De Witt Stetten


My earliest memory of going to ‘the city,’  Manhattan, was to visit my godparents, Alice and De Witt Stetten.  They were best friends of my mother and father and I was lucky to have arrived a girl, otherwise I would be sporting the monniker, De Witt, today.  I prefer Alice.

They lived on Central Park, one of the large apartments built just after World War I, the great war to end all wars.  The city was growing by leaps and bounds and it was chic to overlook Central Park with its lush greenery, winding paths and hidden treasures, lakes, statues and meadows.

The apartment was as large, if not larger, than our big house in Mamaroneck.  I remember best the living room—almost cavernous with a grand piano in one corner.  I never heard anyone play it.  Maybe someone did once, there was a son, DeWitt, a daughter, Margaret, perhaps one of them took lessons as a child.

On the piano was my favorite piece in the whole apartment, a sculpture of Uncle De Witt’s hands, by some famous sculptor of the day.  Just the hands to less than an inch of wrist.  In repose, one hand lightly over the other.  It was done in marble, a light color, lighter than skin but only slightly.  There was a delicacy, a gentleness in the pose, the veins prominent on the top and visible as shadows when the light hit a certain way.

The adults would be on the other side of the room laughing, having a cocktail or a cup of tea, chatting about whatever nonsense adults chatted about.  I wore a plaid pleated skirt, white blouse and navy jacket, white socks and black patent leather sally-pumps.

I sat on the piano bench and stared at the sculpture.  My blonde hair was to my shoulders with the top piece twirled and twisted into a bun.  The center of the bun was left open, a convenient coliseum home for my pet turtle, George, who spent most of his life living there.  At least when I was on the move.  If I had to go, George went with me.  Seven year olds can be very demanding.

My mother knew how to keep me quiet and well mannered, several books always did the trick.  I learned to read at an early age and was happiest with my nose in a book. But I wasn’t interested in the books, George and I were fixated on the hands.

The fingers were long and tapered, but there was a strength that seemed to glow around them.  I could imagine them doing wondrous things, and in fact, that was what attracted the artist to them.  Uncle DeWitt was a renown surgeon. I sat on the piano bench and marveled at how one man could fix people and how another could make a piece of marble into a representation of something so life-like, so human.  Neither George nor I knew how it was done.  But I appreciated the skills thinking as only a child can, that they were both a kind of magic.

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