Chapter 65: The Right Stuff

I’m going to backtrack a bit….

My last post was cathartic.  It was a wall I had to climb to be free enough to write again about some of the good times….

And there were some very good times. It took me revisiting the bad to remember the good…

Life is an interesting journey.  You  perceive your past through many different lenses at different times in your life…

For many years, I forgot the good times at W&L because it ended  with so many complications.

I’ve dealt with the worst of it in this blog.

Now it’s time to remember the good times….I thank my friend Carolyn, Sweet Briar College Class of ’80, for making this possible….

She reminded me, “It’s the laughter, we will remember, whenever we remember, the way we were….”

But I won’t lose my edge….

Now, on with the blog….

_________________________________________________________

I firmly believe in the Right Stuff.

By that, I mean the real thing- the right things-no imitations, no cutting corners and playing by the entertainment rules.   And, dammit, there are rules!

I can’t help it.  I’m from Virginia and I was raised that way.  And I’m Gay so that means I have to take it even further…

I want every party to be like the one Audrey Hepburn attended at the Larrabee’s in “Sabrina”.  I will always want to make my entrance with an orchestra playing “Isn’t It Romantic” in the background.  I know that’s not a realistic expectation, but, who cares?

This all seems to be something that has been lost in our convenience-oriented, disposable society, but not by me.  I was raised by people who believed in “a few nice things” and that you “did things right”.  At least during my formative years…

And frankly, I don’t understand why it’s such a big deal to use the right stuff as long as you have a good dishwasher…

But I also don’t judge other people who entertain differently.  I’ve been to many lovely parties where people didn’t do it “my way”.

I know I’m a bit of an anachronism…

But still…

My Grandmother may have lived in a 4 room house in a Mill Village, but for every Christmas or Thanksgiving meal, you used real plates- they may have been Correlle- and the “good” stainless.

I knew my Mother was slipping and on her way downhill, when she decided the China was too much trouble for Christmas and bought paper plates.  To this day, I cannot abide paper plates….

When I was setting up my first apartment in College, my Aunt Goldie really focused on “entertainment”.  She thought the main reason one went to College was to meet the “right people” and  to have a great social life.  I truly loved her and understood her.  We were simpatico…..

She always said,  the key to a  success in life to make the right impression on your guests and to make them comfortable.  And to do it with a bit of pizzazz….

She always said, parties were important.  That was a fact of life.  She also said  you couldn’t have an elegant party if you didn’t create the right atmosphere.  That meant the right music, the right people and the right service pieces. The people were most important…..and she taught me your job, as a host, was to make them feel comfortable and special.

When I set up my first college apartment, Goldie was heavily involved.  She gave me most of the things I used for the first 10 or 15 years of my entertaining life.

I’ll never forget the conversation when she showed up with boxes of stuff at my parent’s house for me to take to Lexington for my first College apartment.

“Here is a chip and dip set.  I haven’t used this in years.  It works really well with vegetables and dip.  You might get away with potato chips and french onion dip, but that’s really tacky.  Here are some recipes for good vegetable dips and the appropriate veggies.”

“I’ve also packed up my old, brown Ironstone dishes.  They are very masculine, so they should do you fine.  I don’t know why I ever bought something this masculine  in the first place”

“I do”, said my Father.  Goldie replied:  “Shut up.”

She also gave me ash trays- back then you had to have lots of ashtrays scattered around- most of these seemed to have been stolen from various bars, hotels and clubs in fashionable East Coast spots.

“Now you can entertain in style.  That’s really important.  Anyone can sit down and get drunk, but entertaining is a talent.  A few things to keep in mind:  Pepperidge Farms Goldfish are really good with bourbon and beer.  I like them better than nuts.  Always, always keep cheese and crackers on hand for impromptu cocktails.  Buy good bourbon.  That’s what most people we know will drink.  If you have friends who drink things like gin, that you don’t drink yourself, buy the cheap stuff.  If you pour a bunch of peppercorns into Aristocrat Gin and let them soak for a month or two and pour it into an old  Tanqueray bottle, they will never know the difference.  They really should be drinking bourbon anyway….don’t waste your money on them….I’ve also given you a subscription to “Southern Living”.  You can take it from here…”

The somewhat garbled message was clear to a Gay boy who could read between the lines and supply his own interpretation: It’s a Host’s job to create magic….

I have so many happy memories of entertaining in my apartments in Lexington and the lovely evenings with my friends.  Only my friend Shakey could match- and sometime surpass- me.  But what’s the point of entertaining if you don’t have a challenge?  And we were both Virginia boys so we appreciated each other’s efforts.

I’ll never forget planning a college picnic with my friend Bob.  We were having a couple of Sweet Briar girls up and going to Goshen Pass to cookout by the Maury River.

Now, picnic takes on a totally different connotation when you combine W&L and Sweet Briar students in the late 1970’s….

The conversation went something like this:

Bob:  “We have to use your stuff since I’m a dorm counciler and you have everything imaginable for entertaining….  I like this girl- a lot- and this has to be perfect.  You’ll understand when you meet her.”

Me:  “Well, we’ll just pack up the dishes, stainless and glasses we need and take them to the river.  How else would we do it?”

Bob:  Thank god, you didn’t suggest paper plates and cups.”

Me:  “I’m from Virginia.  Get real.”

So Bob and I trooped off to Goshen Pass on the Maury River with Goldie’s Ironstone plates, my best Oneida stainless, several kinds of cocktail glasses and two Sweet Briar girls who saw nothing unusual in any of this….

We cooked steaks by the river on brick park service grills built in the 1930’s, drank Mateus Rose- out of the appropriate glasses- and waded elegantly in the water.  Bob and I wore khaki’s, oxford shirts and Bass Weejuns and the ladies wore skirts and espadrilles.  It is still one of the most perfect memories I have of one of the most perfect evenings in my life….

Who cared if we had to schlep back a bunch of dirty dishes?

Over the years, my partner Steve and I have built up quite the collection of entertainment-ware….

I once told one of my friends- facetiously- that I didn’t see the need for  Gay Marriage since we already had enough dishes.  But then, Carolyn sent us a “wedding gift” of a Tiffany bowl that I’ll cherish the rest of my life- and changed my mind.

I’m almost- almost- embarrassed to say this but, we now have 6 sets of dishes.  Everyday service for 8  each with Steve’s pre-marriage Lenox Grey Pinstripes and my pre-marriage, funky Phaltzgraff Midnight Sun.  We have about 60 plain white dinner plates and 120 plain white cocktail plates from Crate and Barrel for large functions.  Wedgwood service for 14 in China and, of course, Spode (Christmas Rose) for  the Holidays.  We also have vintage Red Wing Capistrano-service for 24- from the 1950’s that we use every Thanksgiving.  Plus my vast collection of various antique buffet plates.

We have the everyday Oneida Stainless my Father gave me and the Gorham “party” stainless-service for 24 each.  And Towle Sterling, my Mother’s pattern, service for 12.  And more serving serving pieces than can be imagined….

We have funky Pottery Barn and Crate and Barrel linens for Parties.  Antique damask tablecloths and napkins.  Vintage Holiday tablecloths….

We have three antique punch bowls with matching cups:  Silver, Crystal and Milk White.

And I love it all.  Thanks to the seeds Goldie planted all those years ago….

We may not use this stuff often and no one but me may know what it means to me, but that doesn’t matter.  These are tools we use to give comfort to and share our style with the guests we entertain in our house.

We hope it makes people feel as special to use, even subconsciously,  as it does to us to put it out..and it ties me to the generations of Southern hosts and hostesses who came before me.  Like Goldie….

It all appeals to both my sense of history and my luxury-craving Libra sensibilities.

I don’t care if our guests might not know Oneida stainless  from Towle Sterling, or Spode from Wedgwood and Correlle…or that they might be just as happy with plastic forks and paper plates and napkins;  I wouldn’t.

I do this for me.  For us. For our guests who might find some subliminal, unrealized pleasure in it all.. And I like to think it sets a tone that matters…

It’s part of who I am…

And it also serves as the “canary in the coal mine”.

The first sign of my senility will be when I stop polishing the silver and use paper plates for a function.  If I ever slap a piece of tupperware down on the dining room table, it’s time to put me in the Nursing Home.

It means I’ve lost who I am…

I do know I’m an anachronism.  I know no one else values these things and I wonder who I’ll leave them to when I’m gone….

I’m taking essay applications…

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9 Responses to Chapter 65: The Right Stuff

  1. Pingback: Chapter 65: The Right Stuff | My Southern Gothic Life | Lost in the 21st Century

  2. Mary Ellen Cassady says:

    Scott–I so love this post! I remember my fortieth birthday party and my sister helping me get ready…she and I were placing everything on serving platters (that I purchased just for this occasion so they would match the color scheme I had in mind), and she asked me, “Do you have specific platters in mind for specific food items? When I throw a party like this, I use a spreadsheet so I get everything right…” I have never loved her more than that moment!!! Cheers to caring about the little things and to getting them right!!

  3. Michael Thomas Mock says:

    Scott, your chapter inspired me to comment last night, and so I ran on about impeccably ironed table linens, and who we should both end up in the same care facility to preside over the social scene. But, I must have failed to enter something properly and it seems not to have vanished. I do enjoy your writing and hope that after the election I can settle down and give it more attention.

  4. Michael Thomas Mock says:

    Opps, please excuse the miserable typos in the above. I am having a pre-election cocktail and it seems to have muddled my spell check. “who” should be “how”…and Lord, knows why I put “not” in there.

  5. Scott M says:

    Michael, I hate your first comments didn’t get through. I would have loved to have read them!

  6. Betsy Brown says:

    Loved “The RIght Stuff”. I know exactly how you feel, but, unfortunately, I don’t always live up to my own expectations any more. (I do apologize for the plastic plates–had I known so few of the 45 I invited were coming, I could easily have used china and silver!) Although I don’t have SIX sets of china, I do have enough assorted for maybe 20 people. Maybe that’s the key–I should just stick with fewer than 20, all “best” or at least good friends. I’d probably enjoy it more, and so might the guests! . . . hope to see you NEXT year!

  7. Betsy Brown says:

    PS Meant to say I enjoyed “meeting” your Aunt Goldie. Aunt Nette was my lifesaver, though she was the epitome of a true Southern Lady (who had pulled herself up by her bootstraps); she taught me all I knew about the “finer things” in life–not just good china, cloth napkins–always, and choosing my silver pattern when I was 10 years old, but also opera, travel, and food–at her home, I ate my first avocado, learned to like perfectly cooked new potatoes (plain, with just a little parsley). I learned to play Casino with her friends, and to converse with them, too, even though we were at least two generations apart. Oh, mercy, I’m running on too much when it isn’t even my blog! !

  8. Scott M says:

    Betsy: Your party had all the “right stuff!” You are a wonderful hostess. I’m glad you enjoyed meeting Goldie….there is much more to come about her! Sounds like she and your Aunt Nette would have been fast friends!

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