Remembering Georgette

"What a Life" written by Tajlei Levis, Feb 10, 2014

My mother credited bus tour groups with helping her to become a confident public speaker.  The tour buses came in the autumn for a peek at the leaves, a luncheon, and a lecture. She was nervous about addressing a room full of strangers but she applied her research skills and wrote about the history of the inn. Shaking, she stood up and told romantic stories about The Gilberts who first built the Inn and daughter Louise who broke her father’s heart, the financial reversals which led to the sale of Gilbert’s land to Lincoln, and the house to the Wilburs, the people who created the school for refugees fleeing the Nazis. The bus group gave her a standing ovation.

How I wish my mother were here to make this speech now. She would be funny and gracious and touch your hearts. I will do my best to capture the unique charm and perspective of the real Gorgeous.

My mother’s story is a tale of a first generation American success. Her parents Lola and Morris emigrated as children from Eastern Europe, built a textile and ribbon business and nurtured a family of achievers. My grandfather Morris called my mother “Gorgeous”.   And her mother used to say, ‘doesn’t Audrey Hepburn look just like Georgette?’ My mother was a leader like her sister Sandy, and funny like writer Wendy, but her successes took place on a different field.

My mother was a dancer. She could have been a Rockette.  She had an offer to travel the world with the June Taylor Dance Company. Instead she finished college, married a doctor, moved to Vermont, raised a family and led an extraordinary life.   

In the 70s, she left the comfort of Connecticut for an adventure in what was then rural Vermont. My parents named our home Earth Sky Time, after the Greek cosmogeony. My father bought us sheep and chickens and the house filled with friends and visitors. My mother choreographed cabarets in our living room featuring her children and our friends. Georgette and Les Girls.  In the car, we sang and wrote original songs. We had original Bat Mitzvah musicals, New Years revues and square dances on the lawn. She choreographed and performed in the Dorset Players production of Guys and Dolls. I love you a Bushel and a Peck.

 My mother did not yearn to run an inn, never thought of herself as a business woman, but rose to the challenge when my father impulsively bought it in 1987.  That first week, the stock market dropped and an early storm knocked out power for days.  My mother said,  ‘the show must go on’, and they kept the supplies cold with snow and served dinner by candle light.   While my father focused on his books and research, my mother spent most of her time at the front desk, and she would come home at ten in the evening, brimming with funny stories about guests and staff, relishing the new friendships, the pleasure of seeing bridal couples return with growing families.  Other inns would sometimes send us their special cases: an agoraphobic who hid in her room for weeks, a mysterious woman in a trench coat who claimed to be on the run from the KGB, the visiting hoarder, who filled her room to the brim. But most of the stories were multigenerational friendships, like the Pennoyers, the Abrams, the Blochs, the Girls who came to decorate the tree and put up these beautiful decorations today.

Hundreds of guests have written in to share their fond recollections of my mother, how she welcomed them and connected with them.  She cared deeply about them all, remembered all their families and stories.

My mother was a remarkable friend: she organized the women at the spa into a weekly lunch group called the mermaids, she was a leading member of her book club for 30 years. She treated everyone she met with respect, kindness and curiosity, everyone from our kitchen staff, to the governor of Vermont to Stephen Sondheim.  She would share with us her concerns and conversations, remembering the details for years.

My mother was a gifted storyteller and writer. She wrote a novella, On The One Paw,  an inspiring story expressing her love for her father Morris, for Max and our dog Jackson. She was at work on a romantic history of the Wilburton. But mostly, her storytelling gift was expressed orally, through her recounting of her day’s adventures as very funny ‘human interest’ stories.  Some of these moments and relationships are collected in her monthly newsletter, which we collected in books.

She loved to throw parties, any excuse to have a band, and a tasty meal, and dancing. She loved our farm buffets on the terrace in summer, Mediterranean parties, hot chocolate cinema festivals, hosting actors and singers and author

My mother loved all of us unconditionally. She didn’t pressure us to succeed, because in her view, we were successful already. Though she did marvel at the non-traditional career choices of her overly educated children.  I was her smarty, no matter how foolish my choices.  Melissa made her laugh. Oliver was her can-do farmer, baker, builder. She let him turn her elegant home into a kibbutz, bakery, reasoning that the imposition of tractors on the lawn was balanced out by the fresh croissants. And sweet Max –professor, rabbi, world traveler- was her greatest delight.

My mother loved musicals. When Melissa and I were growing up, she took us to every performance at Weston and Dorset, to Broadway shows and to vintage movies at the art center. My mother wanted to share this love with the rest of the family. In the last few months, we watched dozens of favorite musicals all together. Even the grandchildren were entranced- by Guys and Dolls, Hello Dolly, Holiday Inn. Watching the fabulous dance number the Continental, my brothers finally understood my mother’s crush on Fred Astaire.  Max is determined to learn to tap dance.  When we came to the tragic parts of The King and I or West Side Story, my mother would turn it off.  “Too sad. I only want to remember the beautiful and romantic part of the story. “

That is how my mother lived her life.  She focused on the good, on the happy memories. She would want us to go forward, to keep dancing, to sing another song.

So, let us remember those golden moments: the ice cream parties with grandchildren, the book club lunches, swimming with the mermaids at the Spa, farm night on the terrace, moonlit dancing on the lawn, my parents’ kisses.  These golden moments form an exceptional life.  As my father has often told us in his explanation of the hero’s journey in the Odyssey, Ithaca is only an island. It the adventures along the way, the people you meet, the stories that will be remembered that create a hero.  My mother is dancing elsewhere now, perhaps with Fred Astaire.

This was the last song that Max and I sang to her:

Heaven, I’m in Heaven

And the cares that hung around me through the week

Seem to vanish like a gamblers lucky streak

When we’re out together dancing cheek to cheek.