Memories of Cherry Lawn and Dr. Stael

Glad to see Cherry Lawn lives on in Cyberspace.

My family lived about two miles north on Brookside Road, and I attended Cherry Lawn as a day student starting in the fall of 1937.

Why Cherry Lawn? It was an age thing. Because my birth date is January 20, the New Canaan public school would not have allowed me to start first grade until 1938. My mother, determined that her presumably brilliant son not loll about the house, was an elementary school teacher by training. So she struck a deal with Dr. Stael to trade teaching hours for my tuition.

I skipped third grade, which places me, I guess, in the Class of 1948. But I left for New Canaan High School after my sophomore year. Cherry Lawnís teachers had rendered me way overqualified for a public high school. Fortunately, a family friend left a $10,000 bequest for my education which allowed me to spend two and a half years at Choate. (They held me back a year because they thought age 16 too young to start college.) There was even enough bequest left over to take me half way through Yale. Those were the days!

Before moving to New Hampshire a few years ago, I lived in Rowayton, Connecticut, near enough to watch Cherry Lawn disappear. The school buildings went one after another, and finally, even the house I still thought of as Dr. Staelís vanished. Strange.

Attending Cherry Lawn during the World War II years was an education in itself. The student body was generously sprinkled with refugees from Russia, from Germany (like Peter Lande and his mother) and elsewhere.

Also memorable, of course, was Dr. Staelís insistence on teaching outdoors. After first learning about Napoleonís retreat from Moscow while stamping my cold feet in a corner of the assembly shed in midwinter, I am unlikely ever forget that event.

I also remember being amazed by how Cherry Lawners seemed to score early success in show biz. Dodie Kline went to Hollywood and, as Frank Lattimore, starred in B and even B+ films. Winkie Bosler went Broadway to dance the role of Jean ("Iíll Go Home With Bonnie Jean") in Brigadoon, so she canít really have been a new face when she later appeared, with Eartha Kitt and others, in Leonard Stillmanís "New Faces of 1952."

Even the unlikeliest Cherry Lawners seemed to possess show biz genes. Like my friend Michael, a shy lad whose miseries at Cherry Lawn were compounded, for a time, by an illness that left him a hairless egghead. That provoked a lot of teasing. No wonder he says his Cherry Lawn years were unhappy. Still, when you grow up to be Mike Nichols . . . .

Come to think of it, my generalized recollection of Cherry Lawn girls is that they were all Elaine May prototypes: terribly smart, sassy, and, to a country bumpkin like me, downright intimidating.

Best of luck with your reunion. If you stand under the trees near the tennis court (if itís still there) and listen really, really hard, you can still hear the sounds of graduations long past.


Jim Macdonald
Rye, New Hampshire

Submitted 21-March-1999