PLATTSBURGH — Before arriving in Plattsburgh, the only snow Jacqueline “Jackie” Nisoff had ever seen was when a soldier got off a train in Utah and scooped some up in his hands and showed it to her.
Once the World War II bride arrived by train in Plattsburgh, the Australian native walked along Bridge Street. There was snow galore.
“I think it was the 18th of January,” Nisoff said. “It was so cold, I thought my ears were going to fall off. These are the things when you are green that you don’t know. I went back into the station. I was going to send a telegram to my in-laws, and the station master said, ‘You’re going to get there before the telegram.’ So, I said, ‘Tear it up.’ So I went on the train, and I got to Dannemora. There was no other person on the train, just me and the baby.”
The train conductor was Matt Lucey.
“He was a wonderful man. He took such good care of me. He couldn’t get over this little girl coming all that way with a baby. I always stayed friends with him. He was wonderful,” Nisoff said.
”I got into Dannemora, and I told them to call my in-laws, and they did. Dad came down with his hair up like this and pants over his pajama pants. It was 6 o’clock in the morning. They still had their Christmas tree up. They kept it up for me.”
Neighbors had made gifts for the new baby, David, including a little wagon.
“They were so nice. Of course, Dannemora at that time was a small town, and everybody knew everybody. It wasn’t very long before the whole town knew I was there. I think a lot of the kids in the high school thought I was going to arrive in a grass skirt. That’s what somebody told me,” she said.
Her husband, David, joined her at the end of April 1944.
“I used to go to bed at night and wake up in the morning and lie in bed and listen to the train,” she said of the days before her husband was there with her. “I give it 15 minutes for him to get from the station to the house, then I would roll over and cry. I did a lot of crying the first six months.”
In 1945, she had teamed up with an accompanist named Margaret and sang at church bazaars, weddings and other events.
“She used to go up to the camp on Chazy Lake that Brooke Shields bought at one time,” Nisoff said. “Well, before she bought it, this retired opera singer used to own it. His name was Reinald Werrenrath. He lived up there, and I called him up one day and said, ‘Can I come to sing for you?’ He said, ‘Sure.’ He said, ‘How (are) you going to get here?’ I said, ‘I know Margaret.’ He said, ‘OK, Margaret will bring you up.’ He had five students that he brought up from New York.”
Werrenrath, a baritone, made his Metropolitan Opera debut in 1919. Heavily concertized, he taught at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore, Md. Summers, he ran a music school in Chazy Lake.
It was there Nisoff went to sing for Werrenrath after his students completed their lessons.
“He said, ‘OK, let’s see what you can do.’ So I sang Schubert’s ‘Serenade’ for him. He said, ‘Let’s do some scales.’ He went up the piano and down the piano. Then he made the remark, ‘Whoever thought I would find something like that in this part of the country.’”
In Australia, Nisoff sang with a 100-voice choir in the Eisteddfod, a national singing competition in Australia.
“I couldn’t join until I was 16. I was classed as a mezzo-soprano, but Werrenrath said I wasn’t a mezzo-soprano. He said I was a dramatic soprano because my range was so big. He said, ‘What would you think about going to New York (to) study?’
”I’m green off the boat,” Nisoff said. “This sounds just absolutely what I’ve ever dreamed of.”
She went home to think about his offer.
“I thought, ‘Please God send me some kind of a sign that would tell me what I should do.’ And he did; I was pregnant for Marilyn. There was no way I could go and live in New York without any money and the pounds to pay for lessons with top musicians. No way. So, I turned it off,” she said.
Werrenrath was friends with the Rev. Highland, the chaplain priest at Dannemora Prison, at the time.
“He said that Father Highland would find work for David in the big city,” Nisoff said. “I couldn’t see (that for) my husband. He doesn’t like to put up with anything. I just gave it up. I forgot all about it.”
Once during a visit to her doctor, she talked with a nurse.
“She said she used to be a Canning girl who used to live down the hill from where I was living. She said, ‘You know, Jackie, my father used to sit out on the back porch and listen to you sing.’ I didn’t think anybody was listening to me. I was up in the woods. It was my first love, singing,” Nisoff said.
’SEEMS TO BE HOME ‘
Nisoff and her husband left Dannemora and returned to her homeland for a year. Upon their return, they relocated to Plattsburgh.
David worked at the prison, Sheriff’s Office and State Assembly. She was a buyer for Merkel’s and a fashion manager at Montgomery Wards.
“My father-in-law built the Pine Haven Restaurant,” she said. “We bought it from them. After that, it burned. After it burned, we rebuilt. Our house was just this side of it. We ran it for quite a while.”
When David died, she was unable to manage the home by herself and moved into an apartment complex in the Town of Plattsburgh.
Since she came to North America, she’s traveled eight times to Australia.
“I have no regrets,” Nisoff said. “I still call Australia home. It’s just like where you’re born, that’s where it seems to be home.”
Email Robin Caudell:firstname.lastname@example.org
SONG OF LIFE
This is the final installment of a three-part series on Jacqueline "Jackie" Nisoff's life in Australia and the United States. Nisoff has relocated to North Bennington, Vt.