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The door of the carriage swung open. Grandmother’s head footman, a wiry man with crinkly grey hair and a monocle, offered me his hand. My own hands trembled with nervousness as I alighted in front of the Steller and Brooks hotel, the most fashionable convention center in New York. Releasing the footman’s hand, I stepped towards the glass doors, surreptitiously rubbing sweaty hands on my uncomfortable velvet skirt before touching the gilt handles.
Inside is a whirl of noise and colors and scents. The room writhes with what Father used to call the ‘swells,’ dressed in their most fashionable gowns and pearls, wafting perfume and gossip. I was completely overwhelmed. Wracking my brains, I tried desperately to remember Grandmother’s instructions. All I remembered was her final warning.
“Don’t embarrass the name of Roosevelt.”
That should be enough to go on. With a sigh, I stepped into the crowd. It heaved slightly, making a narrow path, which closed behind me, blocking the door from view. I searched all the faces, vainly trying to recognize a former acquaintance. I’ve hadn’t been in New York for nearly three years. After a quarter of an hour, I found Julianna Hailsmen, the closest I have ever had to a best friend. As always, she was impeccably dressed; tonight, she wore a tight blue gown with a ruffled bottom, a matching jacket embroidered with black flowers, an ostrich feather hat, and a black pearl necklace with matching earrings. If only I had her sense of fashion, no one would notice my plainness. Whenever I saw her I thought this, yet the thought continued to sting. Forcing my face into a smile, I tapped her shoulder.
“Why- Is it really my dear Ella? Welcome back!”
Julianna kissed my cheeks, tickling my forehead with her hat’s immense feathers.
“Tell me everything darling. How was your school? Miserable? Did they make you wear those ridiculous hats like the queen wore on her tour? Speaking of the tour, did you see her hairstyle? I would be embarrassed if she was representing MY nation.”
“No to all the questions. Let’s find a quiet place to talk.”
Julianna interrupted me.
“Ella, the ball is starting. Quickly!”
Taking my hand, she pulled me into the ball room.
“Don’t worry, Dear. I’ll find you the perfect partner.”
Apparently, Julianna had changed. Or perhaps my memories of her have. I don’t recall her ever before showing interest in a party. Like me, she found them overwhelming.
“Ah ha. Parfait.”
We stop in front of a stocky, swarthy gentlemen, perhaps five years older than myself.
“Lord Zacharias LeRoy, may I present my dear friend Eleanor Roosevelt? She hails from English boarding school, like you.”
Lord LeRoy nodded slowly and bending, kissed my hand.
“Pleased to make your acquaintance Miss Roosevelt.”
His voice is rough and low.
“Will you dance with her? She wanted to ask, but she’s dreadfully shy.” Julianna smiled winningly.
Lord LeRoy bowed again. Obviously pleased with her match making skills, Julianna grinned at me before flitting off to find herself a partner. After a disappointed glance in her direction, Lord LeRoy presented his red velvet encased arm to me. I felt sick. I never wanted to go this ball, and I certainly never wanted to dance. More than anything, I wanted to leave. Run through the streets back home, tearing this accursed dress into pieces and leaving it to molder on the road; then, in my dream, I would go to my room and crawl under the blankets to enjoy sweet solitude. I almost convinced myself to leave before I remembered Grandmother’s words.
“Don’t embarrass the name of Roosevelt.”
Smiling, I took Lord LeRoy’s arm, and we joined the dance. My head spun, and I was completely overwhelmed, but I completed the dance flawlessly and spent the rest of the ball in the midst of the crowd. No matter the cost, I would not embarrass my family. *
*When asked her motivations in an interview, Eleanor Roosevelt cited this event, freely admitting that Grandmother’s words gave her the strength to meet and befriend so many people.