THE ANGEL'S STORY Chapter 10
My twin sister “Easy” and I were six years old when we left Troy, New York and moved to Greenwich, Connecticut into a small rented apartment over a garage and stable on the South end of Otter Rock Drive. We lived in the Belle Haven section of Greenwich in a Victorian carriage house that was situated behind a splendid Victorian home. On the backside of the property, green lawns stretched themselves over acres of flower filled gardens which bordered our playing fields. Tennis courts and a swimming pool were nearby and always there were lots of children to play with. Activities were endless, even in the winter. Mummy would drive us to Playland in Rye, New York where we rented ice skates for twenty five cents a pair and whizzed around the rink to god-awful organ music … but that didn’t matter because just being there was the greatest holiday ever. This particular activity was usually undertaken with Elsie Fisher and her seven children because she owned an old wooden Pontiac station wagon. All of us could stuff ourselves into it. No seat belts or safety seats in those days … “No-sir-re”… That would have been sissy stuff and would have interrupted our most excellent adventures.
Belle Haven was absolutely gorgeous and still is today; a botanical wonder and close to the beach on Long Island Sound. The seasons waxed and waned according to the whims of Mother Nature. There was almost no traffic in Belle Haven and it was a truly safe for children to wander about this quiet peninsula unaccompanied. Here, neighbors knew each other and life was enjoyed. The War seemed so very far away … It would be many years before I would come to understand the Wars and the tremendous sacrifices made on our behalf by our fathers and mothers and the many hundreds of thousands of young men and women who fought and died for an idea called “America.”
Home was heated with bituminous coal in a cast iron stove in the kitchen, which served both to cook our food: heat the house and dry our clothes. Ice often covered the inside of our windows and the water in our toilet. For our first year of school, we attended a one-room schoolhouse, also in Belle Haven, which was run by a gentle lady named Isabelle Teal. It was here in her sunny yellow school at the north end of Otter Rock Drive, where the arts first found us.
We skated to school. Our roller skates were fastened to our sturdy Oxfords by our Mum with a steel turnkey and off we would go, with Mummy jogging along beside us. The entire school: grades one through six: had only a hand full of students. My sister, myself and Alma Rutgers comprised all of the first grade. Cliffy Ossorio was in Third grade, Sara Stewart was in fifth grade and another set of twins, Kay and Dee Onthank made up the sixth grade. Reading, writing and arithmetic began and happily so did art and music. We sang songs in French beside the grand piano and danced to Sur le Ponte D’Avignon in Mrs. Teal’s living room. In December of 1948, we participated in a Christmas play where Easy and I were transformed into shabby shepherds. Alma Rutgers with her beautiful platinum blond tresses, was cast as the Virgin Mary …With bath towels belted to our heads and our bodies wrapped in red plaid flannel bathrobes, I was so sure that no one could possibly recognize us … and was absolutely amazed, and delighted when Daddy addressed me by my nick name “Star-light”. He presented to each one of us, a tiny bouquet of red carnations at the end of this premiere performance.
I fell in love with the Ballet on May 18,1948, when Alma Rutgers asked us to her home for her birthday party at “Red Oaks” located at #59 Pecksland Road. It was a most elaborate party, quite unheard of in those tight times after the war. Easy and I were dressed in green plaid dresses with off white collars, purchased from the Franklin Simon Store in Greenwich. White socks were worn with black patent leather, Mary Jane shoes, which were accompanied by the obligatory white cotton gloves. After a proper handshake, and “How-do- you do Mrs. Rutgers”, which was followed with a curtsy, we were off to the Punch and Judy show, a magic show, pony rides, ice cream, a St. Moritz birthday cake and lots of multi-colored balloons. The day was overcast and cold. Spring struggled to grab hold of the day. Music from within the main house drew me away from festivities. Through the old oak door of The Rutgers’ home and into a dimly lighted, flag stoned hallway … Strains of Chopin beckoned …. then turning to the right … down two stairs … …………. I stepped into an enormous living room …. so beautifully appointed and well turned, with linens and velvets dressing the French windows which grew up and out of the polished wood floors. And there …. in that gorgeous living room, with sofas and chairs covered in hand stitched floral brocades … I was to discover the long, polished oak shelves, which held an exquisite collection of tiny ballet dancers. Stunned by the beauty of these little porcelains, I stood transfixed. Time was suspended. Alma’s mother (Katharine Phillips Rutgers) came into the house to collect me and it was then that she took the time to explain, the stories told by each dancing figurine. Mrs. Rutgers had been a Ballerina herself and had collected these precious little figures as she danced her way around the world. “Dancing around the world” Wow … What a wonderful idea that was to a seven year old! Then, hand in hand, we hiked upstairs to the third floor attic: to her very own ballet studio. There, in the late afternoon light, I saw a long pitched-roof room, with lights blazing down the center. On the left … was the practice bar for her ballet workouts. She handed me a pair of pink satin toe shoes and then demonstrated how to use the bar. Perhaps it was the pink satin. I don’t know, but I was smitten with this art form right then and there. The delicious costumes from the many ballets in which she had danced, were bunched up from one end of the attic to the other. The costume closet was filled with satins and laces, tutus and ball dresses. Dance settled into my brain that afternoon and in fact, took up a sort of permanent residence. The other corner of my brain was of course, occupied by ponies.
Ballet was to visit me once again for one semester in second grade. Mummy and Daddy managed to scrape up enough for both of us, to attend Bonnie Bolte’s Dance Class, one afternoon a week. For forty glorious minutes, we were transformed into baby ballerinas in the Julian Curtiss School’s cafeteria. Someone played the up-right piano in the far corner and we tried desperately to imitate our dance teacher, stretching this way and that way while pointing our tiny toes. Mozart set the tone for this class. Mummy made tutus for us, of pale blue nylon netting. She also made them for our neighbor’s children so that we could traipse about the house, living in the moment, as real, live, ballerinas. There was something wonderful about the piano … about the music of Chopin and Mozart …… about our bodies and the dance and something about the excitement of a night time recital, on stage, in the gymnasium, wearing lip stick and staying up late at night. I was branded with Ballet big time ……..and I wanted more.
This was not to be however, until many years later when Felicity Foote and the Greenwich Ballet Work Shop would become a part of our curriculum. By Spring of 1950 we were attending The Julian Curtiss School on East Elm Street full time. Our family had moved away from Belle Haven to the back woods of Greenwich; out beyond the Merritt Parkway and out beyond where most people wanted to live in those days. Mummy and Daddy had always wanted to live on a farm and they managed to find one in the back country of Greenwich. We were now living at the North end of Lake Avenue, far away from downtown Greenwich… …as far away, as is, the village of Banksville which straddles the state line between New York and Connecticut Our parents purchased a piece of the Joseph Wilshire estate which was being sold off at the time. They were able to buy, a tenant farm house and a small L shaped stable with 14 Acres for $13,000.00. Imagine that! The farm was run down … falling apart really. It was good-bye to the halcyon days in beautiful Belle Haven, ballet and our beloved, one room school. 1016 North Lake Avenue was now our new address.