Since I was a tomboy/ragamuffin hybrid as a kid, nobody called me “Princess.” And the one time I tried to be a princess – the time when I was 4 and dressed up as a princess for Halloween and fell on my face in a Queen-size mud puddle – that pretty much cured me of any princess fantasies I might have had.
But there was one time, one time, when I really did feel like a princess. I felt that like a princess because I stood in an actual ballroom. That’s where princesses hang out, isn’t it?
I looked around the room in wonder. It was, of course, huge. I easily imagined hundreds of beautifully dressed dancers waltzing around the floor. There were floor-to-two-story-high-ceiling windows all along the back of the room, covered in Scarlett O’Hara’s curtains. Thick, heavy green velvet drapes with gold brocade tassels holding them back. And through them, I could see to the sea. Long Island Sound.
This isn’t the actual room, although there are similarities. You see, I had forgotten my cell phone that day in 1965, and couldn’t snap a picture. I had to use Google Images. Thanks, Google!
A balcony surrounded the ballroom on three sides, and it too rose way up. The floor is what I remember most clearly, though: Black and white marble, a massive checkerboard, without a single scuff mark in the entire room.
As was true of all of my childhood adventures (or since it was a princess-thing, perhaps I should call it a fantasy), this one came to me courtesy of my brother, Fred.
You see, Mr. Richardson, the wealthiest amongst our very wealthy neighbors, had invited us to his house. And we were to use the front door! Because we — me and Fred (and our sister Beth) — were heroes. Heroes always use the front door.
Wanna know what happened?
Well, one hot summer day, Beth and I were out in the backyard, when Fred came racing in from the outer limits of our yard, near “the fields.“ The fields was a tract of land owned by Mr. Richardson, located behind our yard. It stretched for several hundred acres. Part of it was meadow, but part of it was made up of small, neatly spaced and impeccably trimmed pine trees.
The Fields Behind My House. I think. Google Image. So really, it could be anywhere.
“Tax haven,” my Dad said, rolling his eyes, when he realized what Mr. R was planting. “A Christmas tree farm.”
Well, yeah. Probably. Whatever.
But Mr. R believed in investing in land, and he bought anything he could. (He was away when our house went up for sale, or according to my Dad, my childhood would have been spent elsewhere. I will always be thankful for that trip of Mr. R’s.)
Anyway, Fred came running in from the fields, shouting “FIRE!” “THERE’S A FIRE IN THE FIELDS!!”
Beth and I didn’t ask any questions, but apparently we rushed into the house, called the fire department, grabbed brooms and blankets and rushed out to where Fred had seen the fire. That’s where the fire department found us. We had contained the fire, and there was very little damage. Without our intervention, well, who knows what might have happened.
So back to the Ballroom.
Mr. Richardson had invited us over to thank us. And he gave us a gift!
“I want to thank you for putting out the fire in my fields. You were very brave, and I am very proud of you both. And as a reward, from now on, for as long as you and your family live in that house,” Mr. R said, “You and your family may take any Christmas tree you want from my field.”*
Before becoming heroes, we had managed to get our Christmas trees for the $2 that Dad bartered with with for as long as we all could remember. But our heroism took us to the upper crust of Christmas trees. Because from that year on my family did, indeed, get our Christmas trees from Mr. R’s field. We chose the biggest and nicest of them all, cut it down, and dragged it home.
But (and you know there’s always a “but” or a “butt” in my stories), it wasn’t strictly Kosher.
You see, not a whole lot of years later, in 1972, Mr. Richardson died. He willed the land to the Audubon Society, and ever since then, the Audubon Society has been selling those very Christmas trees. No mention was made, apparently, in Mr. R’s Last Will and Testament, for heroes who got free Christmas trees. No mention at all. Naturally that didn’t stop us. But we also didn’t mention our prior claim to the Audubon Society.
And there was another issue.
If you guessed that my brother, accidentally started the fire, well, I will simply remind you that the Statute of Limitations is 7 years. We’re way past that. The Statute of Limitations is still 7 years on Christmas tree theft, isn’t it?
* I think there might have been other rewards; at least I hope so. Because I’ve always thought of Mr. R as a really nice guy. After all, he let me be a princess that one time, and, honestly, it was pretty cool even if I was more Cinderella than Snow White. So I don’t want to think he was a skinflint who just gave us kids, who wouldn’t be paying for them anyway, free Christmas trees, for saving them. Then again, it was the 60s. Everybody didn’t get a trophy.