Thursday, March 13, 2008

Growing Up at The Actors' Orphanage

By Judy W. Staber

Prologue: December 1946

Imagine being three years old and left on the doorstep of a house bigger than any you had ever seen before -- a giant's house! An ogre's castle?

My earliest memory of The Actors' Orphanage where I grew up in England, is arriving in a black taxi from Chertsey Station with my sister Susannah, and being handed over to Commander Aggitter on that doorstep by our mother.

I can recall no tears shed, no hugs or kisses “goodbye,” just the feeling of being dwarfed by the huge front entry way, the high ceilings and the very large people.

Perhaps there’s a remembered whiff of Je Reviens perfume as our mother walked down the six stone steps and into the waiting taxi without so much as a backward glance.

We watched that taxi disappear down the oh-so-long driveway. An older boy was summoned to take our small pile of belongings upstairs to one of the rooms on the second floor.

I suppose later that day we were introduced to the matron and to Mrs. Aggitter, and eventually, probably at the next meal, to the other children. But I don't remember that. I don't remember the time of day, or what the weather was (grey, I expect). I just remember the big-ness of it all.

It was the week between Christmas and New Year's in 1946, just days before my fourth birthday, that our actress mother took Susannah, seven and a half, and me down to Chertsey in Surrey to live at Silverlands, home of The Actors Orphanage, just outside the town. I was to remain there for all my childhood.

I flew to America at the age of sixteen and a half, finally out from under the orphanage's care at last, never to return.

And so, what can she say of those nearly thirteen years in between?

Stay tuned for more.

Writer Judy Staber is pictured at four years old in the photo at the top of this post (she's the one on the far left.) She stands next to her older sister, Susannah. Staber, who lives with her husband John in Columbia County in upstate New York, is retired today after 28 years in arts administration. This prologue is taken from the memoir Staber is writing about growing up at The Actor's Orphanage from 1947 to 1959.

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