Food for soul & body
Bleary-eyed and not yet fully awake, I stumbled to get the phone that shook me from a deep sleep. “Oh, Nancy, it’s Mary, I know it’s short notice but you’ve GOT to come to my house today. I’m having an English butler serving tea–I’ve been up since 5 making scones and you’ve got to come. It’s my first party under my new stained-glass dining room ceiling that I designed myself.”
“Mary, that sounds delightful, but my hair……” I had not washed it or been to the hairdresser all week, and it was so stiff from all the dry shampoos glued in by the chlorine water of my pool that I couldn’t make myself appear “tea-ready” for all the tea in China.”
“Don’t worry about your hair–put a hat on,” she ordered. “Nancy will pick you up at 10:30.”
I glanced down at my apple watch which I had just put on–(it records my steps and never wanting to be out-of-step, I put it on the minute I get up—even if it’s not still morning.)
“Well, I guess I could try to see if my hairdresser could….” She cut me off.
“Just put a hat on—and be ready at 10:30 sharp when Nancy pulls up.” “Well, I guess I can try to…..” clunk….she hung up. I sat there dumbfounded. On the one hand, I had to rush to get ready, and would miss the ritual with my son & husband of coffee on our porch while we watch the deer feast on the few flowers they have left us. And….then….I would miss my second cup with Kevin over “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.” If you haven’t seen it, DO. If you don’t like coffee, you will want a cup after watching one 15 minute episode. If you DO like coffee–it will taste better while watching Jerry Seinfeld driving the most outlandish cars to pick up some of the most outrageous comedians-(Dana Carvey, Ellen DeGeneres)-and hearing their personal stories interlaced with their own brand of humor brewed with Seinfeld’s singularly sarcastic quips and “spit-your-coffee-out-through-your-nose” laughs.
But….this was Mary Pillsbury, owner and designer of the most elegant bedazzlements that all women covet and a few women actually own: Mary Pillsbury Jewelry. I knew that with Mary’s extravagant taste there would be lots of champagne flowing, and since I wasn’t driving I could partake.
My hairdresser wasn’t in yet–and I lost my personal one, my sister, long ago to her new field of “Physical Rehabilitation.” I told her I had lots of physical parts she could work on rehabilitating WHILE she did my hair, but alas, she wanted to work with older people who really needed her. That was 15 years ago. Now I am one of those “older people”—and where is my sister when I really need her?
So, I called the two blow-dry bars I use in emergencies. My only possibility was a “dry-style” which meant I had to wash AND DRY my hair myself. This is no easy task for me with a shoulder that needs replacement, and for which I cancelled surgery because I couldn’t miss my granddaughter’s choral solo in Chicago. When she heard I put off my surgery, the 10-year old admonished me: “Grandma, you shouldn’t put off surgery. That’s more important than my singing.” I was beginning to agree with her–as I lay awake that night with her precious head squished against my painfully arthritic shoulder. But after sharing our last way-past-her-bedtime-bout of giggles, she drifted off to sleep, and her soft rhythmic breath played a symphony on my heartstrings, lulling me into a sweet slumber.
After 10 wasted minutes ruminating, I came to and jumped in the shower, painfully scrubbed the goo out of my hair, gave my dryer a quick sip on my remaining 200 hairs, and wiped on some make-up. Glancing at my watch, I made a frantic search in my closet for a Queen Elizabeth-like suit. I did have one that looked the part, but did not have the matching prop-purse to go with it. Deciding it was too hot for a suit anyway, I settled on a sleeveless red dress and hurried over. I was proud to be only 10 minutes late–beating my usual tardiness by 5 minutes.
“Sorry, she can’t take you. She has another client at 10:00.” It was 9:40 and I was desperate.
“Oh please, would you reconsider? I have very little hair, and I’ll take anything she can do with it in 20 minutes.”
Wasting 2 of my 20, she finally sauntered back to me with the begrudging hairdresser, who magically did my do with 8 minutes to spare. Ten minutes to do what normally is a 45 to 60 minute styling–and I still had to pay the full price! Then, feeling guilty that I was late and put her out, I gave her a huge tip as an apology! That’s the kind of price I dutifully pay for my chronic lateness.
I am sure most sane women would not even have considered Mary’s invitation, as spontaneously inconvenient as it was. But this was one of the rare weekends that I wasn’t needed by grandchildren out of town, and Mary is a rare person. So, I had to attend this event that I knew could only be “overboard.” Besides, my daughter-in-law had just told me that today was “National Twin Day.” For twins Mary & Nancy, this was truly a day to celebrate.
My husband escorted me to my carriage, happy to talk to Nancy. You see, he had dated her in high school, long before he had met me. As I looked at her tiny size 2 frame, (compared to my “average” size) and her flawless skin and full, long, wavy hair (most of mine sat limp in the shower drain) she turned a beautiful smile up to him, sporting the whitest of teeth (I would try whitening, but can’t go that long without talking). I actually felt sorry for my husband that he ended up with plan B.
He bade us a “Cheerio” and off we went in her carriage–for the long drive to her sister Mary’s country estate.
Nancy and I chatted incessantly the whole delightful drive, catching up quickly on too many lost years. We became friends shortly after our wedding–my introduction to her being a phone call jarring us awake in the middle of the night. It was Nancy calling from Paris to congratulate Ted on his marriage. The Pillsbury twins have a penchant for these “awakening phone calls.” Anyway, I ended up working with her in her Pillsbury Marketing Company. I was still one of her sales reps the day I found out I was pregnant with my first child. I remember hurrying back to the office to tell Nancy the good news. “Congratulations to you and Edward (Nancy, being a very “Fancy Nancy” always uses Ted’s more formal name). And then, “This calls for a toast!” With a mischievous smile on her face, Nancy popped open a bottle of Moet & Chandon that she just happened to have chilling in her office refrigerator.
As twins so often share the same tastes, Mary also had champagne chilling for us when we arrived at her estate.
We rolled up the driveway lined with lush overhanging trees, looking so like “Tara” that when I saw the back of a tall man in a black suit lingering at the door, I thought it might have been Rhett Butler–pining after Scarlett who had just slammed the door in his face. Pulling me from my reverie, Nancy quipped–“Look at her horses!”
“They’re beautiful. Does she ride?”
“Does her husband ride them?”
“Well, does she board them for someone?”
“No. I think she just has them for show.”
I laughed. It was such a twin sister thing to say. Nancy and Mary are always putting each other in their place.
She pulled up to the circle drive which revealed a vista of endless trees and more lush greenery in every direction. We had arrived at Mary’s Beau-Ciel–which was definitely a chateau. Getting out of the car, we stopped for pictures with the other guests around Mary’s angel statue—made in her likeness (except for the wings) by artist Jamie Anderson of Rolla, Missouri as a gift from loving husband, Don, and unveiled years ago by her friend, the late Governor Mel Carnahan.
Thankfully, due to the intense heat, we were relieved that our hostess met us at the door and in her typical Mari-steria, insisted we all come inside because she had “Just pulled my homemade scones from the oven, and my English butler and French maid are ready to serve.” So there was a “Butler” at the door–just not the Rhett variety.
We were seated at a luxuriously set table, with a sparkling crystal chandelier above–of which Mary announced she cleaned every prism herself because–“well, no one can do it better! I am a jeweler after all.” To take in the full scintillating brilliance of this total eclipse of her heart, I donned my sunglasses. Staring up at it, I had to squint my eyes at the sun’s rays which darted colors like fireworks in every direction.
As her English Butler began pouring pink champagne in our crystal flutes, Mary drew our attention to the real “guest of honor.” “Look up” she said….”You are the first to sit beneath this canopy of hospitality–my personally designed stained glass ceiling.” Mary directed all of us to look up higher, at the real purpose of our visit. “Look,” she almost shouted with the unabashed excitement of a five-year-old, “I designed every piece of glass myself. These are all my favorite flowers: Roses, Gardenias and Orchids.” The flowers were jewels of red, lavender and white set with rubies and aquamarines.
Exquisite is the word that comes to mind when walking through Versailles. And, after one glass of champagne beneath this magnificent stained glass “canopy,” I felt the Sun King himself was about to appear. Between sips of champagne, and orders to her butler and lady-in-waiting, Mary pointed out everything French in the room–including the gold-flecked draperies that shimmered in the early afternoon sun.
Perhaps like King Louis XIV spoke of Versailles, Mary’s words are laced with euphuism–not to be confused with euph-EMISM which folds an insult into a form of compliment–her euphUisms are ornate flowery disguises that would be deemed bragging by an average woman. But since Mary is anything BUT average, hearing her polished descriptions of her sparkling crystal and precious stones set so precisely in her ceiling felt as natural as hearing a docent give a museum tour.
And her orders to her “English Butler” and to us, her ladies in waiting, to “Make sure the flower on the plate goes at 9 O’clock,” were given with such assiduous assurance of her regal role as hostess of the castle, that we all deigned to bow our heads in unison to “make sure our flower was at 9 O’clock,” as if we might get sent to the royal guillotine had we not obeyed.
Yet, you must know, this was not at all upsetting to any of us.
Mary is nothing if not a perfectionist, and, in addition to her superb knowledge of architecture and every kind of crystal and jewel that can be mined in what is left over of our earth after the ravages of global-warming, she is an archetypal history buff. As much French as I have studied in my life, and even enjoy reading and speaking, my knowledge of the French Kings and the wives they discarded, and the heirs from their assignations with mistresses along with the furniture they inspired is “nulle,” as the French say, compared to Mary’s. In fact, if we were ever pitted against each other in a game of Jeopardy, I would—as much as I love to be on television—concede to her as “Le Champion” before even hearing the first question. And, that’s OK, because Mary would have no problem filling the lack of air time. She could easily and at length wax poetic on just about any subject that host Alex Trebek might conjure up. NOTE: Look for my upcoming interview with Mary and twin sister Nancy on my soon (don’t hold your breath) to be released podcast–also known by the name: WomanOverboard.
Our hostess put together an auspicious group of women (I think somebody got sick and I was a fill-in). We had Mary’s other half, my “chauffeur,” the lovely and petite marketing genius, Nancy, President of Pillsbury Marketing. As twins, Nancy & Mary must have tussled in the womb, for they pepper every get-together with lively verbal combat that, when dissected seems vicious but, when said in their mellifluous pearl-shaped tones, takes on a rather light and humorous air. They are both opera singers after all. Nancy is President of the Winter Opera in St. Louis, and in March feted me and many of my family members with the treat of L’Elisir d’Amore–a marvelous comedic Italian opera by the Italian composer Donizetti.
Sunday brought me back to reality and another opera. After a gourmet Imo’s pizza dinner at home (on Kevin’s list of must-have St. Louis foods when he’s visiting from Thailand), I finished off the weekend with the Muny’s final show of its 100th season: Meet Me In St. Louis.
What better musical for the finale. A “Show within a show,” I thought as my sister, cousin and I sat amidst 12,000 people on the very grounds of that World’s fair site that 114 years ago was aglow with the newest “Electric Lights’ Pavilion” and teeming with millions of people from all over the world dressed in their finest top hats and high button shoes. “Clang-Clang-Clang went the trolley, and ding, ding, ding went my heartstrings as I wistfully thought back to my childhood when I had seen the same show on this very stage. At intermission, I walked the long walk from my box seats up to the “free seats,” and the view from there was as magnificent as I remembered it at age eight—sitting tall and proud next to my mother, my crinoline sticking to my skin under my gingham dress on that hot August night. I swung my black patented-covered feet in time to the beat of the “Trolley”, and clapped my white-gloved hands as hard as I could at the end of each wonderful song.
Standing for the final ovation, my eyes brimmed over at those fond recollections with my mother. I thought about the strange passage of time, and how if back then someone would have said: “you will stand for this same finale some 55 years later”…..I would have thought them crazy.
And we were crazy old ladies that night. For after the show, it took us at least 30 hungry minutes to make our way out of the park, and I felt a gnawing in my stomach that could only be filled by one thing: A “Crave” bag at White Castle. After dropping my sister, I chatted to my cousin who lived another 20 minutes away. She is closer in age to my mother than to me–and since my mother’s untimely death shortly after my marriage, I have taken my mother’s place as her friend, and she has taken my mother’s place as both Mother AND friend. “MaryAnn, what would you say to stopping at White Castle? I am awfully hungry.” “Sure, sounds good to me,” she said without hesitation. That’s one thing MaryAnn & I have in common–that I inherited from my mother–we are both night owls.
There is something so deliciously wicked about being out after midnight, owning the road and having all the wonders of the dark night to yourself and your imagination.
As I pulled into White Castle and gave my order to the young female attendant, I almost expected her to chastise me for being out so late. She seemed to be peering into the backseat like she was looking for some teenagers hiding in back, too embarrassed to be seen with us old ladies. She looked askance at me when I ordered two dozen white castles and two large cokes–plus one large order of fries and one order of onion rings.
But, back at MaryAnn’s, boy did those taste good. We had so much fun re-living the delightful moments of Meet Me in St. Louis while devouring those burgers, that I can honestly say that it rivaled Mary’s elegant tea sandwiches. Our conversation was not nearly so elegant, but it tugged at my heartstrings just like “The Trolley Song” did to Judy Garland.