Easter Sunday often evokes memories of my Long Island (NY) childhood in the 1950s and early 1960s. One of the lasting memories of that era was Easter Sunday brunch at the Garden City Hotel in Garden City, NY.
After Mass at St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church in our home town of West Hempstead, a nondescript hamlet bobbing in the sea of suburbs that spread eastward from New York City, we'd head to the next town north - the Mecca for many suburbanites, Garden City. Garden City was an upscale, WASP-ish town with an Episcopal cathedral, big houses, lush lawns, Cadillacs, swimming pools, and other trappings of wealth. If you were Jewish you'd have to look elsewhere (or so it was rumored). Catholics were okay, as long as there were not too many of them - in fact, my younger sister's wedding was at St. Joseph's in GC. Person of color? Fageddabouttit! I was thus surprised to learn that my mother, who was the farthest thing from a social climber, harbored a dream to live in GC (she made it in 1974, after we children had left home).
The Garden City landmark was the resplendent Garden City Hotel, still the only four-star hotel on Long Island. The version I remember was demolished in 1973. The picture here (from Wikipedia) is the current version; only the belfry is familiar to me.
My family - Dad, Mom (an easygoing North Carolina Presbyterian who graciously tolerated these all-Catholic affairs), Ellen, Ann, and I would rendezvous with the Neufeld family - Walter and Marie Gabrielle and their children: Gay, Vivi (I did not find out till much later that their real names were Gabrielle and Genevieve, respectively), Walter Jr., and Nancy. Grandaddy (we all called him that) Groh, Marie Gabrielle's retired father, would join us. We would occasionally be blessed by the presence of another family, that of Marie Gabrielle's older brother, Al Groh, his wife Marie, and their children Al Jr., Peter, and Christine. If the name 'Al Groh' sounds familiar it's because Al Jr. is the former coach of the New York Jets and the University of Virginia football team.
As we got older, my sister Ellen and Vivi Neufeld, still 'lookers' to this day, attracted the attention of young men also forced to brunch with their families. Always interesting to observe the 'eye flirting' that ensued.
The Garden City Hotel was the place to have your wedding, ball, prom, or cotillion. I went to several of the latter - the Regina Cotillion, organized by the Diocese of Rockville Centre, where young women (aged 16 or 17) would make their debut into 'cultured' Catholic society.
Duhhh...West Hempstead? Mineola? Levittown? Cultured? Debut? Society? WTF?
These cotillions were not the kind of events I dreamed of attending. There would always have to be more boys than girls (a 4:1 ratio was generally desirable), which presented a problem to the organizers. Most of the girls who went to these were generally not the type of girls teenaged boys wanted to date (use your imagination). So what would happen in that case is that the Regina Cotillion organizers would call their friends who were mothers of boys deemed 'presentable' with some semblance of 'Catholic gentlemanliness' and ask them if their sons would be so kind to serve as 'escorts'. Despite the fact that I had attended Catholic schools I was determined to be of suitable stock. The mothers would of course acquiesce without checking with their sons. Talk about groans and rolling eyes! But we did what were asked to do - sort of like being drafted into society, doing your duty.
Most of these events were quite boring - listening to the 'music' (I use that word loosely) of the Lester Lanin Orchestra. Many of the girls didn't want to be there either, but like the boys, were merely following the wishes of their parents. However, one of these conscripted soirees during the spring of my senior year in high school actually turned out to be quite fun. I met two girls I knew who were not the normal Cotillion types and more bored than I was. They dumped their escorts and we went into the gardens, smoked some cigarettes and just had a good time (remember, this was 1966). I believe some beer, obtained by duplicity at a local establishment, passed over our lips. It was fun seeing them again, catching up, and recaling the 'old days'. Near the end of the cotillion, they straightened their gowns (no, nothing like that happened) and I 'escorted' them back into the ballroom so their escorts could take them home as freshly-minted society types.
To her dying day my mother wondered why I had such a good time and told her it was okay to sign me up for another one.
"You know you're from Long Island if you never realize you have an accent until you leave."