Monday, March 21, 2016

How Times Have Changed, or Something Like That

A while back I was visiting a fellow writer, much more talented and successful than I am, who is bedridden. When I was holding something I was about to put down, he commented that I could put it on the bed, near his leg. He wasn't in any pain, so I shouldn't worry. His particular illness is especially onerous, and I was touched by his kindness in making sure I wasn't uncomfortable. At least that's how I interpreted his comment. He could also have been opening the door to my curiosity, telling me my questions wouldn't be offensive. But I'm a New Englander, and if anything, we are private and reserved. We don't pry, even when invited to do so. As I thought about this recently, I began to free associate, a la Auguste Dupin, and a story about my mother came to mind.

Back in the dark ages when I was a child, my mother occasionally hired a cook to provide lunch for her lady friends. The mother of a childhood friend of mine attended one such lunch and told me this story years later.  The ladies were arrayed around the mahogany dining table. The cook entered carrying a soufflé. She carried it like a crown on a pillow, I'm told. And then she tripped on the new rug. And the soufflé went flying. According to my friend's mother, my mother carried on the conversation as though nothing had happened. The cook picked herself up, and her soufflé, and escaped to the kitchen. Being a far-sighted woman familiar with the peculiarities of soufflés, she had made three--one that wouldn't rise, one that would fall, and one that would be perfect. But being a professional cook, all three had turned out perfectly. She re-entered a minute later with another soufflé.

Aside from my mother's very proper Yankee behavior in ignoring the behavior of The Help, this story has no humor. I don't laugh at other people in pain or embarrassment. But it occurred to me that the story would be very different if it happened today.

If I were to hold a dinner party (luncheons are out for me) and the cook came in with a soufflé and tripped and fell, every single woman at that table would be up and on her feet and across the room in a nanosecond to make sure the cook was all right. In record time we would have gathered up the broken soufflé dish, swept up the food, and removed ourselves to the kitchen, to sit around the kitchen table and tell the cook how glad we are that she's all right, especially since she's probably a friend of ours trying to get her new catering business up and running. And, of course, we want to do all we can help. We would praise the food, open up another two bottles of wine (at least), and fall into our usual conversation about our lives. Anyone who hadn't participated wholeheartedly in this change of venue would have been looked upon as odd, not to say cold and unfeeling.

My, how times have changed.

I could turn this into a blog about where story ideas come from, or how I learned as a New Englander to unbend and find fame and fortune, or why I never learned to make a soufflé. But I won't. It's just a story from my life. Make of it what you will.