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Life Arts    H4'ed 7/4/16

An Era That Has Gone VI

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After settling down in his seat on the sofa, he must have been peppered with questions about the home country, how he managed to adapt to American customs, how he liked the United States. He answered these questions forthrightly, and passed muster in his first hurdle to acceptance.

Drinks were served. In the midst of prohibition, this meant the contraband that was in reality a staple in every household. The Henshaws were particularly opposed to the constitutional amendment that had made life a living hell, not only for those who craved the thousands-year-old custom of imbibing alcoholic beverages, but others who were mere social drinkers and wanted to continue the tradition. The new Volsted Act had mobilized the local constabulary against the citizenry, almost all of whom, to a man and women, having become criminalized by their defiance of the law, constantly scurried about in fear of being caught with contraband - a bottle of wine, scotch or vodka. However, in the Henshaw home as in most others, alcohol and hors d'ouvres continued to smooth the transition to the next stage of the entertainment. Each guest had to embarrassingly comply with the wish of another to do something they themselves would not wish do be seen doing. Stanis passed this test, both acting out and watching his own suggestion humorously played out by another member of the entourage. But moments later, he was confronted with a new challenge.

Porter Steele, drawing by Stanislav Rembski
Porter Steele, drawing by Stanislav Rembski
(Image by Brooklyn Life magazine)
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Without warning, Corrie divided the 20 or so guests into two groups, one led by Porter Steele, the other by her nephew, Dr. Childs. Each was instructed to produce a pantomime to entertain the others. These productions took up another 30 minutes. Only after the team performances were complete did the party-goers have a chance to sit down to dinner. At that point food was most welcome, everyone having worked up quite an appetite. We can well imagine that the conversation among so large a gathering must have broken into groups, and Stanis would have had a chance to get to know a few people more intimately.

Coffee and dessert was served, but the evening had not yet come to an end. The group returned to the living room, and four of the men joined in a chorus of songs they had practiced. Then, egged on by Corrie and the others, Stanis rose and sang a favorite Polish ballad. His rendition, performed as it was with an excellent tenor, won over every soul in the room. Steele then let loose on the piano, playing several melodies of his own composition along with a smattering of popular tunes. Some twenty years earlier, he had composed a rag-time style march, "High Society," that became a mainstay for the jazz improvisers who would rise to great heights on the basis of this popular tune. As the evening came to a close, his performance was an apt sendoff.

Energized by the activities but ready for the long trek home, Stanis said his goodbyes, with young Nancy waving her fondest to the unusual fellow with the broken accent, who was still struggling with his English. The cold night air welcomed him once again as he walked down the steep front steps of the Brooklyn brownstone and trudged back up the street to catch the subway home. He would be kept warm, even in the cold passenger cars, by the fond memories that had just been created. His heart and psyche had been permeated by the friendly company, more friendly than anything he had yet experienced in America.

(Article changed on July 4, 2016 at 22:18)

(Article changed on July 4, 2016 at 22:30)

(Article changed on July 4, 2016 at 22:45)

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Born in New York, March 14, 1949. Staff writer for the New York City Tribune, Economic Growth Report, Register-Star. Presently publish on OpEd News. Mr. Duveen heads up a project known as "The Museum of Brooklyn Art and Culture,' which explores (more...)

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