New Rochelle and Ursuline High School Reunion
Last Saturday I made La Pilgrimage to New Rochelle–my hometown–….first an egg salad Bagel and coffee to get me on my way, then the #5 Express to Grand Central—its vast and beautiful dome so familiar and exciting really—the grand entry to New York via train…this time it was Meto North out to leafy Westchester, the tracks lined with granite and poplar…New Rochelle’s downtown arrives and it is the same weary collection of worn-out shops and empty streets. Taking a cab up North Avenue I watched the buildings separate and then Iona College, its Colonial brick buildings and rolling green lawns a prelude to the lovely part of New Rochelle…the twin lakes in front of the Gothic castle of New Rochelle High, generous homes, near mansions each, along the Avenue and certainly up Broadview where Steffi Lewis lived and past Georgina’s turreted Queen Anne. I had the cabbie let me off maybe a half mile before Ursuline and ambled my way there taking pictures and remembering my life here—walked up the slate path to the verandah of the grand old French Second Empire manse where Mimi Kellerman used to teach ballet—the new young family renovating it greeted me with smiles and said the last owners had gotten rid of the dance studio but they’d heard about those days—the dining room now was filled with light and light oak floors—could have been where I’d spent so many years trying in vain to forcefit my unwilling sturdy German body into a petite ballerina en pointe—I loved every class if not the horsey teacher who was rumored to be Esther Williams’ relative, who wasn’t warm, but the dreams lived here and I took dance dutifully for years and years…..just as I took riding for years and learned to jump and finally rent/curry/walk/ride and love the beautiful chestnut mare they called Debutante for her high spirits and high arched head martingaled to control her energy—she had black mane and tail and pranced her way around the ring and over jumps and I virtually lived at the stable with her that teenaged summer near the reservoir…a place more like the real country than New Rochelle—that reservoir we walked in as children with my father and went to get away so many Saturdays reclining on “Beauty Rock” or walking in the woods around the water…but I digress
I continued down North Avenue past names I recognized-Trenor Drive where Patti M. and her beautiful cherished brother and nasty old hag of a grandmother lived, Patti who committed suicide soon after high school…past Bon Air where Joy K. lived in a sea of stuffed animals and pretty dolls…and Berrian Road where sorry Marilyn B. lived with her pinchpenny old World Jewish parents, the house always smelling of of Gefilte Fish and where she was virtually an unwelcome outcast—they had a gorgeous Royal Blue velvety wall to wall in the living room but we were never allowed in there , the furniture all covered in vinyl like the pathways over the carpet. At last I came to my street, to the Fays’ four story brick home now for sale by Sotheby’s, once filled with the myriad of the Fays—13 children??so Catholic and red-headed..all living across the street from the still very posh Wykagyl Country Club—all colonnaded red brick Georgian buildings…rolling lawns of the golf course where we would sled in winter and where I longed to belong but Mom wouldn’t hear of it—they had no tennis courts—though one year when I was in high school she did relent and we spent that summer in the pool and I wore a free Rose Marie Reid bathing suit and a flowered bathing cap in a water ballet—another dream—every year these suits were donated to the girls and the show was magnificent to me—like something on Broadway or better…and finally I was in one…ah
On past the weed-ridden graveyard and the old Gothic once Methodist Church turned Synogue but now abandoned, for sale and sad…I remember the Ichabod Crane of a minister and the red velvet curtained choir area by the altar, the white gowns we wore at Christmas carrying candles down the soft evergreen carpeted aisles past all the mahogany pews to sing carols—we were angels there and I loved it…not Sunday School, though, bored and no one there I was friends with except maybe geeky Norwegian Bjorg one of the 22 Christian children left at Roosevelt School on a Jewish holiday—She was my guarantor of being an outsider and I disliked her for it—she lived with her very European parents in a strange world. I finally come to Roosevelt Elementary School itself—site of seven years of my life, a grand old Georgian brick school with vast high ceilings and great windows, cookies in kindergarten,a bike rally for which Daddy decorated my Schwinn, Miss Jewel who visited me in the polio ward of the hospital where I spent months with pneomonia in first grade, mulberry trees and silk worms we carefully fed and watched grow each day til they’d spun cocoons of pale yellow silk and finally flew away…Roosevelt now a retirement home Then past the bridge over the old railroad tracks—through the dense foliage I looked for the concrete “Hut” we used to hang out in with boys, smoking cigarette and sometimes kissing them,,our wild world under the street where no one could find us…and finally past the shops—all different now, no old nasty man shoeing us out of his cigar store, no ironic Italian running Betty Allen’s where we’d always go for cherry cokes after school.
And then at last the formal green lawns and white trimmed brick buildings of Ursuline come into view and the Reunion begns way over in some new buildings—I sign in and see lovely Tina S., the soap opera star, our Senior Class President, gifted, beautiful from Bronxville and she’s surprised, didn’t know I was coming, had thrown a posh party for all the class last evening in her Upper East Side apartment—too bad I’d missed it…but no worry the event built and built and was wonderful—-first we started to find each other—so many older ladies I didn’t recognize—at all—do I look this old, I ask myself? I look at the pictures and know that I too have aged But up close I recognize most everyone I knew. I meet up with AnnLee who’s slender and pretty, still tall as a giraffe in a polkadot dress like mine..and MaryBeth who’s on a cane and looking weary…Bonnie being her same bouncy self and Gracie Burns, still sweet and earnest and Catholic as a nun though living, yes, in San Francisco—we will perhaps rekindle a friendship when I return–Gay N. tall and jangling with bangles and beads, slim as a reed and a bit wild…Sugar — wild white hair and flambuoyant silks, an artist ever sure of herself, ever a bit cynical , and many cute Kathys. I hardly remember any of them but then I did remember Patricia –the brain—the same face but now elegant with age and busy little Frances L. now a computer science professor—Many of my former classmates actually have or had stellar careers as well as the requisite 4-6 children and 2-14 grandchildren, most living back in Larchmont or New Rochelle…many, though, in Manhattan. There were many pearls, many pictures, many pecks on the cheek and exclamations of “Oh Kathie A.—how great to see you!!!!We didn’t know you’d be coming”
It was all really a delight—from the “Changing Shoes”mini-performance of her one-woman show/book by Tina —40 minutes of funny vignettes from her flubbing a live TV line as a cardiologist asking for the spatula not a scalpel, to leaving a plane seat saying “I’ve got to catch the next train”….at 17,000 feet— to recounting her hike up Kilamanjaro with the “Board of Outbound Bound all dour wearing brown and she in hot pink, seeing Ghengis Khan in a vision when she nearly lost on her way to the top—a delightful show… really..followed by lots of pictures and chat
Then we filed past photos of nuns and there she was –Mother Frances ghoulishly grinning and we all said how we despised her—then I did my rendition of her teeth gritted “Grrrrrls I was APALLED to find an Ursuline grrrrl wearing lipstick…” the word spewed out like a poison….They all laughed and indeed I was asked to perform her again in front of the inverted V staircase where all graduation pictures have been taken since the beginning of time and where we gathered for a formal picture…and then before a mike in front of the assembled masses from my class and everyone loved me and I felt reborn into this class of girls I barely knew…my clique not here, not Linda who died of pancreatic cancer, nor Barbara R. who was put back a grade and finished somewhere else, not Georgina who disappeared…so here I was amidst girls I’d vaguely known but who did know me I guess, as they told me they’d talked about me at Tina’s last night, had said that even then I danced to a different beat, was smart and wild all at once…..and who found me exciting and interesting now here at the Reunion.
We then heard Mass full of angelic girls singing hymns and presided over by a blissful loving priest whose arms seemed perpetually open and welcoming—the arms of love to the maybe two hundred women and girls before him in the lovely white and beige chapel—brilliantly lit with gilden chandeliers—Baroque and yet quietly elegant
On to the lawn for wine and champagne, for meeting old friends and having excellent hors d’oeuvres—steak this and lobster that….a mingling of older and the beautiful young graduates here after only five years gone—but it was obviously our party—throngs of us all dressed up and trilling about our grandchildren and miscellaneous other facts of our lives—most were retired and doing volunteer work—we lingered on the green lawn waiting for a rain that never came and then were ushered with great ceremony into the Library for our private Golden celebration—champagne and gifts, good food and pastries…..and time to have everyone come up to a microphone and tell their stories—I was amazed that we were together for seven hours and time just vanished into the night and we were all still ready to hear more stories, to be happy to reacquaint with each other. When I told my story of career and family, I felt so much love coming at me—what a joy!!
At last, many hugs later Kathy A. and Missy M.—all slender and elegant on her way out to the Cape to tend to her three enterprises out there—she who came from 11 children whose mother would nonetheless have the time and love to make Sugar a cherry pie any time she showed up at their house—drove me to Manhattan and I rode the 4 out to Brooklyn on a train full of hipsters and moms, old black men and kissing couples back to my son’s apartment …feeling quite fine.