MEMORIES OF THE CH - MARCH 1, 2002
By Katherine Ryden
It seems that every major event in my life took place in this small Tudor building on Borage Place. There was always the CH.
I think that Mom and Dad joined in 1984. When I was just a little girl. I could not tell where the Church in the Gardens stopped and the Community House began. It was always a blur in my mind.... just like those funny passages leading between the two buildings.
My earliest memory of the CH is singing in the Carol Choir in the Tearoom with horrible Maybella Williams scaring the hell out of us. What a funny word, "Tearoom". My other early musical memories were the Brooklyn Home kids singing on the stage in the gym. Or were they the boys from Saint Johns? I know that they were orphans... Irish faced boys singing barber shop harmony "Cony Island Baby"... I can see them on the stage. I thought they were brilliantly talented.
I was not active in the Girls' Club... non-athlete that I was. Was there a woman director? I don't remember one but I know that Evie O'Malley taught me to play basketball.
I remember swimming in "The Pool" It smelled awful.. of strong chlorine and damp towels. I could draw a diagram of the girls' locker room. There was wonderful Mrs. O'Neil drying us off with her pretty pink face and wonderful brogue. Every year at the annual awards event, we all stamped our feet and cheered for Mrs. O'Neil. The boys did the same for Danny Buckley... and Charlie Mack. Charlie Mack was as small as I was or nearly. A tiny man. He was also Santa Claus and rode in the sleigh to Sation Square every Christmas Eve.
I remember the Mother & Daughter Luncheon. Dressed in baggy white sailor suits, Sanne McCoy and I sang Honey Bun. How old were we? Twelve, I think. But, I get ahead of myself.
Earlier memories are of Miss Ehlers dance class. Was it on Thursday afternoons and later on, in the evernings? She had tiny feet and wore slippers like Cinderella and stiff formal dresses in the afternoon. There were many horrible boys... Peter Johnson tormented me on the dance floor when he took out his front teeth. Paul Reilyea was the best dancer and the best fun. Handsome Robbie Kauer was the best looking or was it Billy Weil? Billy Starbuck too and Billy O'Connor. Was everyone named Billy? And then there was janey Bradley in her pigtails. I hated the striped block of ice cream. We all hated the white gloves. Mostly, I hated the horrid little boys. But, boy I loved to dance!
I was always hanging out in the small hall down the stairs from Smith hall. Sliding down the banister was forbidden but you could generally sneak it if no one was looking. The water fountain was also fiscinating. Smith Hall was dark and dreary with gloomy portraits and stiff chairs no one ever sat in.
Friday night basketball was a real big deal in my family. For me it meant long boring evenings waiting for the games to end. I remember watching my brothers play against each other. Who would I root for? I was all sweaty, loud and intense. Mom and Dad were in the balcony. Prudy too, and maybe Louise. Mom and Dad would always go to the Barnes afterwards for a drink. The best part of Friday nights was the Coke machine. Syrupy Coke in thick green bottles was a treat. Going up and down the steps to the balcony. Looking at the grown up girls in the sidelines cheering the boys. Dan Buckley was nice. You could never go in the boys' locker room.
Then there was the CH Carnival. Was it in the srping? I remember thinking that a white elephant sale would have animals. I remember Daddy dressing up as a cowboy! I remember roulete wheels. It was the highlight of the year. Once when I had measles I couldn't go to the Carnival. I was furious.
I always felt a little bit important because I was a Ryden. My father was Chairman of the CH. Later, his name was added to the wall. Cliff Heather was also very important. Everyone adored him. But, I actually knew him and he was always special to me. Tall and gruff with his hoarse voice and wonderful laugh. He always made me feel safe. George McCann edited the CH Chatter, a shiny black and white paper.
Now, I am older watching boys my age play basketball. Leo Spellman, Bobby Mattis. It seemed that every kid had eight brothers and sisters.. Mahoneys, O'Connors, Fallons, Druckers, & Winters added up to about 100 kids. The best part of the CH was the Dance after the Basketball Game on Friday night. The place still smelled a little but the boys were all scrubbed with slicked hair. The music(all records) was the best...early sixties rock n roll.. Get a Job... Love Porion Number Nine. Dancing the Lindy, then the twist & the Stroll. I can remember every song. Would anyone ask me to dance.?
I have wonderful memories of Christmas Eve at the CH rehearsing for the concert at Station Square. The brass choir always sounded better in Smith Hall than out in the cold winter air. The singers included many Rydens and Heathers..... Dee as the sole tenor making everyone laugh. There were such complex harmonies to learn! Bill was totally in charge. Dad's voice was glorious as it filled the room. I can hear Cliff's laugh. I sang there year after year after year from age 12 to age 32 or so.
Of course John and Barbara's wedding reception was at the CH. I recall the thrill of being a bridesmaid. The space was transformed. The lovely terrace. My dress was sticky it was so hot.
Then there was "The Cotillion" which was a kind of continuation of Miss Ehlers's with the same kids ten year later. I rebelled against this dated rite of passage. But, it was part of the Forest Hills tradition and of course it was at the CH. I could never understand how being "presented to society" could be at the funky old CH!
After I left Forest Hills, the CH continued to be a presence in my life. Dad and Bill started the Forest Hills Friends of Music. There were numerous wonderful concerts in Smith Hall and dinner theatres in the gym. I can see my Dad on the stage, sleeves rolled up, singing Old Man River. There were recitals of Mozart and Puccini, string quartets and piano recitals, Broadway medleys and Christmas Music, the annual Advent concert with Bill's wonderful rag... "Rejoice and be Merry." What a contribution to Forest Hills life!
Dad's Memorial Service was at the Community House. Where else could it have been? There was beautiful music, and all our dear friends coming together to pay homage to our beloved father.
After Dad's death, Mom surprised us all by quickly finding a fullfilling job. She became a valued volunteer at the CH Pre-School caring for children from all over the world. Forest Hills had at last become ethnically diverse. Now Mom was finding her own path at the CH.
It has been many years since I have been to the CH. I am sure that memories will flood my mind when I walk up those familiar slate steps.