Society Hill Socialite

I was still in a daze concerning the “rules and regulations” of my new life and no one gave me a long paper written in legalize to  read and sign that I understood and accepted the terms.  In other words, I was learning as I hopped from one situation to another, as I met various people and attended a lot of parties, one more different than the others.

For a while, I thought everyone in America had a 10-12 room home and a swimming pool and at least a  Victorian rose garden, if not several.  After I started to work in Philadelphia I discovered  some people lived in apartments and didn’t have swimming pools or gardens, I realized  I will be one of them once I move out of my friend’s house in Berwyn.  I also started to get the idea of  how expensive an apartment in a nice area was, and also that not all neighborhoods were equally beautiful or safe.  I started to understand the value of money and what it could offer you.

My friends, Cass and Nick,  took me with them to parties, so that I got acclimated to my new life, even if it was borrowed, I enjoyed it. They told me “you are invited” but looking back,  I think they were asking the the hostess if I could come along, and  because people on the Main Line are gracious and polite, the hostess always accepted.  I will never know for sure how or why, but I attended many parties on Main Line Philadelphia.  I observed the phylosophycal conversations and the very shallow ones, the beauty of some dresses and the eccentricity of others and endless conversations about playing golf  and American football.  Some of the conversations which clearly everyone else understood, I didn’t, and then I made a habit of nodding and smiling vaguely if I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do or if an action was expected of me.That seemed to work just fine.

In was in the middle of one of these parties on the Main Line, when all heads turned to look at a late-comer. I turned too:

She was tall, slim and striking. Her unusual silver jewelry, her hair-do and black and white outfit made her unique and memorable. Not beautiful, but striking, something to remember.  She wasn’t young. She was ageless.  She didn’t excuse herself for being late and the hosts didn’t seem to expect excuses from her.  She asked the waiter for a glass of wine, scanned the terrace and her eyes stopped on me.  She then scanned me, with the same expert eyes and came straight to me:

“Where do you work? I don’t know you?” She said.

I cannot believe this! She is not asking my name, she asks where I work! That’s different! I thought.

” I work at an insurance company downtown Philly, “The Green Tree,” I said.” “By the way, my name is Rodica, a friend of the Ludingtons.”

“Oh, I don’t think I will remember that name, it’s too long… unless I see you again!”

She looked at me one more time:

“I know “The Green Tree” it’s around the corner from my house.”  Would you like to come and stay at my house sometime?It would be very close to your work and you could swim in my indoor swimming pool!”

I didn’t have a chance to respond because she turned abruptly and started a conversation with another guest.

I thought she forgot about her invitation, but when the party was almost over she handed me a piece of paper with her name, phone number and address.

“Call me sometime, and we’ll have lunch.”

She disappeared as abruptly as she showed up and I looked at the paper: Nancy Grace…Who was Nancy Grace?

I asked one of the guests. She told me Nancy was a socialite and a writer for “Town and Country”.  A long time before, she divorced a very rich man who was co-owner of Bethlehem Steel and had a very nice  divorce settlement.  She had four sons, but she always wanted a girl.  Nancy, I was told, was in love with a famous architect who designed a unique house for her in Society Hill, Philadelphia.  Then he died in a plane accident and she never was the same after his death.  He was the love of her life.  Nancy was a quaker and a pacifist and she was known for telling things as they were, she was honest, bordering rudeness.  However, people loved or disliked her and either way, she couldn’t careless.  She was who she was and wasn’t going to change to please.

A few weeks passed and I almost forgot about Nancy, when the telephone rang:

“This is Nancy Grace. You didn’t call me!  Let’s have dinner tomorrow when you get off from work. You work one of those 9 to 5 right?”

“Yes, I am off at 5:00 PM,” I answered, and the way she spoke didn’t allow for explanations, saying no, or saying anything.  She was making statements, not asking.

“Okay, then 5:15 P.M I’ ll see you at my house. it’s five minutes from your work. Please be on time.”

She hang up and my first thought was:”Why did she call me? Is she safe to be around?”

Everyone assured me she was eccentric and she was known for having these immediate likes and dislikes for people. She probably thought I was interesting and nice. It was an honor.

The following day, I rang the bell of a red-brick house with high red-brick walls which gave total privacy to an interior garden.  She opened the side door and I entered into the famous house which was designed for her by the love of her life.

I looked around, and a mixture of a cozy, inviting ambiance but also rejecting rigidity stroke me.  Her house was indeed exactly like her. It mattered which side one wanted or needed to see and remember.  It was a mixture of warmth and frigidity, of comfort and discomfort.

“There are not many comfortable places in this house, but I meant it this way when he designed it! Yet, there are a few which could make you feel in Heaven, but you have to find them! … and not everyone can!” Nancy said.

She gave me a tour of the house, the fireplace was my favorite, but the highlight of the place was the inside swimming pool:

“I swim in the nude. Do you have your swimming suit with you? If you don’t and you want to swim, I don’t mind. You may swim in the nude too!” Nancy said.

She turned around and examined my face. I assumed she was looking for a shocked or puzzled face, a young woman from Romania being asked to swim in the nude!

What was going through my mind, was that may be Americans are not as shy as their reputation goes, if Nancy swam in the nude, or was she that different?

“Yes, I’d swim in the nude. What a nice surprise, I haven’t done this in years.” I answered.

“You… swam in the nude?! When, where?”

“Oh, in Romania about 5 years ago. There was an illegal nude beach in “2 Mai” on the Black Sea. My husband and I went every summer for a week or two and we stayed in the nude for the whole time.”

“You ate in the nude?”

Her eyebrows raised and her voice changed.

“Oh, yeah, we only put clothes on if we were cold or if we had non-nudist visitors. You know… some people are not comfortable with nudity… I wonder why?”

‘You mean you were in the nude all day long in front of people you didn’t know?”

“Yeah,  and night too, but you get used to it, it’s odd just in the beginning.”

Nancy was deflated.

“I think the water is too cold, we’ll swim some other time.”

Suddenly, the daring idea of two women swimming in the nude alone, in the privacy of an empty house seemed decent.

We sat at a glass table and ate salads. Nancy looked sad.

I felt the same feeling  of power I had when at five and I ran from my parents ‘ apartment to play in the park in spite of Mrs. Urban’ orders to stay home.

As Nancy was eating, I examined her elegant manners, and decided I really liked the tall, blue-eyed woman with her unexpected questions and childish reactions when the answers were not what she expected. She was real!

I knew, she and I will see each other again.

2 thoughts on “Society Hill Socialite

  1. Rodica,

    Hello. I found your blog on a Google search. Nancy Grace was my Grandmother (Aga we called her), and I just want to thank you for posting this story. It made me cry with how accurately it captures Aga’s spirit. I miss her very much, and today you made me think of her and smile.

    Thank you,

    Andrea Grace


    • Hello, Andrea,

      Thank you for the kind comment. Such a pleasant surprise!I knew your grandmother well and have fond and unique memories of her and also her sons.
      I am amazed you came across this post among the millions available on the internet. In fact, it became a chapter in my book, The Gypsy Saw Two Lives. I’m grateful it brought you good memories. I’ll write you a private email. Best wishes, Rodica


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