Saturday, February 16, 2013

Winter to Spring and my Winter

We'll soon be coming into spring in the northeast, the mud season.  Carol, an ex-patriot Alabaman who would no more move back there than she would vote republican, often mentions during this time how wonderful spring in the south could be, the sunny pleasant months before the summer humidity takes hold, the scents of spring blooming in yards and fields.  While we spend tour time slogging through mud as snowmelt seeps into the soil, southerners bask in the loveliness of the outdoors as it wakes up from the brief dormancy of their short winter.

Last night we went out to dinner with friends.  M. and I share a birthday, today February 16th, so we have for the last few years dined out together on or about that date.  Our evening has always been at the Culinary Institute of America, the Caterina de Medici restaurant.  There is nothing quite like dining in a place where students are being trained as chefs.  The service is great, since all the servers are chefs-in-training, and the food is excellent.  I have no experience with other schools of this type so I don't know how they operate, whether students have to study all parts of the business from host to server to cook as they do there, but I think it's a great technique, acquainting chefs with how the world outside the kitchen works.  I love the formality of the experience: the way the elegant table is set, the way all plates and utensils are cleared after each course, the tasting glass - stemware smaller than the normal wine glasses that is used only to sample and approve the wine choice.  It brings back a really wonderful memory.

The tiny farming village in upstate New York where I went to high school, and where most of my family still lives, has been the vacation retreat of some very wealthy and influential people.  One was a member of the diplomatic core who served as ambassador to Portugal and Brazil during his career.  His daughter and I dated one summer so I spent a great deal of time at their home.  The girl lived at the vacation home with her chaperone while her parents were at whatever embassy he led at the time.  Well into the summer, I learned that they would be stateside for a week and up at the summer house.
 I was invited to dinner their first night home.  I'm certain it was so the family could take the measure of this country boy who was smitten with their girl.  I arrived all cleaned up from my day in the hayfield, dressed in my best 'school clothes', hair Brylcreemed, nails clean and pared, and nerves on edge.

The ambassador sat at the head of a diningroom table that could have seated a dozen people with elbow room, his wife at the other end.  I was seated to his right, his daughter to his left.  The girl's chaperone, a tall slender woman who bore a strong resemblance to the girl's mother, sat next to her.  She was as much a companion to the ambassador's wife as an overseer for the girl.  But I  digress.  I already said that I was on edge.  I wanted to impress her family.  When I finally looked at my place setting, at the several forks of different sizes all lined up, at the knives and spoons, I knew I was sunk.  The ambassador became a hero to me when he leaned over and put his hand on my arm and said with a smile, "Just watch my wife.  That's what I do."  He is still one of my heros, over half a century later.

It is 6:00am,  and I'm seventy-one years old.  Happy Birthday to me.