Sunday, June 10, 2012

'Jane' 1971

My personal tale of Lost 1st & Best Love:
‘Jane’ 1971 41 years ago
like a Camelot Ritual- they break us apart,
21 days later the mansion burns -
Aug 26, 1971,
and the 29 acre property is subdivided into Wykagyl Estates’.
We met 1st day of summer day camp, probably on July 1, 1971, at the final season of Hudson Country Day School Summer Camp upon that 29 acre former Ward family property bearing the mansion 'Homewood', built a century ago in 1912, in northern New Rochelle N.Y., and demolished only 61 years later in 1973, having burnt in the early mornng of August 26, 1971 during the first night after camp ended.  Today this school and summer camp continues in downsized form across the street in the carriagehouse.

She appeared to me as Norman – an ethnicity found in Norway, the U.K. and France – and could have passed for French. Round faced. Big eyes. Beautiful expressive smile. Brunette. Straight hair, medium brown with an occasional blond strand. A page boy hair-cut. Shorter not taller in stature. Pretty all around. Catholic. Was there for her 3rd year. Don’t remember any other name for her from that summer for the life of me, such as a last name. Nor any memories of her family, aside from the sound of presumably her dad’s voice and the house. The only name I remember for her from 1971 was ‘Jane’.

I can remember how we met.  The first or second day of camp.  It was as a whole group of us campers were walking down the hill towards the Lake Pool.  And I was the one camper to try that barefoot.  Which was fine for most of the walk from the Homewood mansion, itself a painful exercise on the gravel walkway downwards, resulting in my feet hurting and me being the slowest walker as my toes curled on the gravel.  She was watching me walk, approaching me from my back and to the left, introducing herself by saying something about my feet or not wearing shoes  - can’t exactly remember exactly what ... but it comes back in bits and pieces ... 4-4-13 I recall responding "your toes are so cute I'll play piano on them."

And at the end of that session at the Lake Pool we were walking up that hill together. She was wearing tongs. And so was I starting from the following day, with us walking up and down that hill together- day after day.  4-1-4-13 And perform the ritual of facing each other squatting, hugging, and playing piano on each others toes.

Hudson Country Day School- Summer Camp property in 1976, 5 years after its final season 1971, and 3 years after the demolition of the Homewood mansion,
with 'Lake Pool' at bottom center,
road at top is Quaker Ridge Boulevard, New Rochelle, N.Y.

We were the main couple of that summer camp season.

Rare Earth - I Just Want To Celebrate 1971

I have memories of hugs with her in the grounds between the mop tree and the mansion ‘Homewood’.

'Homewood'- front


Of being on those grounds and looking up at the top floor – roof-attic-dormer – at her wonderful smiling face, a toothy grin, a face and smile locked into my mind and heart. 

We did almost everything together.

I was never happier.

We were together for the first 5 weeks of the 8 week summer camp session.

All of July. And a few days into August.

Until the day or few towards “Indian Day".

Boys and Girls of the same age group or groups consolidated into teams.

Though our groups – such as my Rutgers – were sex segregated, either all boys born in 1962, or the 2nd half of 1962, IIRC, Indian Day was co-ed.

My group – Rutgers – had its ‘classroom’ or rather lockers in the Homewood’s mansion’s basement, just within the east wing from the foyer area.

‘Jane’s’ group -- there was a group named Radcliffe which I think was hers -- was in the top floor of the ‘Homewood’ mansion - the 3rd level, not counting the basement. It was the floor with its ceiling the mansion’s inner roof, with dormer window and painted a medium-light blue.

That's the triple-dormer window to the right, where I have memories of her beautiful toothy smile greeting me.

"Homewood", the R.B. Ward Estate in New Rochelle , New York. The property was located on Quaker Ridge Road, adjacent to Wykagyl Country Club. The property was 50 acres, natural and partly cleared woodland, finely developed lawns and various types of gardens. Also on the property were a pergola, tennis court, and putting green. Also a vegetable garden, orchard, and farm. The large manor-like house had 10 master bedrooms, 5 servants' bedrooms, 5 baths, 2 lavatories, music room, smoking room, breakfast room, billiard room, bowling alley, cold cellars, water-heater room, wood cellar, laundry, ice house, butler's pantry, serving pantry, and a servant's dining room. The garage held 6-8 cars. There was also a barn for cows, horses, and sheep with ample wagon room. Also- a cement piggery, milk house, ice house, smoke house and chicken house. Plus 3 separate houses for farmer, chauffeur, and gardener.

With some 14 one year age groups – camp covered ages 2-14 -- camp competitions as Indian Day or “Normans versus Saxons” had fewer groups as these groups were somewhat combined.

A recent post on the Hudson Country Summer Camp Facebook group page mentioning 2 year groups with 1959 and 1960 together hereby placing my year 1962 with 1961. Prior to reading that in 2012, my presumption was that ‘Jane’ would have had to have been born in 1962, and not perhaps 1961...

Our age group centered around the 2 of us.

She had this Indian tepee.

It was to be our prop.

We were to have a ceremony.

We were to sit in front of and in the tepee. Probably inspired by our ritual of playing piano on each others' toes.  All before the entire assemblage of the summer camp the “Hudson Country Days School” that August 1971, mere weeks before what by weird fate became that camp’s final season.

In preparation we were to practice with the tepee.

She was to bring it to camp, specifically at the [oak?] tree in front of the Homewood mansion’s east wing.

Her bus was customarily earlier than mine.

We agreed to wait for the other and we would carry it together.

The next day when I arrive, ‘Jane’ is not there. I stand at the tree and wait a number of minutes.

A counselor arrives.  He tells me that 'Jane' did not wait for me because she no longer wants to see me again, that she has broken up with me, and that can't I take a hint why she was not waiting for me?

After some prodding, there were two or three steps of this BS, I foolishly swallow the bait, I begin to bawl and cry in anger, with them getting me to say that I did not want to see her again. She does not hear any of this directly, as she was still absent- a factor tipping me. I did not say this to her face. But she is conveyed this.

Until told that it’s just a prank- Thursday, August 5, 1971.

Another counselor chimes in ‘We are to Break Us Apart, And Then Re-Unite Us'.

They told each of us the other no longer wanted to see them.

It was like some weird ritual.

Both of us were separate and in tears from hearing what we heard ‘about’ each other via the couriers of some of the counselors.

I pull together in about 5 minutes.

‘Jane’ doesn’t.

I was told that she cried for hours in what must have been a serious downward spiral, as we do NOT get to see each other that day, as if she began physically avoiding me by having Hudson call her folks to take her home.  Nevermind, presumably, she was being told that it was just a prank.

The prank had been entirely indirect- we never spoke ill to the face of the other.
‘Jane’ has now disappeared from my view.  The last time we saw each other was not the day of the Indian tepee prank, but rather the previous day.

Indian day came and went that next Saturday, August 7, 1971.

I participated in Indian day. So did ‘Jane’s’ tepee. But not ‘Jane’.

I was miserable.

Shortly afterwards, that day or perhaps a couple of days later, the counselors drove me with her Indian tepee to her family’s house.

I wanted to tell her that I love her and that I want to be with her always.

America - I Need You 1971

It was somewhere roughly to the west, on a 15 minute automobile drive partially along the Cross County Parkway. The design -- a split foyer raised ranch -- was very similar to the house immediately next door to my family's house in New Rochelle on Stratton Road.  My guess is that it was mid to late 1960s construction. It's a design with a centrally located front door; entryway with a left-hand stair-set down to a basement tv room, and a right-hand stair-set up towards a kitchen with a living room to the left, and to the right, the bedrooms atop a two door/two car garage.

I was told to stay in the car while at least one of the counselors went to the front door.

A crazy sounding man with the thickest accent I’ve ever heard – screaming from inside the 'Jane' family house. The accent was unfamiliar to me, something Mediterranean? Or Middle Eastern? Perhaps from a country with many people here, but a part with relatively few from the part of that country, such as northern Italian? It was similar to that of a certain jealous husband in Laurel & Hardy flicks. I never got a glimpse of him. I would only get to hear his screaming - raving like the Moon God of Islam and booming like a cannon - that he was never going to let either of us see each other again  perhaps over-ruling the position of any of her other family members that fateful August 1971 day.

I remember the counselor pleading, but 'Jane's' dad would not relent. Yes ‘Jane’ was upset with the idea of us being apart, yet her dad was insisting upon that very condition making her upset!

As far as I recall, he stayed in the house that day, refusing to even catch a glimpse of me, as I was there to apologize to her.

A strange and stranger slice of the human condition.

I saw the counselors bringing the tepee into the left-hand garage while they kept me in our transport vehicle, and then we were away.

I never saw her again during those remaining 3 weeks of summer camp. I don’t know if they pulled her fully out of camp or merely kept her far away within that 29 acres of Hudson Country Day School Summer Camp. But they were clearly keeping us apart, including keeping us fully obscured from the other.  In retrospect I think they pulled her out of camp, because I was actively interested in finding her, and could not find her.

4-26-13  Indeed, owing to the high profile nature of my relationship with 'Jane', a number of campers sicced another girl upon me -- of Italian American Sicilian ethnicity IIRC -- to tackle and slobber over my face with wet kisses by the "mop' tree.  But I was not interested, and fought her off, as I wanted my 'Jane' back.

Another memory recently unblocked of the remaining 3 weeks of that final season of Hudson Homewood was of me getting stung by a bee as I walked behind the Homewood mansion.

My memories of her and our relationship are heavily blocked.   About 98% of our time spent together those wonderful 30 days, with the prank being day #31 and Indian Day and that visit to her family's house perhaps as day #33, I can't recall, hence thwarting a further expansion of this essay- for now.

The memory blockage is logically in part because the breaking up is very painful, as even 41 years later I feel a deep spiritual bond with her, and seek to find her, and tell to her face what I was denied the opportunity in August 1971.
Indeed, my visit to her family's house to return the tepee was something I could only interestingly remember fragments of, as if a dream, more than 16 years later.   Hence, that's why I was unable to re-trace the route to seek her at her house for so many years, and of course potentially cautious.  Though I would not recall that screaming father voice until later, 'Jane's' disappearance from Hudson for the final 3 weeks of Hudson camp 1971 immediately after the Indian tepee prank had placed me on guard, that her family had decided to separate us.

I could only speculate about the degree of such issues for ‘Jane’- though by any indication it was way worse for her- aka her initial reaction, and that of her dad; perhaps so severely psychologically blocked to the degree of being literally bottled, not 98% but closer to 100% during say the 1970s.

For such blockage was to be enforced physically further.

Any hope of a re-union at a next year’s camp was dashed within hours of the end of that 8 week session on Wednesday August 25, 1971- as late that evening or early the next morning, a severe fire gutted Homewood's east wing, with the center atrium foyer still with its roof, and the west wing undamaged.

To this day the cause of the fire is unknown. 
THE FIRE which destroyed the interior and roof of [the east wing of] Hudson Country Day School on Quaker Ridge Road New Rochelle last Thursday morning has been declared "of suspicious origin".
Joseph Butler, criminal investigator for arson from the office of District Attorney Carl Vegari, inspected the severely damaged building Thursday afternoon and reported to New Rochelle police that the "burn pattern indicated the use of some kind of flammable solvent.
It is estimated, according to the report that the fire was in progress one and a half to two hours before the first alarm was turned in at 4:08 a.m. apparently by an unidentified passerby, according to police.

It was our Camelot, getting destroyed 21 days after things went bad.

Taken together, with the circumstances of the prank, these events were what I would call a Camelot Ritual.

It would appear that an early decision was made to take down the camp’s 29 acre site, with the dismantling of its toy railroad in the autumn of 1971, and the recreation of HCDS in the rump property across the street in the separate garage by 1972.  No apparent consideration would be given to selling off a portion of the property furthest away from now fire damaged Homewood mansion, to raise the funds for its repair.  As far as I know, the fire insurance had refused to pay because the fire was deemed suspicious.   Considering the extent of the damage with the east wing entirely gutted, and a fire department about 6 minutes away, it may be reasonable to assume the use of accelerates, if not something supernatural.

I remember visiting the fire damaged Homewood in autumn 1971, and sometime in 1972 and early 1973. I was hoping for its repair (reconstruct the east wing). After an absence from attending my first sleep away camp (Winnipeg near Roscoe, N.Y.) for summer 1973, and finally getting to see property on October 9, when I first saw Homewood’s absence, even the un-burnt west wing was gone, with numerous bulldozer tracks instead. The property sat for about another 4 years before being cleared for a housing development.

Hudson Country Day School and Summer Camp continues since 1972 across the street in Homewood's carriage-house. Yet, there was no chance of school records telling anything,.  Such was trashed by the August 25-26, 1971 fire, I was told upon visiting there in 1985, following an November 1984 observation, spurring me to re-assess the mystery of the identity of 'Jane'.

Likewise fruitless were my various searches over the years for her in yearbooks of surrounding schools, initiated by observations leading to my initial re-assessment of this mystery, sometime into 1978.

Since the late 1970s, the 29 acre property is subdivided as a housing development as ‘Wykagyl Estate’, with the site of Homewood has been bisected by "Skyview Lane".

In the meantime - 1971-1974 - I gained weight in my depression over her.   Just look at the timeline of school pictures, like those in yearbooks, which can be such telling indicators of our moods, and even, markers of relationships crashed.

Spring 1971

Spring 1972

I only loose much of the fat during the summer of 1976 as self improvement at the time of my coming of age of puberty.

Never again did I see this gal going by the name ‘Jane’.

At least anyway, perhaps that girl, going by that name. 

For 3 years and 3 weeks after her August 4+ 1971 vanishing, my eyes were telling me "here!".

It was some 3 months into my 7th grade, the first year of my attendance of the Thornton Donovan School on 100 Overlook Circle New Rochelle -  exactly due south of the old Hudson Country Day School Summer camp property by some 7,000 or so feet.

But not at T.D. itself, but rather an elderly person's home in New Rochelle on Clinton Street (and demolished during the 1990s) - the Colburn Home; it was a day or so before Thanksgiving 1974, as part of a T.D. 'glee club' performance.

There she (?) was!

Dressed in the Catholic school girl plaid, sitting at a large wooden piano, at the left hand side of the 'stage' area “glee club" event.  Made me think of that song:
Tie a yellow ribbon around the old oak tree, it’s been three long years, do you still want me?
Having caught this glimpse briefly as I was herded in a line of fellow glee club students on our way out I say ‘Jane?!’ but see no response.  Wearing catholic girl’s school plaid, this girl was not a student at my school, T.D. The attire was a give-away, as was the fact that TD was both too small a school, and this too beautiful a girl for me to have somehow have not noticed if she had been a TD student.

Being with the TD lower school (K-5, hence ages 5 - 11), this obviously 12 or 13 years of age girl, as the piano player with my school's lower school 'glee club', was there because she had her two younger sisters as TD students for the 1974-1975 school year in grades 2 and 4, and their mom was the volunteer director of the TD lower school's stage performances (the school play).

It was the same piano pose as seen in a photo of the older of the two younger sisters (hereafter the 'middle' sister), on the wall of the receptionists’ area at T.D. when I first visited it in June 1974, with very similar appearance though more cherubic.

I inquire about this 'mystery girl', and am told a sufficiently different and far longer and multi syllable name then ‘Jane’ to than dissuade me that this was the same girl.

'Mystery Girl' 1975 T.D. First Family Dinner

Yes she looked the same.  This gal too, looked Norman, page boy haircut.  Identical features right down to the brown yet with occasional blond strands of hair like 'Jane'.  As an ethnic blend that could be called 're-constructed French'.  With an Italian surname even suggestive of that.

 'Mystery Girl' 1976

But she did not act the same.  This girl, from what I could observe of her at the 1976 T.D. First Family Dinner that February, sitting with her family and closely following her dad to the buffet, appeared to keep generally to herself.  She did not appear to notice me then.  Nor, likewise the following June walking up the T.D. driveway for the 1976 graduation ceremony, passing alongside her about 3 feet away, ahead of her family, parents and two younger sisters; though I looked directly at her, she did not even look back, keeping her eyes focused straight ahead.  So I then reasoned, if this were the same girl, ‘would not she say something?’ - as 'Jane' 1971 had been quite outgoing. 

So I figure that 'mystery girl' was not 'Jane' 1971.

Perhaps this was incorrect, that she really was her, though with amnesia from the extreme trauma of August 1971.

Perhaps 'mystery girl' had a childhood phase of not liking her relatively lengthy, barely 5+ syllable compound Italian first name, starting with an "M", reflecting the heritage of her dad, preferring instead a short single syllable "Jane"?  That would logically reflect the heritage of her mom from Australia, and to my eye appearing Norman- hence likely "English" ).

But that's today's hindsight.  So I then put this 'coincidence' largely but not entirely out of mind for nearly two years following the November 1974 sighting, only infrequently glimpsing her from afar.

Thornton Donovan School - 1974-1975

That is, until my 3rd year at TD, (1976-1977), 9th grade, just after loosing my post 'Jane' 1971 depression fat, when the middle sister enters its middle school; and we get to know each other.  She was in the same grade (6th) as my sister Lisa.  They were friends.

Autumn 1976 - Douglas Willinger standing, with sister Lisa at right, 
and the middle sister back beneath the "6"

In spring 1977, the middle sister brings a batch of her family photos.  Most are one-year-old, printed on the 'silk' finish paper common during the 1970s, taken at middle sister's 10th anniversary party celebrating her April 30, 1966 birthday. Some have the 'mystery girl' older sister.

One or two had her showing a beautiful toothy smile- my eyes scream out- that's ‘Jane’! 

Straight from the 3rd floor dormer window of Homewood 1971.

The physical resemblance was undeniable.

But 5 years later in 1976, in her family house finished basement.  She's wearing blue jeans, and a light blue sweater with some sort of diamond pattern.

The basement had the same green paneling in the T.D. basement-cafeteria.  She is serving food behind a bar.

4-4-13 There are other pictures, some with her head partially cropped at top, surrounded by some other girls, one of them being the middle sister.   These are not from behind the counter, and a floor with linoleum is visible, along with 'Mystery Girl's bare feet, which look like Jane's, having played piano on her toes in summer camp.

It was that basement-cafeteria where 'mystery girl' got her 'first' (?) good extended look at me when she was 15, to watch the T.D. Christmas play "Scrooge", with her sitting with her mom in the center of the audience.  I played the central lead role, while the middle sister played one of the ghosts.

She definitely caught my eye that day, though still I discerned no memory within her of me, thus that day promoting the belief that 'mystery girl' was not 'Jane'.

Douglas Willinger (r) as "Scrooge" TD Christmas play
December 22, 1976

But looking at those photos... come to think of it, Hudson was the closest summer camp to the catholic school - Ursuline -  this 'mystery girl' older sister attended in northern New Rochelle, N.Y. - maybe a mile away.

Years later- summer 1983, I was told that 'mystery girl' had attended Ursuline since kindergarten.  That she had been in the school's youngest grade as it gradually discontinued the grades below the 7th.  And that she attended that school through grade 12.  See yearbooks.  Thus, her 1978 graduation, places her there since the latter 1960s.

So 'mystery girl' was in the area, at least for school, in 1971.

Mere coincidences of a look a like- Doppelganger - or ... Dissociative Amnesia ?

So I made that observation of this 'coincidental' physical resemblance to this middle sister.  I had to.

I tell her the Indian tepee 1971 'Jane' story, making a certain matter perfectly clear in no uncertain terms: that if your older sister is my lost first love, than that’s where I definitely want & must be back together with her.

Douglas Andrew Willinger June 10, 2012 - to be updated and continued ...

see the sequel to 'Jane' 1971: The Angel of Francesca and Marialuisa



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