As a child, I had two strong opinions about myself. First, I considered myself to be quite fancy. Second, I didn’t consider myself to be a child at all. One morning when I was 6-years-old an earthquake interrupted my morning cartoons. A news caster came on the air and said that for any children watching, they should go find a grown-up immediately as they would be making an important announcement soon. I thought, That’s annoying that we have to wait for these kids to go find an adult before they tell us what’s going on. Then, I thought, Oh wait, I’m a kid. Well I’ll just listen to the announcement and then debrief the adults later.
In 1991, we moved to Minnesota. Being within driving distance of our extended family meant that Grandma and Grandpa invited us to their Thanksgiving dinner in Chicago and we agreed to attend. It’s worth noting that Grandma and Grandpa were, like myself, very fancy people. An invite to their Thanksgiving celebration meant going to the country club where they’d buy two 10-top tables in the dining room – one for the adults and one for the kids. Everything about the scene was decadent in a decidedly ’90s style. There were carving stations, ice sculptures, shoulder pads, side swept hairdos, and a mousse-based dessert table.
The county club Thanksgiving was really perfect for me because I was able to put my large collection of formal ware to use. On this occasion I selected a green velvet party dress with pearl buttons and a matching puffed velvet headband. My overcoat was a felt aubergine piece with velvet lapels and I had a matching velvet muff for my hands. (I didn’t know the word aubergine yet, but if I had I would have used it a lot.) I felt sophisticated sitting in the library drinking Shirley Temple mocktails from a low-ball glass while conversing with the adults.
As we moved to the dining room, I was horrified to learn that I had been seated at the KIDS table. Feeling humiliated, I wanted to know who had come up with the seating arrangements and what exactly gave them the impression that I should be at the kids’ table, aside from the fact that I was 9-years-old of course. For years after this dinner, I insisted on place cards and being sat directly next to my grandmother. Anyway, at the kid’s table we ate piles of food and then my cousins, sister, and I quit the dining room. Luckily, I was traveling with my leather encased gin rummy set, so I had two decks of playing cards on my person. As you do. We retired to an abandoned part of the club and started a penny poker game.
Back in the dining room, the adult table was getting rowdy. Grandpa slipped some cash into the waiter’s hand at the beginning of the night. The instructions were to serve full drinks behind the ones that the table was currently drinking. ”That way, we won’t be waiting on you.” This strategy in combination with a good “country club pour,” had my uncles nice and ripe by the end of the meal. One thing led to another… my sober and shocked parents watched as hard whispers turned into loud voices turned into slammed glasses turned into a fist fight in the middle of the dining room. Happy Thanksgiving everyone!
It was clear to my parents that their table would be asked to leave. Also, a blizzard was approaching and we needed to hit the road back to Minnesota, lest we be snowed in for the weekend. They hurriedly called for the car, but when they came to collect us, we were gone. After the dining room situation, the staff were potentially less surprised to learn that our extended family had misplaced all of their children. When the adults found us, I considered calling in the house credits that I’d granted, but thought it would look cheap to ask for anything less than a dime, so I left it. And we left town.
The evening continues with Part II.