The Astor Orphan: A Memoir
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The Astor Orphan is an unflinching debut memoir by a direct descendant of John Jacob Astor, Alexandra Aldrich.
She brilliantly tells the story of her eccentric, fractured family; her 1980s childhood of bohemian neglect in the squalid attic of Rokeby, the family’s Hudson Valley Mansion; and her brave escape from the clan. Aldrich reaches back to the Gilded Age when the Astor legacy began to come undone, leaving the Aldrich branch of the family penniless and squabbling over what was left.
Illustrated with black-and-white photographs that bring this faded world into focus, The Astor Orphan is written with the grit of The Glass Castle and set amid the aristocratic decay of Grey Gardens.
stooped, emaciated body. The jacket’s sleeves weren’t long enough and left her skinny wrists and hands, slightly twisted with arthritis, to jut out like the front feet of a mole. Then the search for the shoes began. She bent over to peer under the bed and rummaged through her musty closet. “Ugh! I only see one black loafer. Who on earth could have taken my other loafer? Ughh!” Then, “Oh I really am a dunce. How could I have misplaced my glasses?” “They’re hanging around your neck, Grandma.”
it into the front loading bucket of Dad’s tractor. Dad raised the bucket, now carrying Roy as well, up to a branch of the Chinese chestnut tree that would drop sweet edible chestnuts encased in their prickly shells onto the groundskeeper’s lawn. Standing on the edge of the bucket, Roy—who was extraordinarily adroit for a one-armed man—wrapped a rope several times around the sturdy branch, then tied the other end of the rope around the pig’s hind feet. “Okay. Lower her down!” he shouted. As the
is like a refrigerator.” We walked out into the third-floor hallway. It was lit by a single bare bulb. “Where does this lead?” She pointed to a door. “There’s an old-fashioned elevator behind there.” “It’s too bad you can’t use it all the time, instead of walking up and down three flights of stairs every day.” “There are a lot of neat things in this house that we’re not allowed to use. . . . Be careful!” I warned, as she opened the door to the empty elevator shaft, a dark void. Standing on
its precipice, Veronique started to pull on one of the frayed ropes dangling at the side of the doorway. At first, it was resistant and needed tugging. Then it started to slide quickly through her hands, threatening rope burn, whirring loudly as it sped along. Soon, the top of a wooden box appeared from below, then more of it, until a tiny room with a wooden bench against the back wall stood before us. It was the first time I’d ever seen the inside of the elevator. Veronique sat beside me, still
so called because it was sandwiched between the back and front parts of the house. In the old days, food would be transported from the back kitchen, by way of the dumbwaiter located in the middle room, down half a floor to the old pantry—currently our kitchen—and then out through the swinging door into the dining room. Now the middle room served as the living room in Aunt Olivia and Uncle Harry’s part of the house. Aunt Olivia’s figure towered over me like an oversized A, feet planted and hands