LC's Take: On Alice's rules and handles

Posted Wednesday, June 12, 2013 in Features

LC's Take: On Alice's rules and handles

by LC Van Savage

I didn’t come from a wealthy family, but happened to live across the street — oops, road, we were never permitted to call it a “street” — from one very wealthy lady, a memorable woman who had the economic resources to build what she insisted was a white “Connecticut Farm House,” breezily overlooking the fact that it was on Staten Island in New York. Lovely place. She even stocked it with bucolic, Renaissance-painting-looking farm animals, behind whom she never had to walk with a shovel. Staff was available for that. These creatures grazed bucolically about the grounds looking much like a Grandma Moses painting while the lady of the house sat above on her bucolic lanai sipping tall drinks from beneath huge summer straw hats, sometimes crowned with real flowers from her picking garden.

Her name was Mrs. Alice V. Remington and she was most assuredly to the manor born. No one ever checked her background. No one ever dared question The Lady Alice. She claimed she was once one of the queen's ladies in waiting (must have been the Queen Mum), which was a bit of a stretch because I don't know as they ever took on colonized Yanks, but it made for a very good story.

But Alice was remarkable — beautiful, graceful, impeccable from sculpturally coiffed head to perfect shoes. She entertained at high tea every afternoon at 4 sharp, and one did attend and one did it properly or one didn’t bother to show up. I recall once when my sister Betsy and I were summoned for the famous high tea when my poor sibling very nearly fainted into a cold heap onto Mrs. R's gen-U-ine hand-knotted Persian carpet in her elegant garden room because I left my spoon, oh gasp and choke, sticking up from the cup when I stood up to go to the loo. My dear sister’s face got positively chalky and she kept gesturing wildly with her head and glaring at me, eyes rolling from my face to the teacup. I finally said, "Sister dear! Are you having some sort of seizure?" I was that concerned. Eventually I figured out the source of her angst and pulled the offending spoon from the cup and clattered it to the saucer. Seriously. She was that horrified. I’ve truly never witnessed such idiocy.

Alice, whose daughters all came out at — what, the Waldorf-Astoria? I forget — that place with the big clock everyone met under and you had to drink your teas and lemonades with your gloves on and they got wet and gross and eventually became quite grey. Anyway, the debutantes at their comings-out there wore long, white, strapless dresses that scraped their tender chests quite cruelly while the boys, all potentially good-catch husbands, sweated horribly in white tie and tails, none having marriage on their minds at that party or at that age although that was the original centuries-old strategy behind those dreadful assemblages.

I recall at a dinner party once at which my presence had been requested, Goddess knows why, I was seated next to Lady Alice who casually picked up a soup bowl to drink the little bit left in it after she'd spooned, away from her, and from the opposite side of the bowl of course, most of the soup from it. This was a bowl, not a soup plate, mind you. It's important to remember that as this story progresses. It was at the lah-di-dah Richmond County Country Club (RCCC to those in the know) on Staten Island one evening where she quite suddenly and delicately drank from her bowl, and I well recall staring with horror at that dignified, beautiful grande dame as she did that, and finally blurting rather too loudly, "Mrs. Remington!! Are we allowed to DO that?" She looked at me with that haughty, icy, I-must-be-kind-to-the-lower-classes-no-matter-how-difficult-it-is-for-me smile only she could manage, and opined in her silky voice that in fact it is allowed, but of course only if the soup bowl has two handles. Two. It did.

Handles?? Who the bloody hell makes up these addlebrained rules?? One can slurp from a bowl like a thirst-maddened mule as long as the trough has two handles on it? Please, where is the logic in that?

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