On Saturday morning, I opened my e-mail to learn that a former boss and his French-born wife would be driving through our neck of the woods on their way to the Finger Lakes in Central New York. Could he, his wife, and their two daughters stop by for lunch on Sunday? Bien sur.
I e-mailed back with my cell-phone number (I turned off the home phone about a year ago in a cost-saving measure), directions to the house, and a suggested time for lunch: noon.
Lest I sound too calm, please know that in my heart of darkness, I was quoting Kurtz: “The horror! The horror” of entertaining a Frenchwoman. All prepared foods, synthetic fabrics, and extraneous paper products (read napkins, paper towels, not toilet paper) would have to be hidden from view lest I be viewed as the sorry, overprocessed spawn of an American-based multinational.
I’ve read Colette, I’ve read Frenchwomen Don’t Get Fat. No, I haven’t spent a year in Provence, but our town has a farmers’ market and I have a garden. I have known pastoral splendor on these Yankee shores. I would prepare a Hudson Valley lunch that would not embarrass my fellow Americans. More than personal pride was at stake here.
I moved into high gear with the vacuum cleaner, sucking up cat hair that had accumulated in the nooks and crannies of the house in the past month or so. I drove to the supermarket and bought a leg of lamb, which I cooked for my husband on Saturday night with a rosemary-lemon-garlic rub that I made in the food processor, not in the mortar and pestle so prominently displayed on the counter.
Lunch on Sunday would be cold lamb and chilled cucumber soup. My side dishes would be fresh succotash with lima beans, tomatoes, and corn from the local farmers’ market and a wild rice salad with pecans and cranberries. I would serve a homemade blueberry cobbler for dessert. To top it off, a crusty peasant loaf from Mario’s Bakery down the road in Hopewell Junction — Frenchwomen eat carbs and still don’t get fat!
All the while that I’m running around, I’m mentally noting that I haven’t gotten an e-mail back from ex-boss, who as a young man was known to be quite mercurial. (I haven’t seen him in 14 years, but that’s just the blink of an eye for an Army brat accustomed to hearing from people out of the blue.)
Still, I know that if I make no preparations whatsoever, the family will be ringing my bell at noon on the dot. Isn’t that the second law of thermodynamics, that the opposite of what you plan for will happen? Maybe it’s just Murphy’s law, but it’s definitely a law in my book.
Of course, if I did nothing, when my guests arrived I could have always taken them to Homespun Foods on our lovely Main Street in Beacon, where Jessica’s salads, sandwiches, and soups would certainly pass muster with a Frenchwoman. But I did not want to serve the fruits of someone else’s labor to our honored guests.
Fast-forward to noon on Sunday. My husband has ironed the brightly colored Jacquard Provencal tablecloth (no Indian knockoffs here!), which has come out of the cabinet in honor of the Frenchwoman. The coordinating, but not matching (too cookie-cutter), cloth napkins are arranged on the table, as is the Noritake Sterling China china, a gift from my grandmother upon the occasion of my first wedding. Six sets of matching silverware! Now, that involved a lot of digging through the drawers. (Who takes these forks, anyway? I’ll blame it on the subletters in the interest of marital harmony!)
Plenty of ice in the freezer, homemade iced tea in the fridge, fresh cut flowers from the garden on the table. Outside, I have pulled weeds and picked up trash on my street, as far down as three houses on each side.
Nothing to do but wait and check e-mail. At 1 p.m. I call the house in California and leave a message on the home voicemail. I don’t have his or her cell-phone number.
You know the end of the story. My husband and had a lovely lunch à deux, and the house has never been cleaner. It’s Monday at 10:55 a.m. and I still haven’t gotten a cell-phone call or e-mail from my former boss. I left the other place settings on the dining room table because they look so beautiful.
For the astrologers who are reading this, perhaps a void-of-course moon is to blame.