Who was Donna Cianchetti? That’s a question that has been on what is left of my memory and mind for a week or so. I have already mentioned that I spent my summers working in restaurants, mostly resorts in the Adirondacks. These resorts were mostly self-contained summer communities, with some of them in small summer tourist towns that thrived in the summer, and hung on in the winter until the next social season.
I worked at the Saranac Inn for several seasons. Saranac Inn was one of these isolated resorts. In the late 1950s this way of life was fast becoming passé and many of the vacationers were from NYC who came for the golf and nice weather. It was not quite like the movie “Dirty Dancing” where there was some mingling between the staff and guests. That could get you fired any place I ever worked in, but the ambience is similar.
The history and an image of the Inn are below.
One nice practice that Saranac Inn did was this: Following the close of the dining hall at I think 9:00 a.m. all the uneaten breakfast snacks were gathered and put on top of a high table. Then the staff was free to graze, socialize, etc. Quite pleasant really. All the servers at any place I worked were women, mostly college age and all nice looking. Of course, most of us then were nice looking. I struck up a relationship with Donna which continued for the summer.
One thing I remembered was that Donna told me she was from Meadville, PA where her Dad was a tool and die maker. So, I did a Google search for Meadville and found an online yearbook source and one yearbook was the 1951 edition of the “Meadville Area High School – Red and black” yearbook. The first name in the seniors list was for Donna Cianchettti, so that was her. I couldn’t get a photo from her High School book. If you are really interested, a link follows below.
I was able to copy a grainy yearbook photo of her from Allegheny college, located in Meadville, class of 1956 and I enclose it now: It is definitely her, Catholic, attractive, athletic, smart, and friendly. A very nice young woman. the summer of 1956 was a fine time. A famous quote: “The past isn’t dead, it isn’t even past.” True enough.
So, she was probably born in 1931-33. Donna was active in many sports, as well as the school library and school service groups. She had graduated from Allegheny college, had a teaching job offer, and was working during the summer until she could start. I am almost positive this was the summer of 1956. I was then somewhat self-conscious of my facial scar from the accident. Too bad it was on my chin and not my cheek, or I could have made up a story about having a duel with a sword.
The cooks rated about a step above the servers in the social pyramid. One advantage of this, at least to me, was the ability to make special sandwiches for my friends, Donna being foremost. I worked as a dishwasher for the first two summers, and they are at the bottom of the totem pole, below ground even. The food there was really miserable. Now as a cook in the garde mange department I could often make a special sandwich for Donna. We could get together after the dinner shift was over and spend some time together.
Summer romances were accepted, for the most part, as being just that. No great love affairs, just a time being together with someone you liked, knowing that the relationship would finish in a month or so and that would be the end of it.
Naturally, some couples made the most of the short social season from Memorial Day to Labor day at most and soon had affairs. I still remember a loud screaming scene at Saranac Inn when a girl’s parents came to take her home, by force if necessary, since she told them she was marrying a bus boy. Others, usually older people who travelled up and down the coast to different resorts, had affairs when and where circumstances were favorable.
Donna and I were in the first group. We had much in common. We were from the East, from small cities. Her father was a tool and die machinist, mine was a foreman in a prison. Our families were lower middle class and each of us had rather modest professional aspirations. Saranac Inn was a way station, a port of call, not a personal or professional destination. My goal was to finish college and become an engineer, hers was to start her first teaching job. We liked each other, though at best I could say that we were in Like, not in Love. That suited the time and place in our lives.
One of the other cooks in my group, Fred, was maybe 10 years older or a little less who was dating another server. Fred’s lifestyle was as a full-time cook in resorts. He had a car, a new Chevrolet Bel Air sedan and sometimes we would double date. Go to the village of Saranac Lake for a movie, a few drinks, something like that. A YOU TUBE of a very similar car follows:
Sometimes Donna would be in too much of a hurry to get her uniform on and forget to fasten the top button. If the maitre d’ noticed this she would get told about it in no uncertain terms. The way the kitchen was laid out, the servers had to pass my station on the way in and out of the dining room. I would watch for Donna on the way in and say “Button Up” when needed. This got to be a little joke of ours.
I don’t remember leaving, saying good-bye or even who left first. Probably Donna as she had a job as a teacher and had to get back in time for orientation, etc. Donna and I exchanged a letter or two at the most after her teaching job started and I was back at Syracuse. All gone now.
I will be 79 in November, and Donna, if she were alive would be 83 at least. The September 1960 issue of the New York Times had a line indicating that a Donna Cianchetti was to be wed.
So, we married the same year. I wondered if she was alive now and checked the Social Security death records for Donna with the following results:
United States Social Security Death Index
birth: 8 October 1931
death: 12 April 2002 Bay City, Bay, Michigan
This could well be the Donna I knew, at least the birthdate sounds correct but there is no middle initial. If I had that information, I could cross check it with the yearbook, but I don’t. Donna was 70 when she died and most probably the information above is correct, but not definitive.
I did Google Ernest Hitz and found him in the Allegheny graduating class of January 1957 which would have made him one half-year behind Donna. Summing up, Donna and Ernest went to the same college at the same time. They got married in 1960 and I hope they had a good life together until Donna died.
Since I don’t remember saying good-bye I’ll make up for it now. Goodbye Donna, farewell wherever you are. It was great knowing you 60 years ago and I have not forgotten.