Dad would come down to visit us on the weekends, he lived in San Francisco, we lived in San Mateo. Weekends were mostly fun, camping trips, excursions for the day in his salmon coloured Cadillac convertible, and sights galore. One time, he took us to a 'fancy' restaurant for dinner, then brought us home to Mom, exclaiming loudly that he would NOT take us out to eat again until we were taught full, precise etiquette and table manners. I remember being a bit surprised, as I saw nothing wrong with our manners, but who knows, I was under ten years old. Still, I have distinct memories of table lessons since I can remember. We must not have up to par, and we were very aware of our manners after that.
Dinner at Brookdale Lodge rolled around, and we knew we had to be on our best A-1 behaviour. We were honestly never monsters unless we were playing in our beloved Sand Town or burning Terry Boyer at the stake ion the front porch. As we walked through the front gardens, with stepping stones next to the creek, paths leading off into enchanted forests, pixies peeking out from every tree, every bone in my soul wanted to go, run, play, gallop, sing, explore. Dutifully and ladylike, I silently walked alongside Daddy instead.
The dining room was dark, elegant, roomy, filled with white tablecloths and crystal and stuffy, silent, tuxedoed waiters. A balcony extended around the perimeter of most the room, but I vividly remember the stairs, the balcony on the left and the back of the large, cavernous area. The railing looked like something you would find on a Swiss Chalet, dark carved wood, more wood than openings. The stairs were immense, covered in thick, rich patterned carpeting, and rose into the heavens with an unmistakable invitation to come see what lies beyond. The well worn and polished handrail yearned to be touched. Rapunzel would have been proud. Dim wall sconces on the lower level walls beneath the balcony were just enough to see by, adding even more mystery.
Dinner was not remarkable, but what child that age would have appreciated the faire available? I am sure I spent the entire time trying not to wiggle, watching everything and everywhere. Sooner or later, there just had to be a moment, an opportunity for me to explore. After all, I would not be the only one! There was a little girl in the balcony, in the corner between the two runs of hallway (I think these included intimate tables for two) and her supervisors were not apparent. She would come to the railing and stand silently, patiently, observing all the activities below her. What a view that must be, I wanted to see that!! She wore a lovely dress, one that actually gave me pangs of jealousy. Clothes were never a high priority for me, far preferring play clothes, but her dress opened my eyes to the world of femininity I had not previously been aware of. Then she would turn, evenly walk back away from the railing and disappear into the darkness. I waited eagerly for her return, again and again, while I tried so dearly to concentrate on my manners and my dinner.
At long last, the moment arrived. I gathered my courage and asked my father if I could leave the table. I do not remember what I asked, powdering my nose would have not been an option, but how ever I worded it, it worked. I was given permission to 'wander about' and silent and 'invisible' was an unspoken condition. It was hard to contain my excitement as I left the table, gracefully, quietly, ignoring my older sister's look of disdain.
Placing my hand on the top of the stair's first baluster was a moment to remember. It was like unlocking a door. My first step onto the first riser was equally thrilling. Princess Grace walked to the top of the landing, relishing every step, absorbing every micro second of the journey, anticipation of what the top would bring swelled to bursting point. What would she think? Would she know I came up the stars to meet her? Would she talk to me?
She was gone. Her family had left. Disappointment was immense, but all I could do was continue my walk pretending I was up there for a reason as several small tables were full of quietly dining, elegant couples who seem to watch my approaching steps. Nearing the corner, she appeared again, coming out of the darkness of a table without a lit centerpiece. She stood there, without a word. I would have to be the one to break the ice. I walked to the end of the balcony, paused poised at the railing for a graceful amount of time, turned to see her standing at her corner, still intently watching me. Ah, she might talk to me. Slowly I walked back towards her. As I reached her, I said, "Hi." ever so quietly. She said, "Hi." back, with seemingly without the concern of being overheard as I had. She tilts her head in the direction of the lower room where I see Daddy giving his discreet, 'Come now' hand signal. Rats. Double rats. I sighed, smiled, and left. She never said another word, nor smiled, or waved goodbye. But then, neither did I.
As we were piling in the car, Dad nonchalantly asked me what I was doing upstairs. I said looking around, it was really neat upstairs. Besides, I wanted to talk to the little girl up there. Dad looked at my sister, she looked at Daddy. They didn't say anything, but their faces told me what they would not say. "She's telling stories, again."