Thursday, January 31, 2013
Mother and I have had a very comfortable week cultivating culture. Every evening we have been faithfully watching BBC News, and not only that we have whiled away a few pleasant hours watching Edward Petherbridge and Harriet Walter in the Lord Peter Wimsey Mystery Series by Dorothy Sayers.
“You know, Alfred,” said Mother, “BBC has a much better coverage of international news than our stateside news organizations.”
“Quite right, Mother,” said I, “and not only that, their command of the King’s English is impeccable. Why after a few evenings of close attention to their speech patterns I have been able to brush up on my own accent.”
“Yes, Alfred,” said Mother, who was very excited, “and what we can’t glean from BBC News, we can certainly reap from Lord Peter Wimsey. Such a lovely man, and such a lovely accent.”
“You know, Mother, years ago I learned so much from old Father Phineas Lofty. He had spent five years in England as a student, but he grew up in New Jersey. He had such a lovely English accent. I once asked him why he still had an English accent although he had only lived in England for a few years in his youth. He laughed and reverted to his New Jersey accent and said, ‘I if sounded like this, who would listen to me?’ Marvellous sense of humour, but he was quite right.”
“Not only that, Alfred,” said Mother, “He was so finely tuned to the members of his parish that he was never gauche, never confrontational. Such a sweet man.”
“That, Mother, is precisely what is bothering me about going to Lessons and Carols with the Whittingtons. I’m really not in the mood to sit through another sermon. If the Whittingtons hadn’t offered to pick us up on their way to Church this morning I think I might just have given it a miss. Going to Church on Christmas eve with our son Jeremy and his Winifred would have been quite enough Church for one Christmas season.”
“Don’t worry,” said Mother. “With Lessons and Carols, if there is a sermon it’s bound to be short, and even if it’s not I’m quite looking forward to lunch with our group after service; besides that the Whittingtons are picking us up in their Aston Martin Lagonda.”
“Our group, Mother?” said I.
“Well, you know what I mean, Alfred, the Whittingtons and the group from Church.”
“Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age’” (Matthew 28:18-20).
Wednesday, January 30, 2013
I rose early as is my want, donned my imperial paisley dressing gown, neatly tied my ascot, slipped into my red velvet Albert slippers and headed for the kitchen. Generally I rise before Mother. She likes to lie abed, seldom rising before nine in the morning. This morning was no different.
Once in the kitchen I took down the Brown Betty teapot from the cabinet, filled it a quarter full of hot water from the electric kettle, swished it around, and placed several teaspoons of Lapsang Souchong in the pot. I find a good strong tea very bracing in the morning. I also prefer my morning cuppa in a Royal Staffordshire mug, not a dainty cup.
This morning I had a lot on my mind. Business has been dreadful the last few years and only by some careful scrimping and planning have I been able to come through the downturn without laying off valued employees. Well that’s not entirely true. I did fire, Henry Widdershins, that lazy oaf; but only because he was so thoroughly ineffectual. Oh, yes. I also was able to grant Ophelia Martin an early retirement. Those two things helped retain the balance of my employees.
Part of what is bothering me is a business proposition. One of my suppliers informed me that a whole load of cashmere sweaters was about to drop off the back of one of his trucks. “Would I be interested in a bargain price on those sweaters?” Of course, unspoken, was the fact that his insurance would pay for the purloined shipment. Years ago I wouldn’t have hesitated. After all, business is business.
That is the problem with reading the Bible; sometimes business isn’t just business, sometimes its theft, and now it bothers me. To tell the truth, I find that quite annoying. A conscience is an embarrassing thing to develop.
Well, I’ve been reading in James. I like James; he rather straightforward and tells it like it is. Obviously when the crunch is on, one has to do the right thing, “faith without works is dead.”[i] I don’t know if I have faith, but at least I can try to do the right thing.
Now don’t whisper a word of this to Mother, but I actually prayed for the first time this morning. After all James said, “If any of you lacks wisdom let him ask God who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given to him.”[ii]
Well, I was sitting there mulling all this over when Mother came in.
“Good morning, Alfred,” said Mother eyeing the open Bible on my lap curiously.
“Yes, Mother,” said I. “I know that things have been very difficult economically at the store, but I have decided to give all of our employees a Christmas bonus this year.”
“Very nice, Alfred,” said Mother. “That is a very charitable thing to do.”
“The King will answer them, `Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.”[iii]
Tuesday, January 29, 2013
Our antique English Regency table was draped with fine linen and this afternoon Mother had selected her Royal Doulton Old Country Roses teapot with matching cups and saucers. The faint aroma of Darjeeling wafted up from the pot. On the table was a plate of warm scones, a small dish of rhubarb ginger preserves, lump sugar, and a dish of Devonshire clotted cream. How lovely!
Mother smiled benignly at me and nodded in the direction of an envelope propped up against the Royal Doulton sugar bowl. “Guess what, Alfred?’ said Mother, “We have a letter from our son Jeremy.”
For those of you who haven’t been introduced to Jeremy, I have to tell you that he is a fine boy, but he has a mind of his own. We have a very good school here in Dallas, but no, nothing would do but that he had to go to a college in New England.
Mother said, “What are you waiting for? Why don’t you open it and read it?”
I took my gilded Davidoff cigar knife and delicately slit the envelope open and began to read, “Dear Mum and Dad . . .” Jeremy is so informal. I always addressed my Father as Pater; the Latin word always seemed more fitting, but Jeremy is Jeremy. I won’t go on to tire you with the details of the letter, all patter for Pater, but of course he thanked me for the check, and a handsome check it was; but let me get to the startling news.
He said, “You know Winifred and I have been dating for a year, and if you don’t mind I’d like to bring Winnie home for Christmas. Her parents will be in France over the holidays. She is quite excited about meeting you both.”
“Oh,” Said I to myself; and the tiniest little cloud like Elijah’s cloud rising from the sea, began to rise on the horizon of our holiday.
Mother said with obvious satisfaction, “Well, at last, after all we do have a guest bedroom. Does Jeremy say how long they will be staying?”
“Jeremy says, ‘We will be arriving on December 18th and returning on the 27th. We want to be back for the New Year’s Eve service at St. John’s. Winnie and her family are quite keen on going to Church, and I have to admit that I’ve rather enjoyed it.”
“Well,” said I, “Mother, going to the Carols and Lights service is one thing, but next they will be expecting us to attend Church with them on Christmas Eve.”
Mother rapped her knuckles on the table, “Alfred! It’s Carols and Lessons, not Carols and Lights! Besides that, attending Church on Christmas Eve with your son won’t hurt you.”
That little cloud on the horizon suddenly began to darken, but I knew better than to argue. One rap of the knuckles is enough.
“I fled Him, down the nights and down the days; I fled Him, down the arches of the years; I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways Of my own mind; and in the midst of tears I hid from Him”[i]; but the Hound of Heaven ever follows after.
Wednesday, January 23, 2013
Mother and I were sitting in our dining room enjoying our afternoon tea. I do so enjoy a cup of Darjeeling when it is properly brewed. Mother does it exquisitely. She preheats our English Brown Betty teapot, carefully measures one teaspoon of tea for each cup and one for the pot, and pours the hot water over the cup just as it comes to the boil. She never makes the mistake of waiting until the water has already boiled. Four minutes later and the tea is perfect.
Even though the Brown Betty is not fancy it does make a proper cup of tea; but tea, to be truly savoured, must be sipped from fine English bone china. This afternoon Mother had picked the Staffordshire tea cups with the little purple violets. She was in a purple violet mood, which is a good thing if you know Mother.
Last night’s dinner with the Whittingtons and their church group had gone quite well even though we had approached the event with some trepidation. One never quite knows what to expect from church people. The French Restaurant Bistro Watel had acquitted themselves marvellously and even Mother was impressed. For my part I was relieved; there was not a single note of gaucherie in dress, demeanour, or conversation.
I took another sip from my Darjeeling and meditatively nibbled on a whole meal biscuit. There was a ruffling sound across the table. I looked up to see Mother gazing at me over the top of morning newspaper. She had been ruffling it for attention.
“Well, Alfred,” she said, “What do you think?”
I knew what she meant. Last night was on my mind as well, but I was cautious. “Yes, Mother?” said I. With Mother one never quite knows what to expect.
Mother took the plunge, “I did enjoy myself. The meal was excellent and the people were most acceptable; two doctors, an attorney, and their spouses. I was quite relieved; our kind of people, and they invited us to sit with them in Church the next time we come.”
I felt a slight chill. Reading Scripture was one thing, but committing oneself to coming to Church for a second time was quite another.
“Grace Whittington has invited us to attend the Christmas Carols and Lights celebration,” said Mother with an unaccustomed note of excitement in her voice. Their Choirmaster has prepared a service modelled on the Carols and Lights from King’s College Chapel in Cambridge.”
“Oh,” said I, “as long as I don’t have to listen to preaching. The last time we were there the sermon was too long. All sermons ought to be twelve minutes long. Twelve minutes is a super sufficiency of oratory if you ask me. After all we are not Baptists.”
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind. When it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into containers but threw away the bad” (Matthew 13:47-48).
Friday, January 18, 2013
Mother and I were talking politics, and that is a dangerous thing to do at the breakfast table.
“Alfred?” said Mother, “I just don’t know who to vote for!” She dug fiercely into her grapefruit and a stray squirt of grapefruit juice soared across the table striking me on the right cheek just below the eye.
Thank goodness the juice landed on my cheek and not on my ascot. I picked up the linen napkin from my lap and daubed gently at the grapefruit juice on my cheek.
“You know, Alfred,” said Mother, “there are some social concerns regarding this election that have been bothering me. President, or not, Rich Man, or not; I’m not sure I would invite either of them home for dinner. Equality and religious freedom are alright, but after all, enough is enough.”
I looked Mother in the eye and said, “It won’t really make much of a difference anyway. No matter which way I vote you will tell me you voted the other way just to cancel my vote!”
Mother was silent for a few minutes, and then said affectionately, “Oh, Alfred, I don’t really do that. I’m just having a bit of fun. After all I do have to keep you young, but I am very serious about the social dilemma this election poses.
“I know what you mean, Mother,” said I. It is a quandary, but you know we don’t have to invite either of them home for dinner. The election is a bit above our social likes and dislikes. The problem is that one of them is going to be elected and we will be unhappy no matter what happens. For my part I wish we could go back to the old system. I wish we had a Constitutional Monarchy. I wish we had a King and a true Royal Family, and leave the politics to the politicians.
“Oh, Alfred,” said Mother with stars in her eyes, “Just think, if we could be King and Queen! King Alfred and Queen Letitia! How wonderful that would be.”
Mother sometimes can be quite alarming. “There is no use dreaming Mother. You and I may recognize our value, but fortunately, or unfortunately, this is a republic and a democracy. We rule by the lowest common denominator. There are some obvious social constraints that result from that, but that won’t last forever. Why I was reading the other day that we are in the end to be called Kings and Queens and reign with Him forever.”
“Him? Kings and Queens?” said Mother, “Where earth did you get that strange notion?”
I felt my face flush a little as I answered, “Well, Mother, I must confess that I have been reading Holy Scripture.’
Mother stared at me then burst out, “Say it isn’t so, Alfred. Reading the Bible, of all things! Why don’t you just stick to reading the National Geographic? That’s why we purchased a lifetime subscription.”
“Mother,” said I, my voice shaking a little, “It’s good to broaden one’s mind. Truth be told, after you’ve read one or two years of National Geographic you’ve read them all.”
"Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks, it will be opened” (Matthew 7:7-8).
Tuesday, January 15, 2013
There is something just right about hot oatmeal when the oats have been hand milled and just a pinch of coarse sea salt has been added to the oatmeal when it cooks. That is a simple dish that even a duke or a duchess wouldn’t sniff at. Mother is so very gracious to take the time to make our oatmeal the right way. It takes a little patience and a little time, but my, it is so very tasty, especially with a little cream and brown sugar.
We were sitting across from each other at the breakfast table with our oatmeal and a pot of English Breakfast Tea, reading the morning paper. The sun was shining, there was the sound of finches singing outside our window, and two squirrels were playing in the tree on the front lawn.
“Mother,” said I. “What a wonderful morning!” Then I looked up at her and noticed that she had turned pale and that there was a dangerous look of fury on her face.
“Well, your view is better than mine,” she snapped, “Just turn around and look out the other window!”
I turned and looked, and I was completely aghast! Our next door neighbour was out in front of his house walking around in his pajama bottoms and flip flops, not even wearing a t-shirt, and he was talking on his cell phone. What a sight! Never in my life had I seen anything quite so appalling.
I was repulsed. My appetite was quite spoiled, and I pushed the oatmeal bowl away from me. Just then I began to be aware that our telephone was ringing, and I hesitated,
“Certainly I hope it isn’t that individual on the front walk..”
“Aren’t you going to answer it Alfred?” asked Mother.
“Yes, Alfred, it can’t be him,” she said indicated the partially clad individual on the sidewalk. “He’s already talking to someone.”
I heaved a sigh of relief and picked up the phone. “Mountjoy residence,” said I.
A voice on the other end jangled, “This is Grace Whittington, We haven’t met, but I was looking at our Church Guest Register and I noticed that you had visited our church last month. We have a little dinner party every month at the Bistro Watel. There are only six of us. Last month we shared a Chateaubriand, a whole tenderloin. Absolutely exquisite. We wondered if you and Mrs. Mountjoy would be interested in joining us?”
Now ordinarily I wouldn’t even think of accepting such an invitation, but I was still looking at the portly disheveled pajama clad individual perambulating on the front side walk, and I thought, “The Bistro Watel? Chateaubriand? Such a nice contrast!” So I said, “Let me ask Mother.”
Mother looked at me, then looked back out the window and wrinkled her nose, “That may really so very much more pleasant than looking at the show outside our window. Ask them when it’s going to be Alfred.”
“Then he said to his servants, 'The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.' And those servants went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good. So the wedding hall was filled with guests” (Matthew 22:8-10).
“It’s a shame to be poor, Mother,” said I, spearing another breakfast sausage with my International Silver Crown Princess pattern silver fork.
Mother looked at me quizzically, and I continued, “You can have your Bunter, but this morning I wish we had a chauffeur. We have had a weather change and the low tire light came on this morning when I made a run to Central Market for a loaf of Pagnotta bread. It was such a nuisance taking our Jaguar XKRS over to Discount Tire. Why, the person sitting next to me in the waiting room was actually wearing those ridiculous short pants that come down below the knees and sneakers without socks. Without socks, mind you! That’s a lot to face before breakfast.”
“I know what you mean Alfred,” Mother said. “Just where can we find the strength to face the day in this world of ours? There are times when it seems as though there is a little bit of hell on earth. Heaven must be such a wonderful place; nothing ugly, nothing gauche, nothing rude.”
“Ah, Mother,” said I. “Rather like dinner at the Petroleum Club. Those wonderful crystal chandeliers; and such a view! Looking out over the city all the lights are shining like stars in the night.”
Mother fell silent for a while. There was a frown on her face. I buttered a piece of Pagnotta and took another bite of my breakfast sausage.
“Alfred,” she said, “What if we don’t make it to heaven? What if we have to spend eternity without a Bunter to care for our needs and without a chauffeur?”
“I know what you mean, Mother. Just one visit to that Church raised a dreadful doubt.”
“Well,” said Mother, “I don’t think it was the sermon. It was so long that I just tuned it out.” Mother paused, “What do you think it was Alfred?”
“Mother,” said I with a sudden flash of insight, “It might have been the Confession. I never did like the Confession.”
“Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, "Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?" I said to him, "Sir, you know." And he said to me, "These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat” (Revelation 7:13-16).
Wednesday, January 9, 2013
It had been a long time since Mother and I had been out on the town for dinner and a new French country restaurant had opened in our neighbourhood, “La Belle Vache.” I have long had a penchant for Cassoulet. Cassoulet is that wonderful mélange of boneless pork, chicken, cannellini beans, garlic and vegetables, garlic sausages and a secret ingredient, duck fat; all simmered to perfection. What I enjoy is the wide variety of ingredients blended into a marvelous union by the chef.
Mother cannot abide Cassoulet. “You know, Alfred, I much prefer Le Poulet Marengo. If it was good enough for Napoleon, it’s good enough for me; although I think his Chef, Durand, was right. The chicken and cognac are marvelous, but you can leave out the crayfish.
For a few minutes we gave ourselves to the wonderful repast before us, tearing off pieces of Pain de Campagne and sopping up the juices with the bread as we ate.
With a sigh Mother pushed her plate back and said, “I do think you’re quite wrong about Cassoulet, it looks too complex, too complicated. It has too many ingredients to be a truly spiritual repast.
“Spiritual?” said I cautiously, “I had hardly thought of Cassoulet as a spiritual experience.” I knew without doubt that Mother had something else on her mind.
“Well,” said Mother, “It’s kind of like Church last Sunday.”
I wasn't sure if I liked where this was going, so I set my heels in, “But Mother, we didn't go to Church last Sunday.”
“Don’t be obtuse Alfred!” said Mother. “You know perfectly well what I mean,” she said barrelling right along. “Did you see that congregation? Cassoulet. Pure Cassoulet. Too many different kinds of people all in one space all stewing together during that tedious sermon. I much prefer simplicity. I like to worship with other people who are just like us.”
“Well, Mother,” said I dryly, “There really are no people just like us.”
“Don’t be difficult Alfred. You know perfectly well what I mean. There was a mixed racial couple in the row right before us. Imagine a white man marrying a Chinese woman. And that’s not all. Did you see that bearded man carrying the cross? That was a bit too much.”
I looked a Mother for a minute or two, and admittedly the silence was getting a little uncomfortable. Finally I said, “She could have been Cherokee. I really can’t tell the difference.’
“There is no difference, Alfred. None at all. It’s exactly the same thing.”
“Well Mother, Church is supposed to be a little like Cassoulet, and “I happen to like Cassoulet. You can’t have everything Le Poulet Marengo all the time!”
“Yes, but, it says somewhere in Scripture, ‘Thou shalt not mix meat and dairy’ and I’m sure that goes for mixing chicken with crayfish, and,” Mother continued triumphantly, “it also applies to mixing pork with chicken and greasy duck fat in your Cassoulet, and that is why Cassoulet is unspiritual.”
“Mother,” said I, “Sometimes you’re impossible. You know perfectly well that pork isn’t Kosher, and neither is the Church.”
“Well,” said Mother, “The bishop never answered your question about a suitable Church. You need to call him again. Perhaps he can refer us to a Kosher Church, rather than a Cassoulet one.
Thursday, January 3, 2013
“If only. If only we had a Bunter,” sighed Mother.
I knew what she meant. “If only we had a Bunter.” Bunter was that wonderful manservant in Dorothy Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey novels. Bunter invariably did the right thing. He cooked, acted as a personal valet, and tidied things up. If only we had a Bunter.
“Well,” said I, “That’s a novel idea and an English novel at that!”
Mother glared at me across the ruins of breakfast on the table. “No need to get shirty Alfred, you know very well what I’m referring to.”
I raised an eyebrow. A line from a poem flitted across my mind, “My head is bloody, but unbowed.” I assumed a look of firm noncommittalness. I’m not sure that noncommittalness is a word but you know what I mean. I waited.
“Our Sunday brunch,” Alfred, said Mother impatiently. “The eggs!”
“Yes, Mother?” said I, knowing perfectly well that there was nothing wrong with the eggs at yesterday’s brunch at the Crescent. Mother has a way of casting a lure upon the waters to see if I will rise to her bait.
Noting that I was content to lurk in the deep end of the pool Mother continued, “My eggs were overdone.”
Now, when Mother is in one of her moods it is no use to argue. I knew perfectly well that Mother always orders her eggs over hard. It couldn’t be the eggs, so I said, “What else was overdone Mother?”
“The sermon, Alfred.” she snapped triumphantly, “The sermon was overdone!” she said rising to my lure.
“Aha! I thought so!” said I. “I wondered how long it would take you to get around to that.”
Mother continued, “If only we had a Bunter perhaps he could have suggested a more suitable Church.”
“If I recollect, Mother, Bunter was an Anglo-Catholic Churchman, and that would scarcely do.”
“Quite right, Alfred. Call the bishop! Perhaps he can be our Bunter. Perhaps he can suggest a proper Church, one where the preaching will comfort the comfortable. After all a Bishop is supposed to be the servant of the servants of the servants of the Lord, and providing comfort ought to be one of the major concerns of the Church.”
“You are quite right Mother. The prophet says, “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, says your God.”
“Oh, very good Alfred! How on earth did you remember that?” said Mother clapping her hands with joy.
. . . . . . .
St. Paul’s exhortation to Timothy: “Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions” (2 Timothy 4:2-3).
Wednesday, January 2, 2013
Mother and I ventured forth to Church this morning, but I must tell you that we went with some trepidation. It’s difficult to find an appropriate Church. Mind you, we are Episcopalians, and we have been so for many years, but in these days it can be very difficult. Certainly our Church has been historically the Church of Presidents. Why even George Washington was an Episcopalian and our beloved General Robert E. Lee was a Vestryman at his Episcopal Church. But that’s not the problem.
The problem is, what really ought one to wear when one wished to make an appearance at Church? Mother was somewhat concerned, hats being out of fashion, but then most of today’s women are out of fashion as it is. Mother finally settled on a blue pillbox hat with matching bow and a small conservative blue veil. It actually looked quite smart with her blue dress. I of course have little difficulty deciding what to wear. I only wear what is proper for gentlemen; a white shirt with a regimental tie, grey slacks, and my blue blazer with my school initials embroidered on the pocket. Mother thinks that the initials of Wilfred Choate school look quite noble embroidered in gold.
You can imagine my shock when we arrived at Church only to discover that we had to park our Jaguar between a Ford and a Chevrolet. It was really quite embarrassing. If that was not difficult enough, we were met by a bright and cheery couple at the front door. People should keep their cheeriness to themselves, especially on a Sunday morning. They actually wanted us to put on name tags. Mother thought that horrid little scrap of white gummy paper would have clashed with her outfit in a most garish way, and as for me, they actually suggested that I might put that label on my blazer pocket right over the golden W. C. letters.
I wouldn’t have minded quite so much if they had been more appropriately attired. Flowered summer smock and khaki trousers! Can you imagine? Not only that but he was actually wearing a brown belt with black shoes. Mother was so shocked that she had trouble getting her breath and we had to sit in the very back row. That turned out to be quite fortuitous.
Halfway through the service there was an exceedingly awkward moment. Admittedly we haven’t been to Church for a year or two. In our absence they have decided to stop right in the middle of the service to shake hands with everybody. Why on earth they have come to the conclusion that would enhance worship is beyond me. Mother and I looked at the priest working his way down the central aisle towards us; then we looked at each other with perfect agreement and slipped out the back door before he could get to us.
“Well all’s well that ends well,” as Dame Julian of Norwich said. At least we were able to beat the Baptists to brunch at The Conservatory at Rosewood Crescent Hotel.
From the Phillip’s New Testament: Don't ever attempt, my brothers, to combine snobbery with faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ! (James 2:1).