To be absent from the body, is to be present with the Lord….
2 Corinthians, 5:8
“Hello, my name is Mary Pinchot…..the late Mary Pinchot-Meyer. Everyone knows Jack; however, before we begin our journey, allow me to reveal a little of myself and my family.”
“My family is inherently political; I can nostalgically remember terms such as candidate, party, caucus, election being a part of my life before that of the indelible event of my first day of kindergarten. The older I became the more I was expected to contribute to the daily dinner-time debate on current political events…locally, nationally, and foreign. Debate and discussion was the format, with arguing and fighting considered a weakness. Opinions from all ages were considered from around the dinner table, and heaven forbid if one’s opinion was without factual basis; empirical evidence was the format, with Party talking points rhetoric forbidden and scoffed upon. Further, being unable to intellectually contribute to any given subject was scorned upon.
“Ours being a north-eastern rooted family of means, the Kennedy family ofMassachusettswas a household social-political name often part of our dinnertime family discussions, as was the Pinchot name within the Kennedy household. Only in retrospect do I realize that during the late eighteen hundreds and early nineteen hundreds, the Pinchot family were more politically active than the Kennedy clan. Since then, our family has faded from the political scene, for reasons to be divulged along this journey
“The patriarchal genealogical seed into Americafor the Pinchot and Kennedy families were uniquely different, aside from both seeds, as immigrants, being young single males traveling alone.
“Jack’s great-great grandfather, Patrick Kennedy, was born in 1823 into a poor farming family in Dunganstown, Ireland. With the family farm raising barley and beef, young Patrick was not driven away by the potato famine, but rather by the desire to immigrate to American and make his fortune. His 1849 arrival into America, at the age of twenty-six, was fairly typical of the era; he was unskilled, except in farming, with a mid-grammar school education, and his possessions being essentially the clothes on his back. He soon found employment as a cooper, making yokes and staves for wagons destined for the burgeoning western gold rush.1
“My family’s immigration story was quite different, being three generations deep as Americans at the time of my 1920 birth. My great, great grandfather, Cyrille Désiré Constantin Pinchot was born into French middle class in 1797. As an officer in the French military, Cyrille was involved in a plot to free Napoleon from the islandof St. Helena. When the attempt failed, he escaped on a merchant ship to Englandwhere he returned to Francelong enough to retrieve his accumulated monetary spoils of war before moving to Americain 1826. Shortly after his arrival into the promised-land, he bought four hundred acres in the area of Milford, Pennsylvania, which already had a significant French population, and soon thereafter became the county tax collector. 2
“The Pinchot family had done well financially inAmericawithout drawing great attention to their wealth, while making remarkable achievements in the era of industrial robber barons.
“After making millions in the wallpaper business, my grandfather, James Pinchot, retired at age forty-four and turned to philanthropy, travel, and conservation. He and my grandmother Mary Jane Eno-Pinchot had three children: Gifford, Antoinette, and finally my father Amos, born inParisin 1873. InNew Yorkthey lived inGramercyPark, where their wealthy neighbors included the Hewitts (furniture), Coopers (iron/steel), and Minturns (shipping). Theirs was theNew Yorkof author Edith Wharton: squalid, run by corrupt political bosses, pestilent along the waterfront, and yet at the upper reaches a very formal society of afternoon visits in carriages with footmen in red-topped boots and side-whiskers.
“Growing up in our idyllic country estate, GreyTowers, in Milford, Pennsylvaniaand a Park AvenueNew Yorkapartment, I was exposed throughout my youth to upper class mores and manners….as well as radical American politics. Although our country estate was frequented by some of our country’s most famous men, my family was able to pay respect to social convention while never being lavishly social. With such exposure, my place in society was so secure that decades later it was easy for me to become a member, to the chagrin of many others, of the President Kennedy in-crowd without the strain and failure of most Washingtonclimbers.3
“The general life style within our remotely private Grey Tower estate was Bohemian-like and us Pinchot women were, from childhood, practicing nudists, often wandering the expansive grounds, the stream and waterfall, the pool, as well as horseback riding, much to the delight of the many visitors and servants.4 Over the years many a male or female guest were slightly shocked or charmed, depending on their degree of convention, when I casually stripped and dove into the pool above the natural waterfall located within the estate grounds. Being healthy, fit, very athletic, and uninhibited, I was proud, not ashamed, of my nudity.”
Mary paused momentarily, chuckled, and continued with a wry look.
“At twelve, I was enrolled at the BrearleySchool, a private girl’s pre-school in the upper east side of New York, a short walk from our Park Avenueapartment. Although considered a finishing school, it was known for academic rigor as well as exclusivity. I wore a uniform of white blouse and dark skirt and took English, math, geography, history, science, and languages, including classic Greek and Latin, German and French. I was also involved in music, drama, art…and anything sport.” She laughed. “And, for what it’s worth, the school medic was Dr. Benjamin Spock. The faculty was mainly graduates of Columbia, Oberlin, and a number of the exclusive ‘Seven Sisters’ schools.”5
“The center piece of the school’s social life was the basketball team; my teammates simply called, yelled, “Pinchot”, as I played a wickedly aggressive game as forward and play maker. I was also on the tennis team and brought several championship trophies to the school. My popularity revolved around sports, for the school was dedicated to their teams. According to the coaches, I was blessed with the body, balance, and coordination of an athlete, along with natural aggression and passion.6
“On the heels of the sports topic, it’s short of sacrilegious to bring up the subject of smoking.”
She shrugged her shoulders, and shifted position in her high-back, throne-like chair.
“Anyway, at Brearley, my friends and I whiled away our lunch hours learning how to smoke cigarettes at a local sandwich and soda shop. In fact, smoking was so pervasive that Brearley provided us seniors with our own smoking room, a sunny space on the seventh floor overlooking the East River. Thank God (she dropped her voice and looked around as she spoke the word of God) I never became a heavy smoker, however I did smoke socially throughout my life….in fact I had a cigarette going at the time of my passing.”7
Mary paused, looked, right, and shrugged her bare shapely shoulders.
“My current state of being allows me to say that, according to my teachers and piers, I shone at Brearley.”
“There, I said it.” She laughed. “Further, I was smart, fit, amusing, not too intense, and, yes, popular. The consensus was that I was the model Brearley girl. In fact, my classmates selected me as Miss Brearley of 1938, with an announcement accolade that ‘Pinchot looked cute at all times’. One of my best friends, who walked to school with me from ourPark Avenue apartments, jokingly claimed that I had lots of beaus.”
She fanned her face with her hand.
“Enough said about that.” Pause. “Many weekends we Brearley girls were invited to dances at the boys’ schools, Groton, Choate, and Saint Paul’s. On those weekends, the girls traveled to the New Englandcampuses and the boys vacated their dorm rooms and slept in the gym, leaving little notes behind on their pillows for their dates. On one such weekend, William Attwood was my date to a dance held at Choate. Attwood, of course, grew up to become President Kennedy’s U.N. ambassador, and later publisher of New YorkNewsday.” She smiled warmly, “Well, it was on one such snowy night that I first met a skinny, funny boy named John F. Kennedy, who was a few years my senior.” Mary half smiles and rolled her eyes. “I vividly remember that, although Bill Attwood told me that I was the best and prettiest girl at the dance, it was Jack that kept cutting in on the dance floor.8
“By the time we were fourteen, chaperones were no longer trailing us, so us Brearley girls explored New Yorkon our own. My Park Avenue was still an un-congested, safe and friendly place, with the balance of New Yorkour playground and a mere extension of our elite world on Park Avenue. Our favorite store was Saks Fifth Avenue, and we toured museums and explored and enjoyed the parks.”9
She gave an abbreviated giggle, “And there were so many boys and young men that our formal coming out had, from our perspective, little glamour.10
“By my mid-teens, I was finding society interesting to the point that I was spending less and less time with my family at our GreyTowerscountry estate and more time with my classmates in the Hamptons, closer to New York. Sadly, during those years, the distance between me and my younger sister grew. And, of course, Tony being my four-year junior, I had graduated by the time she entered Brearley.11
“As a teenager I was in great demand as a houseguest, with the four social seasons ruling our society; even though we made fun of them, we followed the rituals.12 Spring was for horse racing, summer for the Hamptons, or other cool climes, fall was for riding hounds, with winter reserved for debutante balls, and deep winter for Palm Beach or sport fishing in the Keys.”13
She shifted in her seat, and cleared her throat.
“That period was a whirlwind of debutante balls at the Ritz-Carlton and Waldorf-Astoria, followed by dates at the Cotton Club, Stork Club, and the Waldorf’s Sert Room, where we drank and danced the night away.14 In short, I was irresistibly attracted to the party life….and I was literally invited to everything. My life revolved around lipstick, ball gowns, and silk stockings. In fact, I met my future husband, Cord Meyer, at one of the many debutante balls during those years.15
“As the war loomed, the pace of New Yorkpre-war socializing increased.” Mary paused in reflection. “We lived at a near frantic rate, not knowing just how long any of us would be alive.16 In fact, my coming out year, 1938, was the year the New York debutante scene seemed most glamorous to the rest of America. The national press lapped up the glamour and fed it back to a public weary of grim times and receptive to fantasy.”17
She smiled faintly.
“Many of my classmates made their debuts on an obscenely grand scale, but I did not. My father, recovering from the depression, refused to pay for a huge coming-out ball. But he didn’t dispense with the custom entirely. I was presented at an exquisite Park Avenuehome afternoon tea, with photographer David Middleton as my escort. Being well aware of the inanity of the endless round of debutant balls, I was all but indifferent with the downsized affair, as in having had enough of that.”18
Mary’s countenance changed as she shifted in her seat and squared her shoulders.
“Of course, when thinking about this period of time, my thoughts sadly return to that of my half sister, Rosamund, who was the product of my father’s nineteen-year first marriage to Gertrude Minturn. Well, it would be an understatement to say that Rosamund was beautiful. When I was a small child, she was a drop-dead gorgeous teenager, and a model of sophistication and glamour.” Mary raises her chin and proudly continues. “My father adored Rosamund, who was a teenager as I was still a mere child. At sixteen she was long legged, curvaceous, and five-nine, with blond hair, deep set blue eyes and strong chin. In spite of being overshadowed by her, I was at awe of my adventurous and beautiful half-sister.
“At seventeen, Rosamund was discovered by producer Max Reinhardt”. Mary brackets the word discovered with her fingers. “The Viennese film maker had spotted her on the deck of a luxury transatlantic ocean liner in route to stage a New York production, The Miracle. My sister was returning home from an extensive European tour. Reinhardt chose her to play the part of the nun, and,” She grinned. “not to brag, she was an overnight sensation…the socialite-turned-actress. Gosh….her photograph appeared frequently in stylish magazines, and for a few years she was a budding starlet.”
Mary smiled and rolled her eyes.
“I was always at awe of my half-sister’s celebrity. She signed a contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and moved to Hollywood.” She shrugged her shoulders. “On a modest level, I had my own share of photographic attention. As a teenager, I modeled clothes and hairstyles for Vogue. One Vogue shot, my personal favorite, in my late teens, was that of a glamorous profile, with upswept hair and diamond earrings,” She chuckled, “an ice princess with full lips and a distant gaze.”
The thought made her chuckle.
“Anyway, after graduating from Brearley, I followed my mother to Vassar, located in Poughkeepsie, New York, between Sunset and Vassar lakes, a stone’s throw from MaristCollegeand up the road from West Point. I found the school’s long tradition in women’s education to be intimidating at first; however, by second semester I found my rhythm and, in turn, my comfort zone. I lived in the NorthTowerdorm, considered the most glamorous campus residence, and there, I met women who became lifelong friends.” She chuckled in reflection. “While during the week we wore bobby socks and saddle shoes, during the weekends we dressed to the nines and daubed on Chanel No. 5. Of course, Tommy Dorsey was thee swing band, although we had to settle for Glen Miller live at our junior prom.” As if in afterthought, “And, it goes without saying, we at Vassar were devoted to Yale. The Yale motto, “For God, county, and Yale”, was displayed prominently on Vassar campus.20
“Many of us Vassar girls arranged our schedules to have no classes on Friday, or no more than two morning classes, in order to catch an early train toNew Haven.” She giggled, “we would go under any pretext, and once arrived we would always be taken care of. The men were more than willing to put us up in a hotel, feed us, and provide plenty of drinking and dancing.” She paused to reflect. “And, as I recall, we were all virgins. Well not all of us. I can remember a handful of us waiting for one girl to return from a weekend when she proclaimed, prior to setting out for her weekend, she was going to go the whole way….just to see what it was like.” 21
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