Thursday, December 25, 2008
memories of the singers
It was in 1968 that I first met the lovely and kind Mrs. Frances Singer. We were both teachers at PS 41, on West 11th Street in NYC's Greenwich Village. I was in my first year of teaching and I was assigned a K-1 class. Mrs. Singer was there to help. We became fast friends and she seemed to want to cultivate an out of school friendship with me.
Mrs. Singer was married to a highly respected physician and they lived in a brownstone on a leafy and quiet street not far from the school. Mrs. Singer invited me to lunch at her home on a school holiday and I accepted. This experience is another that sticks with me and today... on this unusually warm winter Saturday, memories are flooding back to me.
I remember it was on a Tuesday afternoon when I walked down from Chelsea to visit the Singers for lunch. I rang the bell and the door was answered by a member of her staff. I had never been to a home with a butler before, but he took my coat and showed me to the drawing parlor, where I waited for Mrs. Singer. She entered and she was wearing exquisite formal attire. She greeted me and Dr. Singer entered to be introduced. He shook my hand and he apologized and said he would not be joining us for lunch because in an emergency he had to see a patient.
Mrs. Singer asked me if I needed to use the washroom and she told me it was on the third floor on the left. I climbed the two long steep flights of stairs and entered an elegant bathroom that appeared to be her personal boudoir. There was a chaise lounge and dressing tables filled with creams and perfumes and dusting powders. On the back of the door hung feathered robes and dressing gowns. And next to the sink were pink guest soaps in the shape of seashells.
I descended those long stairs and I was seated in a dining room at a table that could easily have fit 20 people. Mrs. Singer rang a bell and her cook entered to serve the appetizer. We dined on some fancy prepared gourmet meal and I had "pate." Mrs. Singer was very attentive to my level of comfort, and every time I made a request she would ring the little soft bell and her cook would appear and handle all the needs.
We discussed teaching and we discussed life. Mrs. Singer spoke about her daughter who was about my age and who she adored. We talked about many things. It was the first time I had been surrounded by such elegance.
It has been about forty years since that day. Aging has me Googling around all over trying to find out where some of the many people are with whom I crossed paths during my long career. Today, I sadly learned Mrs. Singer passed away in 1999 and her husband passed away in 2004.
Manhattan was a quieter city forty years ago. There was a less rushed and congested atmosphere. People were less angry and not as confrontational. There was less noise. There was less rudeness and people seemed to treat each other more kindly. People took time to breathe.