Thursday, January 21, 2010
Cruel to be Kind
In the corner of the world in which I grew up, there were two kinds of hostesses. All the hostesses in Bedford. And then, the ones in Pound Ridge.
I do not know how this divide developed but having had the dinner service under my care while in school of one remarkable Bedford hostess, I can assure you, they looked upon one another with uncertainty then, if not occasionally, outright distain. Two miles of road never more separated hostessing philosophies.
In Bedford, it was all very starched. By the rules. Divergence and creativity were, "interesting," and "fun" but also exotic and unwelcome. Just on the other side of Pound Ridge Road though, they were more laid back, "casual" (a word used as if spat), and "woodsy." And not failing to note the similar failings of Bedford hostesses, by Pound Ridge standards, they were "stuffy" and "affected."
But naturally, attended one another's parties .
It was while I was checking the hand towels in the home of Katharine Gottsegan, founder of the Tobe Review, cookbook author, and entertaining powerhouse (my parents neighbor for whom I oversaw parties and dinners), that Kay came around a corner and said, "Catherine, can you come with me to Judy's next Saturday night?"
I agreed, politely but unwillingly.
Judy was a friend of Kay's from Pound Ridge. I came from the Bedford side and was trained by other Bedford types like Kay, and my gorgeous Mother. I knew this scenario was a nest of pit viper-hostess warfare. I was eighteen and would have found anything else to do besides oversee a party of seventy-something warring Westchesterites. But, the old girl collared me.
I understood that Kay and I were to keep this party from becoming a wretched fiasco at Judy's request. The words "wretched fiasco," gennerally associated with parties given by others who were one fragile chain link from barbar's in Kay's estimation, or so I inferred.
Kay was a character in many ways, not the least of which was that she had no inclination toward tact of any kind. The hour before Judy's party in which Kay wandered around Judy's house, looking things over and then saying my name, looking me in the eye, causing my glance to follow hers, and correcting Judy in wilting verbiage, is one I would like to forget. I was desperately thankful for my Mother and Grandmother just then; Never having been at the wrong end of Kay's etiquette sword which I was then witnessing in full effect for the first time.
Kay had been monotone through her stabbing instructions and disgusted alterations regarding how buffets had been laid, the kitchen considered, and the bar left "a mess" in her estimation. It was a matter-of-fact hostess slaughter, until she was shown the wine. In a jug.
Then. Then her cheeks flushed, her eyes grew wide and animated, and she became incensed. "INGLENOOK!" she railed, "Oh my God! PUT IT IN A DECANTER!!"
As I showed her to a chair, she said, "Can I have something to drink?" Then she sat back heavily and sighed, "But not, not, wine!"
She was a tactless task master, perhaps. But correct in making the point that one should give their best to their guests. Failing that, be sure an insultingly inferior product is not on display to add insult to injury.
Photo courtesy Gump's, Saint-Louis Excess Decanter