… so there we were, sitting in the loggia, swapping stories and savoring our drinks when the maid discreetly motioned to Phyllis. “Lunch is ready,” Phyllis announced. We all got up to follow her on the short journey past the “John Wilkes Booth” (the downstairs phone booth) to the dining room at the front of the house.
“What should I do with this?” I asked Ingrid, holding up my half-full champagne flute. We both looked around for someplace to put it. She shrugged. I chug-a-lugged the rest of it and set the empty glass on the bar as I passed.
The butler had opened the doors and I saw a table set for a royal banquet. Everything was beautiful. Phyllis had put out her best. I was a little overwhelmed — I think we all were.
“Place cards!” someone whispered and we all began reading as we circled. “Carol, you’re here,” I said as I walked down one side. “This is me,” Karen said, spotting her name. “Robin, you’re beside me,” Sandy said, as she read the name next to hers. I don’t think I’ve ever been anyplace before where they used place cards. I thought back over my Foreign Service career but the dinners I’d attended did not rise to that level of formality.
As I sat down, I took in the array of silverware. On the left were two forks — the salad fork and a dinner fork. On the right was a steak knife, a regular dinner knife, a teaspoon and a soup spoon. Across the top were the desert fork and spoon, and just to the left was the bread plate. My gracious, I could not imagine the feast that would use all this cutlery. To the right, just above the knives, a crystal wine glass and a water-glass. The plate in front of me looked like hand-painted china and I itched to pick it up and look at the bottom. Limoges? Royal Worcester? Lenox? I would never know.
The glasses had been filled with ice water and the butler circled the table filling the crystal wine glasses with more champagne. I was sure glad that I wasn’t driving — and glad that Karen, who was driving, didn’t drink!
The maid began serving the first course — mushroom soup. Oh, my gosh, it was delicious. But wait! I knew there would be lots more to come. I sure didn’t want to fill up on soup. I toyed with it, picking out and eating the large mushrooms. Over my left shoulder, a hand with a pair of tongs appeared and set a roll on the bread plate. I sure wasn’t going to fill up on bread, either, but while the others finished their soup, I stayed busy breaking off a bit of roll and buttering it carefully. The maid looked skeptical as she cleared the plates. “Are you through with the soup?” she whispered. “Yes, thanks. It was delicious.”
Next course was a small green salad with four or five medium shrimp. Okay, shrimp aren’t filling. I ate some of the lettuce and all of the shrimp and actually nibbled a bit at the piece of buttered roll.
“More champagne?” the butler asked. My glass was not yet empty but sure, what the heck, why not?
Once again as the maid cleared the plates, she hesitated at mine. “Are you finished?” she asked. “Yes,” I assured her. I can eat lettuce at home.
Then the next course was presented — sherbet. A small bowl with three kinds of sherbet. Okay, I know sometimes sherbet is presented to cleanse the palate between courses, but this was three scoops of sherbet in different flavors. Wait a minute, where’s the rest of the lunch? I still had a dinner fork, a dinner knife and a steak knife!
“Would you care for coffee with dessert?” the butler asked. “Umm, yes. Coffee. Please. Lots of cream,” I told him. While the others were daintily spooning up their sherbet, I grabbed my roll, slathered butter on it and gobbled it as unobtrusively as possible. I inhaled the sherbet and was tempted to use the last scrap of roll to mop the dish clean.
Shortly after that, word quietly got around that Madam was tired. We all quickly said our goodbyes. As I fastened the seatbelt in Karen’s car, I said, “So whadya think?” She turned on the ignition and carefully backed out. “I think an early dinner might be in order. There’s a cute little place near my house with a patio and big trees.” “Sounds good to me.” “Glad you approve. I already told Carol and Ingrid to meet us there.”