Diggings: Level 7

When Irene was about 7 years old she complained about pains in her leg and arm joints. Dr. Foley explained to mother and daddy that she was suffering from “growing pains”. It wasn’t until years later that it was learned she had contracted rheumatic fever after a strep infection which caused serious damage to tow of her heart valves. This had a profound effect on her future.

In 1936, Renee was invited to spend a year with our cousin, Arle who was an “only child”. Her mother, Burt, was my mother’s first cousin and they were quite close as children growing up in Chicago. Burt’s first husband was Raymond Perry a successful owner of a dredging company. Burt had spent her youth as a Ziegfeld Girl in New York (her sister, Bea, was as well) and left the stage when asked to be his wife. He was a great deal older than Burt (she was his second wife) and they had one child (conceived in Arles, France) whom they named Arle. “Uncle” Raymond dredged Jones Beach, filled in the lakefront in Chicago to create Grant Park- using the dirt from many of the tunnels dug in Chicago.

Uncle Raymond died when Arle was quite young. “Aunt” Burt some time afterwards married Hugo Hoffman. They moved to Riderwood, Maryland, in the Green Spring Valley just outside of Baltimore. The property was called Thornton Farm. There were 250 acres of rolling green hills, the main house (built by Francis X. Bushman in the early 1900’s), stables, cow barns, tenant house, farmer’s house- all this only 9 miles from Baltimore.

Renee was brought there by mother and I remember being quite sad about Renee leaving for such a long time. In fact she was gone for a year and half. Renee had the ability to adapt to new situations and adjusted well to this change in her lifestyle. And the lifestyle was different from what we were accustomed to thinking was the only way of life.

There were pre-war times, the last gasp of truly “gracious living”. A nanny, Martha; butler/chauffeur, Nixon; cook, maid, laundress, an Irish groom, John; a tenant farmer named Zimmerman and a seamstress/launderer. Perhaps our parents thought the experience would be educational for us- because eventually Margot and I traveled “east”.

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