LC Van Savage
ON ALICE’S RULES AND HANDLES
I didn’t come from a wealthy family, but happened to live across the street---ooops, road, we were never permitted to call it a “street,” -- from one very wealthy lady, a memorable woman who had the economic recourses to build what she perceived to be 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 animals behind whom she never had to walk with a shovel. Staff was available for that.
Her name was Alice V. Remington and she was, or wanted to be, 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 Mum, which was a bit of a stretch because I don't know as they ever take Colonized Yanks, but it made for a very good story.
But Alice was remarkable--noblesse oblige and all that--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 we were summoned for high tea when my poor sister 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, in the cup when I stood up to go to the loo. My dear sister’s face got 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 spell or something?" 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.
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 quite grey. The debutantes at their Comings Out there wore long white dresses that scraped 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.
Anyway, at a dinner party once at which my presence had been requested, God knows why, Lady Alice 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. A bowl, not a soup plate, mind you. It's important to remember that when your time comes. It was at the ladeeda Richmond County Country Club (RCCC to those in the know) on Staten Island one evening where she delicately drank from her bowl, and I well recall staring hard at that dignified, beautiful grand dame in great surprise, 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, upwardly mobile voice that in fact it is allowed, but of course only if the soup bowl has handles. 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 handles on it? Please, where is the logic in that?
But there you have it. I know I could look up the handles rule in my Emily Post but it’s been holding up the back corner of an old cabinet of ours for years. It was just the right size for propping when that leg got kicked off by a sullen teenager who had our last name, and there it remains. The book, that is. The teenager grew up and moved out. Anyway, I figger if Alice Remington can drink from a soup bowl with handles, then we mortals can also, and since Mrs. R. has died (she managed to freeze people, but kindly of course, for 103 years) I think the rules can be bent a bit and that we can with no shame suck up soup from a bowl with no handles whenever we damned well please, but maybe with just a tiny homage to the remarkable, indomitable and very classy Alice V. Remington.
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