When I was a kid, my family went to my grandparents’ house every Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday. We lived in East Hanover, NJ, and my Dad’s sister and her family lived in Montclair, NJ. It was less than a two hour drive for all of us to get to Larchmont, NY, where my grandparents lived.
Larchmont was an awe inspiring place to me. It represented wealth and prestige, and it made me feel very special to go to my grandparents’ house. They lived in an upper class neighborhood, with big, solid homes, manicured lawns with enormous shade trees, and Cadillacs and Lincolns parked in long driveways. Their house was on a corner, and the front of the house faced the street, with a slate paved sidewalk leading up to the front door. Around the corner was the driveway, which led to a garage under the house where my grandfather kept his Cadillac, butter yellow with a jade green interior. It was the most beautiful car I’d ever seen and I loved riding in it, feeling like a princess.
The house wasn’t large by today’s standards, but to me it was a mansion. It was a brick rectangle with white trim, noble and conservative-looking. Entering through the front door you came into a large foyer, with the library directly ahead. The library had floor to ceiling bookshelves and a cushioned seat in a bay window. It was painted a soft, pale blue and was very welcoming and cozy, with overstuffed upholstered chairs.
To the left of the foyer was the living room, which ran the width of the house, and had a fireplace in the middle with a long white mantel. A grand piano sat at one end of the room. My grandparents, Nonnie and Granddaddy, had done quite a bit of traveling and had decorated their home with items from their travels. Granddaddy’s siblings were Missionaries in the Far East, China, and this oriental influence was apparent throughout the house, with intricate oriental rugs a prominent feature of the décor.
To the right of the entrance foyer was the formal dining room that held a massive mahogany table and chairs. These sat on a blue and white oriental rug. Surrounding the table were china cabinets and hutches, and a side bar that held the most exotic thing I’d ever seen- a Samovar. I didn’t know it was a Samovar for many years, I just knew it was foreign. It was a large tray of golden metal, engraved, with a tall urn type thing that looked a little like a coffee maker, and several small matching cups. I could not for the life of me figure it out, but I knew I’d better not touch it!
Beyond the dining room was the kitchen, quite ordinary, and the breakfast room, which was an alcove with a bright, sunny window and a small dining table and chairs. This is where most of the meals were enjoyed.
Immediately on the left back in the entrance foyer was the staircase up to the second floor, which held the bedrooms. Nonnie and Granddaddy’s room was at the end to the right, with a large bathroom and walk in closet. Three smaller bedrooms lined the upstairs hallway.
Going to Larchmont was a big deal. We went there for the two biggest holidays of the year, every year of my childhood. We all had to get dressed up. I wore fancy dresses, patent leather shoes and white anklets, a dressy coat, hat and gloves (it was cold!). My brothers all had to wear suits and ties, with dress shoes. We’d get all ready early in the morning right after breakfast, and pile in the car for the drive over the George Washington Bridge into New York City. I don’t think I could find the place now, Huguenot Drive, if it even still exists. Once we got to Nonnie and Granddaddy’s we’d pile out of the car and into the house in all our finery. After our cousins arrived and an interval of greetings, fussing, and potty trips we’d load back into the cars and head out for lunch.
Granddaddy had a membership at the Orienta Yacht Club on Long Island Sound forever. He was not a boater, but it was de rigeur among the wealthy in those days to have a club membership, and the Orienta was the the club. The clubhouse, which included the restaurant, was at the end of a long, winding driveway off the main road. It was a large stone building surrounded by green lawn, old trees and hedges. Walking into the entry you could keep going through to huge, glass-paned double doors, and there was the water. The coast of Long Island Sound is rocky there, with tidal pools and thousands of mussels clinging to the rocks.
Granddaddy had a standing reservation for lunch every Thanksgiving and Christmas, and the Orienta staff would set up a long table for our clan. With five kids in my family, and five in my aunt’s, we made a large group. When the older siblings brought spouses and/or dates, we’d have as many as twenty in the clan! Lunch was a multi-course, hours-long feast that left us all ready to burst.
I remember when I was a girl, like all little girls, I wanted to be grown up, like my Mom and my big sister. They wore bras and girdles and stockings, and I wanted to be like them. I must have been about 11 or 12 the first time I wore a girdle, with garters and stockings, under my fancy dress to go to Larchmont. I struggled into the girdle at home, sat uncomfortably in the car on the ride to Larchmont, and felt so grown up and mature when we arrived! We went to lunch at the club, as usual, and I ate everything that was put in front of me. By the time I was finished I thought I would die. I could not breathe. I could not sit, or stand. I was as miserable as a woman could be! The ladies room at the club was up a long, curved stairway on the second floor. I slowly made my way up those stairs, seeking relief, my Mom at my side. Once in the stall I could not wait to get out of that girdle and those stockings! No matter that my bare legs would feel the cold, I had to be free of the confines of that girdle! I told my Mom, “I do not know how you and all the other women of the world can stand it, to be pinched up inside one of those things!!” “You get used to it,” she said, smiling. Well, I never did. I never wore a girdle again, and settled for an almost equally uncomfortable garter belt instead!