Family Friends Friday is a prompt that highlights friends who have contributed to the history of our family, ancestors and their decedents. Our families are not on an island of their own, and I believe that understanding the lives of their friends, gives opportunity to understanding and appreciating our own families. As we have seen, sometimes our friends are closer than family, and many times this is where we get our stories.
|Clifton & Dolores Wharton, Betty & Walter Porter
Visit to the White House
I wrote one of my mother’s dearest childhood friends, Dolores “Duncan” Wharton, requesting to have the opportunity to interview her during my family research trip in New York. My request was graciously accepted. I had the opportunity to meet with Dolores along with my daughter Vanessa at her NY apartment. Our meeting was an unforgettable occasion.
When we arrived, we were greeted at the entrance by a doorman, and led to the front desk. Once the receptionist cleared us we were directed to the Wharton’s apartment. As we rang the bell, Dolores a stunning woman whose years have been good to her opened the door and greeted us with hugs and welcomed us inside. Dolores handed me an envelope which revealed a 3 page letter, then escorted us to her elegant living room which showed off wall to wall white carpeting, and furniture to match. Dolores directed us, “You sit here and read the letter I prepared for you while Vanessa and I talk about her future plans. Clifton and I are leaving for our other home this afternoon, as we do every year staying until the winter. I think this letter will be more helpful to you and then we can spend some time visiting and not worrying about interviewing as we are short on time.” With that, I agreed and read my letter.
|Dolores & Betty visit in New York|
June 10, 2010
I am pleased to respond to your inquiry regarding my impressions of your Mother, Betty Peters Porter, during our lovely old friendship, the basis of which goes back some 65 years! Given my now 80-plus years my details have long been forgotten. But herewith lies the essence of our friendship as I remember it today.
We were introduced in Marian Anderson’s home, Mariana Farms in Danbury Connecticut. Betty had accompanied her Mother, Agnes Peters, a most prominent New York City seamstress, who was there for several days to remodel some of Miss Anderson’s concert gowns. My family was neighbors of Miss Anderson and her husband, Orpheus “Razzle” Fisher. My mother knew both quite well–Miss Anderson in high school and Mr. Fisher socially as teens back in the old Philadelphia days with its community of prominent Black families.
Betty and I clicked instantly! My invitation to Betty to visit me at our home on Lake Kenosia some five miles away was the beginning of one long, extended conversation that continued for decades. During subsequent trips when Betty’s mother, “Auntie Peters,” returned to Danbury to sew for Miss Anderson, Betty would come along to spend over nights in my home where we two young teens discussed how we might tackle the pursuit of happiness in a complex world.
A couple of years followed with Betty studying at NYU as I was preparing to begin my freshman year at the college. She was rich with advice for my arrival at the Washington Square campus. We met occasionally on and off campus for lunch where we compared notes on our respective classes, classmates, and university life in general. With our residences located in different parts of the City, our travels to and from NYU rarely overlapped. Betty lived in Manhattan’s “Sugar Hill” and I on the Grand Concourse, a major boulevard in the upper Bronx. I boarded with a Jewish couple whose son was a treasured friend of my family and author of children’s books. But when my Mom was in New York from Danbury to have Auntie Peters make some costumes for her, I popped in to see her at the Peter’s studio/apartment where, thereafter, I was always fondly welcomed. That visit was the beginning of another episode for Betty and me to continue our extensive conversation.
Agnes Peters was in many ways a magician in accommodating her small apartment as an embracing home for her adored daughter, Betty, as well as a working studio where she grew a vibrant business. She was in huge demand among her clients. “The ladies” were everyone, women of considerable wealth and achievement–teachers, lawyers, performers, wives of millionaire husbands. Agnes Peters had been gifted with the genius to design and fashion wonderful clothes. Without any patterns to guide, her scissors would fly swiftly through handsome fabrics to create amazing suits, coats, and dresses for her famous clients. I once asked Auntie Peters how she cut so perfectly without any pattern. In her always softly toned voice, she said, “I don’t know’ I suppose I just do it instinctively.” the apartment hummed with sounds of sewing machines and Betty’s and her friends’ chatter and laughter to “swing” music in the background.
Now, within this lively environment Betty grew and stretched into a tall (at least 5′ 7″), slender, winsome young lady. Were I to combine several celebrity personalities to capture Betty’s multi-faceted self, it would be:
1. The movie star Rosalind Russell for her sophisticated, stylish, and delightfully quick tongue.
Rosalind Russell Pictures
2. Bea Arthur of “The Golden Girls” fame who always portrayed a mature, comically frank, and a woman genuinely dedicated to friends and colleagues.
3. Whoopi Goldberg–minus her vulgarity–in expressing anger over the hurdles confronting racial intolerance in America with the ability to “tell it like it is!”
Given the characteristics of these colorful analogous types our conversations flourished! We considered the trials and tribulations of politics, the advantages of the GI Bill for veterans returning from World War II, modern dance-we both attended evening classes in a school in midtown Manhattan called the New Dance Group, modern art, health care, foods, and certainly the best and worse of the young men in our respective lives.
Then, not unexpected, time and events changed the dialogue. Given my totally engaging marriage with my valiant prince and life-time hero coupled with our travels to different worlds in and out of the United States, our conversation shifted accordingly.
Over the years we were consistent in making the effort to stay in touch. On one return trip from our home in Singapore our travel plans were arranged to have us change planes in Los Angeles allowing for a quick visit with the recently wedded Porters. Clif and Walter took six year old Clifton 3rd to Disney Land. Betty and I chatted quietly while eighteen month old Bruce napped before our ongoing flight to Boston. During a second trip to southern California, I took a break from a Phillips Petroleum Board meeting in San Diego to drive to the Porter residence where we met you, Yvette. You were almost–if not–a teenager by that time. Your Mom called you out of your garden pool to meet Cif and me. You were off to an engagement so our time with you was brief. These were all charmed moments within your home.
|Me in front
(from L to R) Dolores and Clifton Wharton
Betty and Walter Porter
Then for Clif’s and my fiftieth wedding anniversary, Betty and Walter paid us a huge compliment by flying to New York specifically for the occasion. Separate from the anniversary festivities Betty, Walter, Clif and I enjoyed several delightful outings in the City. These were the last celebrations we had together. Walter died, and Betty not long after having suffered from terminal cancer. I am left with memories of a steadfast and unique friendship shared with a dear old buddy. It is a pleasure to think back on these times. Your mother was a highly intelligent, highly principled individual who spoke easily to her concerns about society. Our times together were filled with fun and substance. It is splendid of you to research a study in Betty’s name. Surely she would be very proud to have you do so.
I hope this letter is helpful.
Who are the Wharton’s? Click on link to left (National Visionary Leadership Project)