Mrs. R, my best friend’s mother, was always on the lookout for eligible men for me and her daughter. On this particular night, she was eyeing park rangers. We were at the annual Christmas Open House at Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site. It’s one of four National Parks in my hometown of Hyde Park, NY. The staff decorates the home for Christmas each year and, though it’s open nearly every day, the time to really see it in all it’s glory is at night. So one night every year, all of Hyde Park comes out to see the Vanderbilt Mansion in its Christmas finery.
I wasn’t much for talking to strangers at this point in my life, but Mrs. R took care of that. She loved chatting with anyone. Especially good looking Park Rangers that may be marriage material for her daughter and me. It was during one of these conversations that Mrs. R found out about jobs at Vanderbilt’s. Not for her, but for us.
“That ranger told me you girls could work here! They hire people to work just for the summer. You two should apply,” she encouraged us.
I was more familiar with Vanderbilt’s than most people. When I was in high school, I played the 110 year old Steinway in the living room for visitors as they toured the house. As a shy teenager, I played piano for others only if they pretended they weren’t listening. If we had company at our house, and I was asked to play, I would go into the living room and sit down at the piano. My mother would bring our guest to another room where they could still hear me, and engage them in conversation explaining that if they stopped talking I’d get nervous thinking that they were focusing on me.
Playing at the Vanderbilt Mansion was a great place to fool myself into thinking the visitors weren’t listening. The grand piano was in a dark corner. And the music stand came up to such a height that it was difficult to see me behind it. When visitors walked into the room, I would hear them ask, “is there a real person back there?” They thought the music was being “piped in.” The Park Ranger would tell them I was there, but rarely did I look over the stand at them or get up and talk to them.
So on the application, when they asked if I had any experience in a park, I listed my piano playing. I came out of my shell that first year in college and was a tour guide on campus. So I listed that as job experience.
And by April, I had been offered full time summer job at Vanderbilt Mansion NHS. My best friend never applied. But her mother was thrilled at the prospect of my meeting my future husband at the park.