened during the night by pebbles being thrown against my bedroom window on Ivy Hill Road. It was Wim, standing next to a bright red 1930 Ford! He called it The Little Red Hen.
He and Dade were in love, got engaged, and, as you will read below, were married the next summer.
I got an adorable Pocket Beagle I called “Bingo.” On my urging, Mother took me to Manhattan where I dragged her to a seedy shop on West 42nd St. - Max Holden’s Magic Shop.
There I saw the most amazing dummy – it didn’t have slots on either side of his jaw to enable his mouth to open - both lips were surrounded by suede leather and they opened naturally. Also his eyes moved from side to side. He had been made in England and was of amazing quality. He cost $80 (in 1952, a lot of money!) but Mother let me have him. I don’t know where I dreamed up his name but I called him Whosy McWhinnie.
That summer, after my second year at Camp Dudley, I did a show at Clark-Wardner, an old rustic resort a few minutes by boat from “The House in the Woods.”
Wikipedia – “The Max Holden's Magic Shop on 42nd Street soon became a Mecca for professional and amateur magicians interested in honing their art and exchanging new ideas.”
That was an amazing summer. Wim and Dade got married at the Lake Placid Club! Dad booked much of the huge club for the guests, Father Martin came up from St. Mark’s in Mt. Kisco to officiate, and I was an usher. (I am wearing my usher’s prize of an engraved silver belt buckle as I write this.)
I stayed with my friends at Horace Greeley through Miss Flahive’s 6th grade and then, following family tradition, became a day-boy at The Harvey School that autumn – twelve years old.
The Harvey School is a highly selective, college preparatory school for grades 6 through 12. Today it is co-educational; when I was there, we were all boys and the crème de la crème of socially registered families. The genes had been honed through multiple generations to produce the best looking, stylish, and polite young men.
Classes were small, most of the masters were elegant bachelors, we wore jackets and ties, discipline was enforced.
Sports were mandatory, so afternoons were spent at soccer, football, ice hockey, or baseball; nerds could belong to the Woods Squad and go on clean-up walks.
The student body was divided into two teams, the navy blue Neparans and the maroon Pocanticos (mine). We competed for bragging rights through a combination of athletic, academic, and artistic endeavors.
Some of the boys seemed to compete for “best dressed,” and some friendships were rather intense - rather like England’s Eton or Harrow. Remember this is a rarefied school for rarefied young men, and rarefied young men often follow similar mores around the world. I learned more than French and Latin!
Leverett and Eleanor Smith were headmaster and head mistress; they were my parent’s best friends.
Mother, Leverett and Eleanor Smith, and my Dad
Coping with a hearing disability from birth, my father had a vested interest in becoming an executive at the hearing-aid company, Sonotone Corporation, in Elmsford, NY. Harvey, in Hawthorne, was on his route, so he drove me to school every morning and picked me up every evening at 5.
School was an adventure. I kept getting French irregular verbs mixed up with Latin declensions. Mr. Smith, my Math teacher, told my father I was a wiz; I didn’t think so.
I liked Art - I learned how to paint with oils and to visualize photographically.
Soccer was more fun than football, and I loved hockey. White’s Pond was near home and, as soon as it froze, I practiced all weekend long. So at Harvey I won for the Pocanticos.
I was in a play. I don’t really remember but it had something to do with mummies – my Dad and I built two sarcophagi out of Celotex in the garage. I liked being in front of an audience.
I learned the difference between a four-in-hand and a Windsor knot, and Abercrombie & Fitch and Brooks Bros. – I was very well-dressed!
In June cousins Len and Bob Turpin came to visit; spent the summer in The Woods; and started my second year at Harvey in the autumn.
I graduated from Harvey in May and was accepted to The Hotchkiss School in Lakeville, Connecticut. It is one of the “St. Grottlesex” group of the 13 best prep schools in America.
My father had graduated from Groton as had my brother, but I thought it was too religiously fervent for me. Hotchkiss was Episcopal too, as are most of the exclusive prep schools.
After years of Sunday School, I had been confirmed as an Episcopalian by Father Martin (who later officiated at my sister’s wedding) at Mt. Kisco’s St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, but I am an agnostic. Mother was Presbyterian - hardly ever went to church, and then really only to sing. Dad thought the Sunday “fashion shows” at St. Marks were really all too silly, and that if he needed to commune with whatever it was he believed in, he could do it in private.
Mt. Kisco’s St. Mark’s Episcopal Church
Granny and Poppy never mentioned religion but Nanny had a maroon-velvet prayer-chair/pew-cushion upon which she would kneel…in her bathroom in Albany!
I chose Hotchkiss as it was a proven direct route to Yale University from where my brother and father had graduated. I also chose Hotchkiss for its Art Department, photographic darkrooms, private bedrooms, and its beautiful, 800+acre setting in the lee of the Berkshire Mountains that included a 9-hole golf course and a large lake. It also had a venerable headmaster, George Van Santvoord.
George Van Santvoord, hailed as “The Duke,” claimed there was only one school rule: Be a gentleman. In 1954, TIME magazine recognized in Education: The Duke Steps Down, that "of all U.S. prep schools, few, if any, can beat the standards Hotchkiss has set.”
Leaving Bingo at home, of course, I started school in September of 1954.
I lived in a two-storey, brick building; rooms had oak built-in closets and door. I had a single room looking out on the campus. Some rooms were doubles. We brought our own curtains, linens, and bedspread.
My classmates were the sons of old and/or rich families from the likes of Westchester Co. and Grosse Point, MI.
Days started with Chapel at which, besides the prayers and hymns, we were brought up to speed on schedule changes and new happenings.
Classes were small; homework was demanding; study hall was intense.
I really didn’t know how to study and was too much distracted by extracurricular opportunities - I played my trombone in a sound-proof room under the chapel; I spent a lot of time with my camera and then in one of the two darkrooms… for hours; and I flirted with the handsomest of boys.
I did so poorly in my History class that the only way I got through was by re-painting the boundaries of Europe on the blackboard.
My English Master was Mr. Parsons. He had been my father’s Latin Master at A.F.S.; was elegant (the boys called him “Pansy Parsons” behind his back, of course), and tough as nails. He maintained order in his classroom by fiercely kicking his desk, throwing blackboard erasers, or hurling great steel bolts with clanging washers! My English is better than most.
My Latin Master was patient even though I still got my French irregular verbs confused with Latin declensions.
My French Master must have been good. I lived in Geneva for two years and had a boyfriend who couldn’t speak English.
Mr. Blagden, my Art Master, was a charmer. I painted well; my photography was even better. He played a passive but very important role in my life 24 years later.
My favorite was the master who told me he was a “Quean!” Certainly was a drama-queen at least - he directed most of the thespian activities.
Not a great period. Granny died that summer.
I needed help with my study techniques so Mother enrolled me in the Searing School, a summer school near Mt. Kisco. The Headmaster seemed a “quean.” In their introductory meeting, Mother “warned” him that I had “tendencies.”
Mother was intelligent and sophisticated – my tendencies didn’t faze her or my father, who was very good looking and went to rarified schools too, but she thought the Headmaster ought to know. On the other hand, maybe she wanted me to know that they knew and didn’t care. Like money, such things didn’t warrant conversation in our home. Mother didn’t tell me about this talk for thirty years.
In September, I went to back to Hotchkiss for my second year. “The Duke” had retired in June and was replaced by The Very Reverent, Thomas H. Chappell.
Again, I allowed myself to be distracted by non-curricular activities, spending most of my time in the darkroom. There were small rewards – I put some photographs in a school exhibition, and an old man came up to me and proudly said, “I made that boat; what a wonderful photograph!”
There is a tradition “on the Hill,” a show called St. Luke’s Flukes – a mischievous review put on by the students just before the Christmas break. Whosy McWhinnie and I were Masters of Ceremonies. Halfway through our introduction, and before I could stop him, Whosy blurted out that his English Master was “Pansy Parsons – the flower of the teaching world!” It’s a good thing there was no school the next day!
Little did I know that when my parents drove me back after Christmas, The Very Reverent buttonholed them for a discussion on my apparent lack of appreciation of an education at Hotchkiss. Dad wouldn’t warn me, saying to my mother that I had be responsible for the development of my own life.
In March 1956, the school “let me go.”
No one was very happy. On top of that, Bingo had become so heartbroken by my constant absence, that mother had had him “put to sleep.”
My parents were “at sixes and sevens,” as Granny would say, over what to do with me. Dad called Pete Cameron, the Headmaster of Ransom-Everglades School in Coconut Grove Florida.
Ransom-Everglades was the current iteration of the Adirondack Florida School (A.F.S.) that my great aunt Ruth (Carter) and her husband, Paul Ransom, started in 1903. (See the Chapter on the Adirondacks.) My father and other elites of the time were alumni. If any private school was going to accept me, Ransom would be it.
Dad and I flew to Miami to meet Mr. Cameron and look at the school. The campus is a long, narrow strip of land running from Main Highway to Biscayne Bay with a mixture of old and new buildings, tennis courts, a “smoking hut” (For kids that smoked, can you believe it?!), swimming pool, and a long dock running into the Bay.
The outstanding building was “The Pagoda,” a board-and-batten, two storey “Caribbean-style” house. It was probably built in or before 1896 as the main building of Camp Pine Knot from which the school evolved. It was sort of the “common room,” and had a large, stone fireplace, and an open atrium with a banistered gallery running around the second floor. It is now listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.
I entered the school in September, 1955 as part of the class of 1958. My roommate was the son of one of the largest cardboard box companies in the country. Another classmate was the son of one of the largest rum companies in Puerto Rico; another, the son of one of the largest truck rental companies in America. None of us studied much.
One night during a party in the Pagoda, I got so drunk from a paper-bagged bottle of vodka, that I fell down the stairs from the second floor - I still have the scar on my shoulder. Another night, my roommate and I were stopped by the Miami Beach police for “loitering suspiciously.” Our attitude was so bad, they took our shoes and threw us in jail for the weekend. My only concern was that my socks were dirty and smelled! The school was fed up; my father flew down and took me home.
Mother and Dad and I spent Christmas at the Lake Placid Club. Over the years, winter and summer, we stayed at the club over holiday weekends and during school breaks. It was a marvelous place with almost 10,000 acres, more than 350 buildings, including some 100 residences one could book, in woods surrounding seven golf courses, and more than twenty tennis courts. There were boat houses on Mirror Lake. Its “Agora” theatre showed movies, staged shows, and had an orchestra. A Symphonette played during cocktail hour. (See the Chapter on <the Adirondacks.>)
There were always lots of kids my age. With horse-drawn sleighs, we would hunt for the Yule Log in the night snow at Christmas, play pool ‘til the wee hours, and tear up and down the corridors.
This year at the Club, I met Mr. Jim Donovan, the famous WWII spy.
But the most fun was going home. I had been introduced to Mr. McBurney, the father of some friends I’d met this season, who was a Vice-President of the New York Central Railroad. He had a private car (with windshield wipers on the outside of every window) and offered to take me with his family as far as Harmon, NY where my Dad would meet me. It was so exciting, I got very drunk, and wobbled up and down the car singing, “When the Saints Come Marching In.”
After Christmas, I returned to Horace Greeley High School in Chappaqua.
Back with my friends, school was fun. So was everything else – I became a freelance photographer for the Mt. Kisco paper, The Patent Trader, and put “PRESS” signs in the rear side windows of Mother’s Plymouth station wagon. We hadn’t had any live-in maids since Nanny came for Christmas in 1949 so I turned one of the two bedrooms into an office and built a darkroom in the bathroom.
The station wagon was also great for parties. Its rear seat faced backwards and when flipped over, became a great “tail gate” bar - I brought booze to every party. I had a chorus part in the Junior Musical, “My Hearts for Susan.” Chip Rowsome made a CD from the vinyl and sometimes, these days, the house reverberates to the sound of “Gathering Day!”
Our class at Horace Greeley was the first to occupy the new school on Roaring Brook Road across from the Readers’ Digest.
The new school was across Bedford Road from the entrance to Lawrence Farms so I could walk to and from home. The highlights of the year were the Senior Play, the Senior Prom, and Senior Day.
The Senior Play was “The Night of January 16th” by Ayn Rand. It is a courtroom drama and the jury is picked from the audience before the start of the play. Therefore, there are two endings, depending upon the verdict. I had one of the leads as the Prosecutor. The other lead, the Defense Attorney, in real life was on the football team, had sprained his ankle, and did the play in a wheelchair! We had three performances and he won once; great fun! In our last performance, the water in my onstage pitcher was substituted for Dry Vermouth! (Years later, I found out Chip Rowsome was responsible - "I meant to substitute dry martinis for the water in the pitcher, but -- unable to smuggle the gin out of the house -- had to fall back on dry vermouth.")
I was enamored by several people but didn’t date much. Happily, I could dance, had the booze wagon, and many good friends (with whom I chat on Facebook today). Amazingly, my date for the Senior Prom was Judy Grier, one of the best looking girls in the class and the evening was a glittering affair!
Dad offered me a Volvo P444 as a graduation present! He asked, “What color did I want?”
Red. He couldn’t find a red one; the dealers only had white. Finally, in Poughkeepsie, 100 miles away, he found a red one. I only mention this because three months later I had an accident, after which I painted it white!
As you can read above, my parents moved to Vermont. Dad retired in June and they had found a charming old house with a new extension on 80 acres of land looking west to the Adirondacks. They called it “High Weather.” (I said because my father liked studying the weather and my mother liked being high…in altitude. :-)
Ever since being in Lakeville, Connecticut at Hotchkiss, I had followed the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) races at Lime Rock Park, the famous road racing track, a few miles away. John Fitch, one of the greatest drivers in America, had taken me around the course once, and racing became my new project. I got to know Gordon MacKensie, an IBM executive from Poughkeepsie, NY. He had a racing, “C Type” Jaguar and would drive it on the public roads to race at Lime Rock nearly every weekend... in his kilt!
My Volvo was a hot car. I joined the Westchester SCCA, competed in rallies and gymkhanas, and would go to Lime Rock as often as I could. Gordon would race it for me from time to time.
They were exciting days; my father’s classmate at Groton, Briggs Cunningham, would show up at Lime Rock with a custom moving van carrying his two French-blue Bugatti’s! Local Greenwich, Conn. dentist, Roger Penske, raced a chic, charcoal-grey Porsche. He’s into bigger racing these days. Jim Kimberly of Kleenex fame also had an air-conditioned moving van, and Lance Reventlow (heir to the Woolworth fortune) once brought two of his Scarabs.
Do see the Comments for a letter from classmate, Chip Rowsome, about SCCA racing and Lime Rock.
In October, I went to Manchester, New Hampshire, enlisted in the Army, and started a whole new chapter of my life!
END OF CHAPTER ONE
After graduation, we held Senior Day. The members of our class, besides scoring the highest average IQs of any school in the United States, were talented in many ways. As at Hotchkiss, Whosy McWhinnie and I were Masters of Ceremonies and the show was filled with rollicking gals and rocking guys; a fitting end to my high school years!
Finally, I graduate! Mr. Decker of the School Board hands me my diploma.
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