Saturday, December 28, 2013
New Year's Eve Lesson (with pink suede and a baked potato)
The Christmas I was ten, my mother gave my sister and I our first handbags. They were cotton candy pink suede clutches that folded in half. All handbags given in those days contained a coin and inside these were new shiny dimes. The theory is that if money is placed in the purse it will bring prosperity to the recipient and as it was, we did receive a windfall by way of a happy life-long memory and I, a lesson.
That was also the year that my grandmother, the arbiter of all things ladylike, decided that it was about time my sister and I had a grown-up evening out on the town with she and my grandfather as hosts. The day of New Year's Eve we were driven to Nana and Puppy's marvelous city apartment where another surprise awaited us. Nana had made us navy wool coats with delightful pink satin linings to match our new purses! At the appointed hour, my grandfather was instructed to pull the car around which meant he was to take it out of the small wooden garage that was part of their lease, park it at the curb and return to gather us out into the icy crystalline night and the warmed car.
People who live just outside the city proper of Boston, refer to a trip to Boston as "going in town" and so our little club headed in town, to the Parker House Restaurant, a place my grandmother thought worthy of our introduction to sophisticated city dining. The Parker House is known for it's delicious small puffy Parker House Rolls and we were so excited to experience them in the very restaurant where they were created.
The tables were laid with snowy cloths, the water glasses were sturdy rustic goblets. The rolls were brought to the table at last and they were far better than the packaged variety we bought from the market at home. I recall the lovely little pats of butter shaped like wee maple leaves and the heavy silverplate cutlery in the style of Paul Revere. Everything was just so, including our new pink purses which my grandmother had advised us to tuck beside our Captain's chairs on the floor. We felt so grown-up and it all was delightful. That is until, Nana took a nibble of my baked potato. "Mac, it's cold!" she wailed to my grandfather. I also knew the potato was a bit cold but I didn't want to spoil the night knowing how intent Nana was to make everything perfect. She and my grandfather rarely dined out because Nana had a long-standing prejudice against the quality of restaurant food. Suddenly, she turned to me and I knew what she was thinking: "Why didn't you say something?" My eyes implored her not to tell our waiter. At ten, I was shy and awkward and didn't like to draw attention to myself if I could help it. Besides, I had put plenty of butter and salt on that potato and I was anxious to devour it. But alas, the waiter was summoned and arrived at our table to whisk the potato away. A new one was brought, this time wrapped in foil and steaming. I opened it and gingerly slit it to apply one of the lovely maple leaf butter pats. All eyes watched carefully as I salted it and dipped my fork into it and eased it up to my mouth. I could barely manage the bite when my tongue burned so painfully that I had to grasp for my goblet of water and pour a large gulp of it into my mouth to ease the fire. But as I put the goblet back down - my eyes watering, the glass stem hit my plate and then toppled all the remaining water onto my lap and the pink suede bag beside my chair. All was silenced for a moment until the waiter was alerted yet again and returned to mop up our table. I wanted to melt into the floor or run from the restaurant into the cold dark night. My grandfather picked up my purse and began to wipe it with his napkin while my grandmother fussed about me with hers.
I don't recall the rest of the meal which is just as well. I do remember getting into bed that night under the eaves of my grandmother's spare bedroom. When Nana came to tuck us in, she had my pink suede bag with her and it looked new again thanks to my grandfather's wire shoe brush which she employed at the kitchen table as we were changing into our nightgowns. As always, our bed was firm and warm, our pillows soft and comforting. Nana laid the purse on the nightstand and drew the old rocker close to the bed. She sat down and asked us if we enjoyed our night on the town. I mutely nodded and then Nana reached out and gently untangled my long braid. "You know dear, you shouldn't eat cold food", she said, "you'll get a stomach ache". I took what she said to mean that I should try to be less shy and speak up more. Even then, I believed that is what she wanted most for me. To be able to ask for what I need and not be so timid all the time.
It took me many decades to learn to speak up for myself and truth be told, I still struggle with it. I simply don't like hurting peoples' feelings. It took a few more years to feel comfortable dining in fancy places but now it is a true pleasure of my very grown-up life. Recently, I sent back a dish that tasted funny. I didn't hesitate at all and nary a goblet was overturned. Perhaps a seed WAS planted on that long-ago New Year's Eve when, on an illuminated night, I learned a small lesson.