East Hampton New York Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
By Amy Phillips Penn

My parents’ friends were a motley New York crew.

Each one punctuated my parents’ profile, and tangibly influenced my persona, which was inching its way out of a color form dimension into a smorgasbord of influences that were seeping in or discarded with a visceral fling. The mysterious grown-up world belonged to my parents, and their friends reflected their universe.

Many of their friends branched out from our friends at school…friends we traveled with in overlapping family entourages: Charlene and her husband, Henry, were lifelong friends of my parents. Their children were in the same classes as my brother and me at Town School. When Charlene visited us, she opened an Hermes bag as “Big as the Ritz” times the Plaza, and offered me my favorite Flora Mir mints. Our families had neighboring summer homes in Deal, New Jersey; better yet, nestling chalets in Gstaad.

We had myriad aunts and uncles — some were related to us, others simply adopted the title. We rarely called any of our parent’s friends by the first name.

My aunt Ina held my hand as we dove off a high diving board at some country club. She stood next to me, as patiently as if staying there all night was no imposition. Aunt Ina didn’t push or “go condescending” on me when I tentatively put one toe forward, then wiggled it back onto terra firma. We jumped off the board hand in hand, and then…we did it again.

Investigating one’s parent’s friends is not always a wise choice.

Cheri was a jet-setting, wild game-hunting friend of my parents. She piled up multi layers of divorce papers, without the tiniest of paper cuts or apparent regrets.

Her husband of the moment was an author. I devoured one of his books on the train to East Hampton. He described Cheri in detail: as the Madame of a high class whorehouse in a townhouse at the end of our block — our very own Belle Du Jour.

Some secrets are too sexy to stay swathed in solitude. My brother drooled an adolescent drool when he saw the hottest silhouettes stilettoing their way down the townhouse stairs. My cousin, Leonard, kept the company limo waiting outside this seductive niche. When he all but nose-dived into my great aunt, he babbled something about visiting his father.

There was no need to do further research on my parents’ entourage. Twice burned and all that. Besides, there was an ongoing report about friends we barely knew. Ronda had “false nails” put on weekly at Elizabeth Arden’s, then bit them off; my friend Suzie’s very married mother had a lover staying in their East Hampton home; my mother’s childhood friend, Alice, worked at William Morris and had met Frank Sinatra, their childhood swoon; so and so was having a face-lift but, if anyone asked, she was in Philadelphia.

Philadelphia? And who would ask anyway?

My parents have been gone for close to two decades. I cherish their remaining friends, who are an extension of their lives, and hold on to their proverbial hands, diving board or not.

Leave a Reply