The Tale to Two Upstairs
My sister, The Countess du Barry, lives in a modest, Victorian bungelow in which everything is polished. The floors are polished, the silver is polished, and life itself is polished.
On Saturday morning I glided out of my room feeling like Roselind Russell to find the dining room set for a formal breakfast. Du barry showed me how to take pastry sheets, cutting a flat bottom and then slicing pieces to fashion a thing that baked into a puffed basket which held lucious scrambled eggs with a cream topping. (I usually content myself is toasted waffles.)
The home was warm and inviting, everything Newport is about.
Du Barry told my she had a "boarder" upstairs; a nineteen-year-old boy who worked at the equestrian stables in town. While du barry was shopping I gazed at those stairs to his room; knowledgeble of my tawdry past I did not dare climb them without reason and thought long and hard for one. "Fireman" seemed rather far-fetched and I did not have the rubber boots. Having packed a Red Cross uniform, I had a plausible reason for climbing the stairs if I could make a case out of checking for scarlet fever. I even thought of sleeping on the bottom step as if cast upon with a "spell". All this came to an end with the arrival of the guests, and I never met the boy.
Rather more interesting is the story of the third floor of The Breakers, Cornelius Vanderbilt II's summer "cottage" in Newport. His youngest daugher, Gladys, married a rich Hungarian nobleman in the 1908 and became Countess Szechenyi. She was a kind and generous woman whose children used to coast down the grand staircase on silver trays to everyone's amusement. Gladys used her money and influence to rescue hundreds of children trapped in the Nazi nightmare that encirled Hungary of World War II, and in 1948 leased The Breakers to the Historical Society for one dollar a year on the condition that she retained the third floor for her family's, private residence.
The third floor was no attic; it was 30 rooms of elegance from another era. Gladys lived a long and rich life filled with glamour, generosity, and fun. The historical society bought The Breakers for a song from her daughter, Countess Sylvia Szapary, in the 70's with the same residential agreement; I always remember hearing of Countess Szapary's charity balls and benefits. When Sylvia died in 1998, the historical society quietly notified Gladys and Paul Szapary, her children, that they had to leave. Gladys--to this day a social beacon in Newport and a friend of du Barry--replied that they would, if they had to, but would be taking all the original furniture in the 100-room mansion. Their mother had wisely sold only the mansion and not the furnishings.
Needless to say, Gladys and Paul still live on the third floor, although I still haven't found a good reason for climbing those stairs, either.