After a few years, Joe and Claudia decided it was time to find another home in New York for the summers they were to spend there. It was time to move.
Having now established their winter home in Florida, my parents traded the Mamaroneck house for one in Kings Point, Long Island. The new house stood on the western edge of Long Island, facing the city. At night, from our back yard, stretched the Long Island Sound all the way to the Throgs Neck Bridge and the city beyond, which was lit up and twinkling like an enormous birthday cake.
The new house stood in the center of three acres at the end of Pond Road, with a large circular drive and a grand entrance complete with two huge pillars flanked by the same lions that had followed us there from Mamaroneck. The house itself was built of stone, with three foot thick walls and heavy brass window sashes. It was an impressive and imposing edifice with a slate roof and two chimneys. There were peonies in the front yard, thousands it seemed, densely packed among the surging dark leaves that encircled them like a glossy green crown. Old growth trees were everywhere, and a flower garden , my father’s pride and joy, sat near the pool and pool house at the back. He would often return home from work in Manhattan to tend the lilies, irises and roses there, never taking time to change out of his suit pants. I recall my mother standing on the side porch yelling for him to stop and put something else on before he ruined his work clothes.
From the front steps one entered the house directly into the living room, with its high beamed ceilings and muted blue mohair couch and chairs arranged by the fireplace. To the other side sat the baby grand piano and in the far window niche was my father’s electric organ, complete with wall mounted pipes, which he played on occasion. Dad’s office was on the right from the front door, while our bedrooms and Greg’s were past the living room through a short hallway on the left. Our parent’s bedroom, the guest rooms and even the servants quarters were on the second floor. In this way, our childish enthusiasms and tribulations would not disturb or disrupt the lives of the others within the house. Children, after all, were to be seen and not heard.
On either side of the piano on the right were the entrances to the kitchen and dining room respectively. The dining room, paneled in a dusky colored wood from floor to ceiling had a fireplace, but it was never used. At the center of the room hung a large crystal chandelier over a glossy dark antique table, where we ate dinner every day but Thursdays, when the cook was off. One could enter the dining room either from the front or at the back from the kitchen. It was this doorway which facilitated dinner service by the maid, as we sat in quiet anticipation each evening. Through the kitchen and past the dining room door, there was the breakfast room, where we ate all our other meals. It also had a wide view of the yard and water beyond and led out the back door down steps to the garage and driveway.
Out back, on the water side, opposite the pool, there were steps which ran past the climbing roses my father had planted on the steep embankment that sloped down toward the dock. The wooden peninsula jutted out into the water a good one hundred feet, where the Féliz Año, his yacht, stood moored every summer. Back up in the yard, at one side of those stairs was a large boulder too large to remove, which marked the site of many games of “king of the mountain” for us kids. My father had made an addition to the back of the house which consisted of an over-large glassed-in room from which the entire vista of the boat, the water and the bridge were in view. This was the room in which my parents would entertain guests. We called it the Florida room, as most homes in Florida had such a room with a view of the natural landscape. It was a less formal room, with an enormous u shaped rattan couch and coffee table and matching card tables in both of the far corners. Higher up, and behind the couch area, there was a bar set squarely against the wall with a sink and fridge and liquors of all description beneath cabinets filled with the corresponding glassware. From there at either side wall were steps down to the seating area and the rest of the room.
I was seven years old our first summer there. I remember opening the front door to the peonies’ pink perfume, both exotic and familiar, hanging heavy in the early summer air. We cupped them in our small hands and buried our faces in the enormous blooms, soft and cool to the touch. Summer days were long then. We walked a road where ring necked pheasant roamed the leafy underbrush, rustling and peeping out at us as we went. Along the same roadside grew the petite yellow snapdragons resembling tiny servings of scrambled eggs on slender green stalks. We upturned stones to find the creatures that scuttled and slithered away in surprise under our curious gaze. Those summers, we spent the days with no awareness of time, like water spilling from an endless pitcher until the sun dropped low and sent us home through long shadows and back across the freshly mown grass from the wilds and the wilding- flushed, hungry- past the sea of pink at the door to the sounds of clattering from the kitchen.
At twilight, the yard would fill with fireflies dancing and twinkling in the breeze, beckoning to us for a last romp outside before bath and bed. We raced around, catching the tiny creatures in our hands and placing them in a jar, making a wondrous lantern for our bedroom. Once, I remember, we had filled the jar with a huge number and placed a piece of foil atop with tiny holes in it so that they could breathe. When we went inside, I placed the jar at bedside before we went to sleep. Later that night, I awoke to the room glittering everywhere, as we had apparently made the holes in the foil a little too big, and all the fireflies had escaped. Debbie and I sat up in our beds in wonderment, giggling as our room had transformed itself into a Disneyland of insects. Poor Greg awoke too, hearing our mirth, and scolded us mildly for what we had done. The next morning was devoted to locating every single one before my mother might arrive and see them loose in the house.
Some days we spent hours upon hours in the pool while the grownups congregated nearby. We’d be in so long that our fingers shriveled to raisins and our lips turned blue, our jaws aching from the chattering they were doing. Nonetheless, we were reluctant to get out and dry off, until Greg would notice. At that point, we were ordered out of the pool to warm up in the sun before jumping back in and beginning the process all over again. We played Marco Polo, swimming to locate each other with eyes closed and diving for the pennies Greg would throw into the pool for us to find and retrieve from the bottom. There would be silly jump competitions and comic attempts at water ballet. Sometimes, Debbie, Carolyn and I would duck under the water and sit on the bottom, speaking to each other as loudly as possible, the word sounds emanating with the bubbles from our mouths, making a game of trying to understand what the other had said. We’d exchange messages and then when we couldn’t wait any longer, we’d burst to the surface out of breath to verify the latest nonsensical underwater message.
On the occasional weekend, Aunt Ida and Uncle Joe would arrive for the day in their latest two tone car, always clean and freshly polished. Joe worked as a used car salesman, and he loved his cars. Ida would bring with her a particularly heavenly deli ham- always the same kind- along with kaiser rolls, swiss and potato salad from a place near her in Yonkers. Mom and Ida would busy themselves putting together sandwiches in the pool house, pulling sodas from the small fridge and arranging the feast on the table outside. Often Elizabeth would come too, if Maxine was around. While we kids splashed around, everyone but my father would be arranged in the chairs and chaises around the pool, chatting and laughing over lunch as if this were the happiest family in the world. If Elizabeth and Maxine were there, they would find the farthermost corner of the pool to spread towels and sunbathe, with their foil sun reflectors strategically placed to redirect the suns rays onto their faces. They were too young to be much interested in the grownup chit chat, and too mature to want to turn themselves into bedraggled prunes with us kids. It was the big girls corner, and they were so glamorous to our young eyes. Later in the day, my father would join everyone after he was up and finished with whatever business he had to attend to in his office downstairs. As the sun began to sink lower in the sky, they would all retire to the house, while Greg toweled us kids off and got us changed and ready for dinner.
Dinners took place in the formal dining room. The crystal, fine china and sterling silver place settings were daunting for small and sometimes clumsy hands. The maid would emerge from the kitchen first with a basket of whatever rolls were in the offing which was passed form person to person. We were never allowed to simply apply the butter directly to the roll, but tear off small bite sized pieces and butter them instead, one at a time. The rules were simple tenets of good manners, but strictly adhered to whenever we ate in the dining room. There were small dishes already on the table containing carrot and celery sticks along and pitted black olives. These were passed around, the items placed carefully on our bread and butter dishes. Then the main course was delivered on an enormous silver tray, meats, vegetables and starch- all three arranged artfully with serving fork and spoon. We learned early to handle these implements well, to avoid dropping a wayward piece of buttered asparagus and stain the embroidered linen tablecloth, or worse, drop it onto the precious oriental rug below. The maid had to carry this heavy burden from person to person, holding the tray low and still while each of us served ourselves from the platter. The glasses were already filled with ice water, and as the meal progressed, they would be refilled when the maid observed through the glass window of the swinging kitchen door that someone’s glass was low. Then she would magically appear and refill our glasses from a large sterling pitcher with the initial “M” on it. In addition to this, in both houses, there was a bell on the floor under the carpet at my father’s foot that rang in the kitchen. By stepping on this hidden button, he could summon the maid at any point of the meal for an extra this or that.