The city was eerily quiet, with only the sound of Rosie’s weighted footsteps echoing through the empty streets. She was exhausted, almost to the point of dragging her heavy flowered carpetbags behind her. The last of her traveling money was spent on a carriage ride to Canal and Broadway, and she still had a few blocks to walk before reaching her final destination. She hoped she would make it that far. The fatigue made her light-headed and she was slightly afraid of her new surroundings. Specifically, who might be lurking in the shadows of a place so unfamiliar.
The blue velvet coat over her traveling dress kept her a little too warm in the summer’s evening temperature and she knew it made her look like a tourist, an easy target for the criminally minded. She clung tightly to her bags; her only worldly possessions were spread out between the two carpetbags and a trunk that had been sent ahead of her travels. Although her hands shook with fright, the creased paper unfolded easily as she opened the address copied from her mother’s address book:
Brigid and Kate Sullivan
157 Grand Street, Lower East Side,
New York City, New York.
Rosie carefully folded the paper and put it back in the leather-bound journal she kept close to her side.
After hours of travel by train and carriage, her journey was nearing an end, and in a few blocks she would arrive at her new home. Rosie silently wished it was all a dream, but this was now her reality and she was going to make the most of it. Summoning all her strength, she quickened her pace to get out of the dark night, her breathing short and rapid.
The city streetlamps lit her way, reflecting themselves in the tiny puddles between the stones of the road. She turned down Orchard Street, and one block later, Rosie found the sign she was looking for, confirming that she was at the right place.
“The Sullivan Sisters at Grand Theater” was painted on a billboard prominently displayed on the front of a beautiful red brick building. It was the tallest structure on the block, surrounded by tenements, stores, and a quiet pub. Taking a deep breath to calm her nerves, Rosie pushed open the heavy oaken door, entering a foyer that was occupied by a sleeping boy in an usher’s uniform.
The air inside was hot and stifling, and the lobby reeked of perfume and cigars. Rosie took off her lamb’s wool muff and stuffed it in one of the carpetbags. Hearing music and commotion coming from inside the auditorium, she quietly opened another gilded oaken door, as to not disturb the sleeping attendant. The auditorium was packed full with crowded tables and dozens of men and women singing along to the music. Rosie’s attention was immediately drawn to the stage where a blond curly-haired woman in a blue corset and blue bustled skirt sang enthusiastically to the adoring crowd. The woman’s ringlets resembled Rosie’s tight curls. Another woman with fiery red hair was playing the piano, stomping her feet in time with the music. This woman’s hair color was an exact match to Rosie’s bright hair. These women had to be Brigid and Kate Sullivan; the family resemblance was undeniable! The tiny boy doorman must have been wakened by the noise of the performance inside, for he was suddenly at her side.
“Can I help you, miss? Are you lost?”
Rosie’s nerves had calmed, her breathing was back at a normal pace. Now that she was inside, she was able to relax a little, although she was still nervous about meeting Brigid and Kate Sullivan. She bent her knees to be level with the young boy dressed in a light woolen coat with brass buttons.
“Can you please direct me backstage? I am here to see The Sullivan Sisters.”
“Well,” the boy huffed, “I’m the man in charge here and I don’t allow strangers backstage to bother the Sisters. But since you look nice enough, I think I can trust you.” The boy wiped his nose on his jacket sleeve and Rosie had to stifle a laugh at his serious tone juxtaposed with his childish behavior. “Their apartment is right down that hallway. I’ll let them know they have a visitor.” The boy pointed down the hall, suddenly acting mature for his age with his air of self-importance.
“Thank you, sir, you are very kind.” Rosie gave him a charming smile, reached into her pocket to find a coin, and pressed it into the boy’s outstretched hand. Smugly, he put the coin in his jacket and, breaking the illusion of his maturity once again, spun and ran down the opposite hallway. She turned and headed in the direction indicated.
“Wait, miss! I didn’t catch your name!” The boy had sprinted back after her, panting from the exercise.
“My name is Rosaleen Sullivan McMurray,” she replied, her smile broadening. “Please let them know their niece has arrived.” As the boy ran off again, she paused to glance back at the women onstage in the middle of a rousing musical number. Although she had heard so many stories about them, she had never met her mother’s sisters. Rosie could hardly believe that in a few minutes, they’d no longer be strangers!
The hallway turned to the right and, by guessing from the layout, she had entered the backstage area. The only door she came to was marked with an elegant “S” upon a gold star. As soon as she opened the door, she was overwhelmed by the interior design scheme. She saw green wallpaper, green love seats, a green ceiling; everything was painted or decorated in various shades of green. She shut the door behind her, but could still hear the sound of the performance in the auditorium. The green room was spacious, apparently more of a living space than a backstage dressing room. To her left was a kitchen, complete with a tiny wood-burning stove and a charming oak dining table. The green love seats were arranged in an L-formation, positioned around a lovely upright piano, and much to Rosie’s relief, her trunk of belongings. There were a few doors leading out of the room, which Rosie assumed led to a bathroom, closet, and perhaps the sisters’ rooms. Rosie wondered if she was to live in this main room, and worried whether or not her aunts truly had the space to accommodate her.
Rosie turned up the intensity of a lamp that stood by the door, and put down her heavy bags filled with her belongings. It felt good to unpin from her hair the large and elaborate traveling hat, made of the same blue velvet material as her coat. Delicately, she hung her heavy coat on an antique wood coat rack near the door. A light purr startled her as a furry cat brushed between her boots.
“Hello, kitty!” Rosie whispered, picking up the meowing cat. “Hello, Ireland!” she giggled as she read the green-jeweled collar on the gray tabby. Clearly, her aunts had designed the apartment around their love for their homeland.
Her reflection in the mirror next to the piano caught her attention. She looked absolutely exhausted after three days of traveling halfway across the country. She had her mother’s hair; flaming red-orange and incredibly curly. Sometimes the curls got the best of her, as if they almost had a mind of their own. She had her mother’s fair skin, petite build, and pointed chin. Her hazel eyes and freckles came from her father, along with the slender nose that turned up just a bit at the tip. If she ever missed her parents, she could look in the mirror and be reminded of them in no time at all.
Fearing she was being vain, and worried she would upset herself by thinking too long of her parents, she walked the length of the room toward one of the large love seats. The plush velvet looked soft and inviting, so giving into temptation, she dropped her weary body into it with a sigh. She noticed a framed newspaper article on the coffee table with the headline: “Sullivan Sisters Steal Our Hearts,” which piqued Rosie’s interest. The article described the vaudevillian act of The Sullivan Sisters as “a trio of beautiful Irish girls with talents beyond measure.” It continued:
The youngest sister, feisty Brigid, has the melodic tone of a canary bird, and perfect comedic timing to boot. Kate, the middle of the Sullivan girls, is perhaps the most accomplished pianist on the East Coast, able to play everything from Bach classics to Irish drinking songs. The eldest, Hanorah, has the voice of an angel, leading the artistic act with the grace and composure of an Irish queen. This is one vaudeville show worth every penny and it should not be missed! One can only hope they’ll continue to adorn the stage of the Grand Theater for years to come!
Rosie put down the framed article, a bit startled by what she’d read. She knew her mother loved to sing, but Hanorah had never mentioned being in the vaudeville act alongside her sisters! Rosie tried to recall conversations with her parents. Was there ever any mention of her mother’s career? Rosie nestled deeper into the seat’s soft pillows and within moments, she found herself dreaming of home and a moment from her early childhood:
“Rosie, sing for us!” her father cheered, officially ending his work for the day by signing his name to another drawing. Her mother nodded in agreement but continued to work, needle and thread darting in and out of the beautiful blue material in her lap.
“What should I sing?” Rosie asked, standing on her stool that was pulled up close to the desk. Gaily, she twirled in a circle; the ruffles on her red taffeta overdress billowing around her like crimson sails on a ship.
“Sing my favorite song, Rosie! Your mother stole my heart with this one, she did.” Connor bent over to kiss his wife’s cheek as she gave him a loving smile.
Hanorah dropped her sewing into her lap and gave Rosie’s hand a squeeze. “We even named you after the sweet girl in the song, dear daughter!”
Connor began tapping a rhythm on the countertop with a pair of lead pencils. “Ladies and Gentlemen, presenting Rosaleen Sullivan McMurray singing the crowd-pleasing, ‘My Wild Irish Rose!’”
A young Rosie started in with the chorus:
“My Wild Irish Rose,
The dearest flow’r that grows,
And someday for my sake,
She may let me take
The bloom from my Wild Irish Rose!”
“Rosaleen, is that you?” Rosie awoke to reality with a start. The two women from the stage were now standing in front of her, a welcoming smile on each of their faces.
“Yes, I’m Rosaleen. But you can call me Rosie.” Excited to see them, but also a little nervous, she stood up to greet her aunts. She smoothed out the wrinkles on her drab traveling dress and made herself tall, eager to impress her aunts.
“Oh Kate, she looks exactly like Hanorah,” exclaimed the aunt with blond hair. Without hesitation, she threw her arms around Rosie, enveloping her in tight embrace. The statuesque Kate then wrapped her arms around Rosie, her soft, straight hair closing in on them all like a red curtain. All of Rosie’s anxiousness disappeared completely with that single, loving embrace.
Kate, being the elder of the two, spoke with dignity and reassurance. “Rosie, we couldn’t be sadder about the passing of your mother and father. We loved them dearly and we’ve had nothing but heaviness in our hearts these last few weeks. But, knowing that you were coming to live with us has brought us happiness and we are truly glad to have you here.” Kate had a soft, slow voice while Brigid’s voice was sharp and fast-paced. They couldn’t have been more opposite of each other in looks and vocal quality.
“I am so glad I’m here, too.” Her aunts reminded her so much of her mother; they all shared the same green eyes, friendly personalities, and sweet dispositions. Suddenly, Rosie’s eyes began to fill with the tears she had held back for so long. Although she had tried not to dwell on the death of her parents, the grief was overwhelming at this instant.
“Dearest Rosie, we know exactly how you are feeling right now.” Brigid tightened her hug. “We miss your mother and father very much.” Kate lovingly held them close and Rosie realized it had been a long time since she’d been held and comforted.
“I’m lucky to have wonderful aunts to share in missing them,” Rosie said between tears. She then smiled bravely and wiped her eyes. At arm’s length, she observed that both her aunts were fair-skinned, like most Irish women, and their eyes were as green as sapphires. While Brigid was short and voluptuous, Kate’s figure was tall and willowy. Brigid’s blue silk dress had a tiny train in the back. Lace encircled the sweetheart-style neckline of her corset-like bodice, and a matching striped blue-and-white shawl came together in a large bow at the front. Kate wore a matching dress of dark green and ivory, complimenting her red hair nicely. It was apparent their outfits were carefully chosen; they definitely dressed like vaudeville performers! “I just love your hair, Brigid and Kate!” said Rosie, eyes twinkling.
“We have the same curls!” Brigid declared with amusement.
“And your hair is the exact same shade as mine,” imparted Kate with a smile in her voice. “You’re the spitting image of our darling, beautiful sister.” The group began to laugh, their voices joyful and matching in tone. “Now, come along, you must be tired after the long trip from Chicago!”
“We have an adjoining room that we’ve fixed up for you,” explained Brigid, as she grabbed a carpetbag and handed Kate the other one. Exiting the green sitting room, Kate led the way through a washroom and into a tiny bedroom. Aside from the bed and a chair, the bedroom housed a dresser with a mirror and plenty of drawers for Rosie’s things. A small changing curtain concealed a portable clothes rack for larger items.
“This isn’t one of your bedrooms, is it? I couldn’t bear taking a room from you!”
“Oh, no, Rosie,” reassured Brigid. “This was just a storage room for costumes and props. Long ago we persuaded Jackson Grand, the theater owner, to let us move in backstage.” She leaned in as though she was telling Rosie a secret. “He had plenty of space back here, and since we’ve always been his main attraction, it was only fitting he complied with our modest request!”
“We know it’s a small room, Rosie. Do you think it will it do?” asked Kate. Brigid opened the drapes, revealing what Rosie considered to be an interesting view of the brick apartment next door. If the apartment was an inch or two closer, Rosie could reach out and touch it! “And we apologize about the atrocious view; great views are hard to come by on the Lower East Side.” Rosie shook her head to disagree about the apartment. In her experience, a bad view was better than no view at all!
“It’s a wonderful room,” said Rosie politely. “Thank you for providing it for me. And I’ll have to make sure I thank Jackson for letting me move in, too.” Kate appeared pleased by Rosie’s manners.
Brigid whispered loudly in feigned secretiveness, “The best part about this room is that you can freely dance about in your pantalettes, and no one will see you!”
“Brigid! The poor thing has been here only ten minutes and already you’re corrupting her!” Kate chided, but with a smile.
“I do love this room. Thank you both for being so kind as to accept me into your home.” Rosie’s words could hardly express her gratitude, for without her aunts, she would be lost and alone.
“No need to be formal, dear.” Brigid squeezed Rosie’s hand reassuringly. “We are family, and this is what family does. We take care of each other.”
“Our home is your home,” said Kate, taking Rosie’s other hand, “so welcome home, Rosie!”
Her aunts’ good humor lifted Rosie’s spirits. After weeks of sadness, it was nice to be able to laugh and smile again. She gave them quick hugs to show her thankfulness.
“You’ll have so much fun here, Rosie. Brigid and I have always needed a bright, intelligent, and beautiful girl to keep us feeling youthful.” Kate gave her a warm smile.
“Because we’re certainly not getting any younger!” Brigid added with a laugh. Rosie’s nervousness now seemed to have left her completely. After several lonely weeks on her own, making arrangements and packing her things, it felt nice to be surrounded by family who loved her. If this was the first chapter in her new life, she could see a great story unfolding.
A New Chapter
The Streets of New York
A Night at Grand Theater
Newsboy for a Day
A Smart and Stylish Girl
A Day at The Breakers
An Empty Heart
Life Imitating Art
All Questions, No Answers
An Evening to Remember