During a timed writing with my online writers’ group, I spun a true tale about cooking. When I finished, I had two stories. The first one I sent to The Sun Magazine. It was their prompt after all. The second one focused on a moment in 1968, New Year’s eve. It belongs here.
Our New Year’s Eve progressive dinners were legendary. We were living in Lawrence, Kansas at the time, teaching at the university. Five couples planned the order of the meal, beginning with cocktails and hors-d’oeuvre at the first house, progressing in our black-tie attire to the next house a block away for the soup course. Salad at the next and by ten-thirty or so, we arrive at our house for the main course. One friend was an airline pilot who had brought live lobster from Maine. They were in a tank in our garage. I had instructed the babysitter to get the great canning kettle to a boil by 10:30, whereupon she could go to bed in the guest room next to where the children were sleeping. The crisp night air cleared the palate and the brain after cocktails and wine pairing with each course. The merriment grew with each walk. Don and I rushed ahead to get those lobsters into the boiling water and warm the garlic-butter and sour-dough bread. The others came through the door laughing, ready for this epicurean high-point, lobsters in Kansas.
The wives carried coats, scarfs, gloves, and purses up to our master bedroom, powdered their noses, and came down to dinner. At midnight champagne corks flew into the garden, a scuffling of chairs so everyone could kiss everyone else.
Dessert awaited half a block down the street. The men climbed the stairs to retrieve the coats and came down one by one, puzzling, hands patting down the inside pockets, the outside pockets, fishing in the sleeves for their scarfs. The women watched, took their coats, then opened their purses. Keys, where were the keys? The scarfs, the gloves? Merriment turned sour, accusatory. Instead of filing out to dessert, there was a terrible milling around in the front hall. Embarrassed, I went upstairs and opened the door to where our daughters slept. There in the middle of the floor in a swirl of color were the ladies’ scarfs, the men’s scarfs in the outer circle like a fortress wall, and in the center of the mound of cloth, keys. I gathered them all and descended to the sullen crowd. I opened my hands to grabbing fingers and harrumphing snarls as the scarfs, gloves, and keys sorted themselves out.
We stumbled out of our front door muttering, wondering, puzzling what had come into the minds of four little girls. How they had awakened so late and stolen into the master bedroom to find fox and sable coats, silk, and cashmere scarfs, jangling keys to carry off to their room? The retelling of the story as we tasted the chocolate mousse and the crème brûlée of our final course became the theme of the New Year. Told with peals of laughter, laughter with an edge. “Don’t trust anyone, not even your children.”
Richard Nixon became the thirty-seventh president on January 20th. Tricky Dick would take more than pretty scarfs and keys.