The Singing Brook was a major leitmotif in my childhood. That was the name of the extraordinary preschool where I was sent to be taught by an elderly lady, whom we called “Aunt Jane”. She was well into her 80’s, with long white hair, and was usually dressed in pink and whilte silk robes. She taughts us French, oil painting, piano lessons, ballet dancing, reading, and nature studies out in her spacious gardens, with a wonderful "Singing Brook" that bounced merrily down a rocky course behind the school house. It was here that I learned to read, and here that I first read "The Secret Garden". I stayed in this school from the time I was 4 until I entered 2nd grade in public school, where I was bored beyond anything. Aunt Jane's theory was that children could begin to be brilliant and creative as soon as she got hold of them, and she was a magnificently nurturing and encouraging old soul, a remarkable artist (water color), and a true leftover from another era. In the photo above, Aunt Jane holds the shoulders of my brother, Tom. I'm the middle child, and a boy we called "Brownie" is on the left.
Our school was in her home, a sunny old estate with winding hallways, a separate school room, a huge living room with stone fireplace, grand piano, and winding stairway. There was a tea room where we had formal little tea parties every day on delicate china, and my favorite - an aviary full of bright yellow canaries in floor-to-ceiling cages all the way around the room. The birds sang constantly, and the house seemed filled with birdsong - delightful. Aunt Jane’s assistant was a strange woman we called “Miss Junie”. She was probably around 50 years old, unmarried, and not related by family. She was stout with short, wavy brown hair and eyes that were too wide open and had the constant look of someone about to scream. It was clear that she was a little deranged, in a harmless way. She had many Dickensian qualities - cried at the drop of a hat, effused way too often about everything, dithered and fussed. She was the one who prepared the food and who escorted us through the hallways and into the gardens. She was affectionate and kind, but a little embarrassing, even for a child.
I remember a performance we gave to our parents in that old living room during one holiday season. All of us children stood in a ring around the room and each of us had some lines from Clement Moore’s “The Night Before Christmas” to recite. I was well rehearsed, but when it came to my turn I blurted out “he was plubby and chump, a right jolly old elf”. My mother erupted into a fit of giggles that she could not control. I knew I had gotten it wrong somehow, and shrank into my spot in shame. It was my first theatrical venture. I was five.
No, I take it back! I just remembered that when I was about four I had an episode on the stage in our church. The Sunday School children were brought in to climb up on the platform at the front of the church and sing a song. In our family, we had 3 babies at home younger than me (twins born a few months earlier, plus a middle brother). I was doing my best to be a big girl, because there wasn’t much attentiont to go around. So I dressed myself for church, but I forgot to put on underpants. As I climbed up onto the stage, that became apparent for all the congregation to see. Again my mother gasped audibly, and lashed out at me afterwards. You would think I had made my debut as a four year old porn star instead of a simple and innocent mistake. As a child, I got the message that I couldn’t do anything right in front of an audience. No wonder now I love Improv so much!