Ann Von Dehsen
During the early 1960’s when all things British were the rage, my family experienced our own joyful British invasion in the form of Vanessa Sapsford.
My sister Ellen and Vanessa had been pen-pals since elementary school. Now both 18 years old, Vanessa wrote to say she was coming to NY on holiday and hoped she and Ellen could spend some time together. Of course, my hospitable mother insisted she stay with us and Vanessa graciously accepted. We met her at the airport carrying her photo. Vanessa was also armed with photos of the 4 of us. From the photos we had, we knew Vanessa was quite attractive.
We watched and waited a the passengers disembarked. A man behind me said to his wife, “Wow, look at that gorgeous young woman. I think she’s someone famous,” as other people began to look at her too. I knew it must be Vanessa. She was wearing a pink linen suit with a silk blouse, patent leather shoes and purse, perfect hair and a permanently beautiful face. She would have been the definition of sophistication except for the fact that when she spotted us in the crowd she yelled, “Ellen, Ann, is that you?” did a little dance with arms in the air as she ran over to engulf all 4 of us in a dancing group hug.
On the way home from the airport, Vanessa was awe shocked over the largeness of everything – the TWA airport pavilion, the size of our car – which she called a “yacht on wheels,” the lights of the city, the George Washington Bridge. We talked and laughed all the way home and by the time we pulled into our driveway, my family had fallen in love with Vanessa’s warmth and joyful spirit.
When I showed Vanessa my room, she of course noticed my many Beatle posters, starring George Harrison. Did I mention I was just about to turn 13 and was pretty sure I would marry George Harrison someday?
Continuing to look at the posters, she casually said, “Good choice, Ann. George really is the nicest of the Beatles.” “Excuse me? You know the Beatles??” Turns out she finished high school at 16 and began working at a PR firm that represented the Beatles in the early days of their fame. As she put it, she often “partied in their social circle” adding they were very nice pals. For once, my self-absorbed 13-year-old self was speechless. The magic of Vanessa continued to spread during the week.
My father was never one to voluntarily go into New York City – too much traffic, too expensive, no place to park, etc. etc. But suddenly, he was taking time off from work so we could show Vanessa everything – the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, Wall Street, Chinatown, Little Italy, Greenwich Village. It was a whirlwind of a week and through it all, Vanessa was appreciative, amazed, and often downright silly – she worked on her American accent by calling us “you’s guys” and singing “Wild Things” and “Dirty Water” as we traveled. Our family suddenly began drinking more tea and referring to everything as “quite lovely..”
Now, my father was a big NY Yankees fan. Vanessa didn’t know much about baseball but did know who Willie Mays and turns out Willie’s San Fransisco Giants were playing the Yankees on the last night of Vanessa’s visit. So, surprise! My father suddenly came home with 5 tickets to the game. After outfitting Vanessa in a Yankee’s cap and tee shirt and a borrowed pair of my sisters cut off jeans, off to Yankee Stadium, we went.
It took Vanessa about 1 minute to get into the spirit of a ball game. She spent most of the game on her feet, rooting for both teams in her best American accent (“Hey, batter batter batter) But she saved her best for Willie’s at-bat – when he got a hit it was “Atta boy, Willie!” If he struck out – “Next time, Willie!” I’m sure if the jumbotron existed back then, Vanessa would have been the star. As it was a young woman came up to her and asked, “Are you a famous model?” As Vanessa drank her beer and chowed down on a hot dog, Vanessa responded, “Nope, not me!”
As the teams exited the field, Vanessa slipped back into her British hammers and yelled to each team, “lovely game mates, lovely game.” We sang “Take Me Out To The Ball Game” all the way home.
All good things must come to an end and all too soon we were driving Vanessa back to the airport. The ride was unusually quiet and by the time we got to the gate, we were all in tears as Vanessa hugged and thanked each of us.
A pilot walked by and said to my mom, “It’s hard to say goodbye to your daughter, isn’t it?” To which my mom really lost it. Vanessa promised she’d return and she did eventually with her husband and then with her daughter.
This friendship and love lasted for several decades. There is more to be told so I will continue this story at another time.
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Curated by Caitlin Cieri