This week I'm combining Bone's 3-word Wednesday with a personal story I've been meaning to write. The three words to use are "Packed, Cozy, Anticipation." The storyline is mostly true.
“So now sweet sixteen turns thirty-one.”
Six actors and actresses swirl on and off stage, playing a host of characters. “The Dining Room” was produced by the drama department at Lenior Rhyne College, who provided hundreds of laughs as fun was made by poking at many of the customs and habits surrounding this room. After the play, Paula and I discussed the dining customs of the homes in which we had grown up. It was a week before she was going to travel with me for a weekend visit with my parents. She was all excited about going to the coast and I, feeling a bit more feisty than usual, described my family’s rather formal dining habits. Diner, I assured her, required me to wear at least a tie and sports coat. My mother, and sister when at home, wore dresses. No one could eat until everyone sat down and we folded out hands and my father said grace. I could tell she was getting nervous, so I continued telling her about the about the various folks and what they were for and what was appropriate topics to be discussed and how to ask to be excused from the table, curtsying as permission is granted. Of course, I reassured her, for her first visit there would grace shown if she made a mistake. For the next week, anticipation built and our conversations always came back to how we dined in my parent’s home. I could tell we were going to be in for an enlightening weekend.
The night after the play, I called my mother and asked her if she and my dad would be willing to dress up for diner. I started off trying to tell her about how Paula was from some high flaunt-in Yankee family from New Jersey and how I really wanted to impress her. My mother would have none of it. She didn’t feel the need to impress anybody. Seeing that there was no way to trick them to play along, I decided to take a novel track and tell the truth. I told my mom that although Paula was from New Jersey, she was definitely blue collar background. This didn’t surprise anyone; my whole family assumed everyone from New Jersey was blue collared. Then I told her about the play and how Paula was intrigued by dining customs and I how I’d told her about our family’s formal customs at the evening table.
“You did what?” my mother shouted as I yanked the phone from my ringing ear. “That poor girl! You are not going to bring her down here to make fools out of her and us.” I knew I was in trouble. Although she hadn’t even met Paula, my mother was already feeling empathy for her. Knowing the day of reckoning was at hand, I allowed Paula to pack a couple of dresses for the weekend trip. She’d need one for church anyway. I kept quiet about the real nature of our family’s dining habits. There was, however, some truth to what I’d said. We did always say grace before the meal. But we didn't fold our hands and the only dress requirement was that we couldn’t wear wet swimming trunks to the table. My mother would have beaten us if we sat in her hardwood chairs with wet pants. And us guys also had to put on at least a t-shirt. Things are pretty relaxed along the coast. Bare feet were even preferred, as you left your shoes and flip-flops at the door to keep sand out of the house.
I decided to clue Paula in on the secret only after we crossed the Cape Fear River Bridge. We’d then be about 20 minutes from my parents home and five hours from where we lived. I assumed that by this point, she’d be less likely to want to turn around drive back west. I was wrong. She went ballistic and before we could go to my parent’s home, we went out to the beach and where I paid my penance, sitting on a bench out on the pier, listening to an hour or so diatribe about how I was an inconsiderate ass. But the sound of the surf has a calming effect and soon we were holding hands and driving over to my parents where my mother greeted her like a long lost daughter. Mom made Paula feel a bit too cozy, for the next afternoon, much to the ire of my mother, Paula came into the dining room and plopped herself down in my lap. My mother’s empathy dried up quicker than a puddle in sand and for once I think she was relieved on Sunday afternoon when I packed the car for the trip back across the state. From that day on, until she finally forgot about it like everything else, Paula was referred to as “that girl who had the audacity to sit in your lap in my dining room.”
Paula was thirty-one, four years older than me. I remember her age because I identified her with Bob Seger’s song, “Rock and Roll Never Forgets,” which although being out for six or seven years by this point was still being played on the radio. We met at a dance for members of the Explorer program, a Boy Scout program for older youth. She was a volunteer leader for a post in a neighboring county and, as this was in my scouting days, I was paid to be there. Thinking it might not be a good idea to hit on the female Explorer members (most were under age), I asked Paula to dance. A week after the dance I invited her over for dinner. I was looking for an excuse to try a recipe I’d found for duck. That was all it took, she assumed that by roasting a duck for her, I was a romantic. For the next six months, we had a rocky “on again, off again” relationship. We were different, but we had fun. I’d blush when she’d employ her sailor’s vocabulary or over indulge with alcohol, but was always touched by her generous heart that was filled with good intentions and what she did as a single mom to make a good life for her son.
For more of Sage's memories, click here.