A few days ago, I drove past the house we sold in 1994 to move to Nashville. There was a “For Sale” sign in the yard. Later, I went to the web, curious about the price. It’s three times what we’d accepted. Then, I scrolled through the photographs. Had I not seen the front of the Tudor row house and known the house number, I wouldn’t have recognized the rooms. Complete renovation. Gone was the breakfast bar my husband designed and built. Gone were the balcony tiles I’d helped him install. All gone, except the memories.
Mostly, friends came to us. It’s what we preferred, because of our children.
We sat around the large table in the octagon-shaped dining room, its walls covered in a moody, almost smoldering coral.
It was the late 80s and early 90s and we called ourselves the Seinfeld gang. I was Jerry. My best friend Joan was Elaine.
We amused each other.
My serious concerns were personal, those centered on the children. One had a school friend who was diagnosed with leukemia. Please, not my child. I was neurotic about their safety. Still am.
Sometimes after dinner, the Seinfelds would head to the living room for competitive endeavors. Trivial Pursuit was our favorite. Teams were assigned, men against the women or couple against couple.
At some point, I announced that Trivial Pursuit was so 80s. Old Maid was the game of the 90s. You had to be there. And, really, it wasn’t about the alcohol.
Later, we decided to have “elegant dinner parties.” There would be no more come as you are. The men were required to wear a coat and tie, or tuxedo, if inclined, and the women were prohibited from wearing jeans or anything resembling sweats.” (V had to make a few purchases at a thrift shop.)
We’d use the china, the sterling flatware, and cloth napkins. Conversation would be as dazzling as candle flame.
And it was—the caning of Michael Fay, for example. We took this to comedic heights, repartee rivaling dialogue written by award-winning screenwriters.
After one event, V produced a striking piece, “ELEGANZA.” Worthy of the society page, it included:
Tongues wagged from Key West to the Côte d’Azur after the stunning soiree of the Beatties of Tuscany [we lived on Tuscany Road] last Saturday. Once again the high water mark of this hot, hot summer season was set by Mme. Beattie, as last year’s ‘A-listers’ plummet from grace to make way for the new Beattie intimates.
With customary panache, Mlle. Joan wore a cunning blend unmistakably by Mr. Knockoff. The pithy Jewess remained mum on the matter, offering only a terse ‘sixty-forty.’ And with an imaginative verve unmatched this season, Mme. Beattie (Miss Miss to insiders) was dressed . . . IDENTICALLY!
I tripped over 30 years of tenderness to find this yellowed, folded piece of paper among memorabilia that’s traveled from Baltimore to Nashville to Manhattan and back to Baltimore.
Of course, I don’t remember all the details of those parties. But there are recollections, some vivid. I can see V, lying on top of the refectory table after the dishes were cleared, an elbow against oak, a hand, cupping his chin, and smiling face.
I know we discussed George H. W. Bush’s Gulf war. And Chernobyl. That catastrophe assaulted our serenity and challenged any ambivalence we had about the safety of nuclear power. Hunter, the youngest among our children, was only six months old when the reactor blew to hell, dispersing radioactive fuel into the atmosphere, displacing so many people and, eventually, killing, possibly, a million.
Now, there’s Japan and the immeasurable suffering in the aftermath of earthquakes and a tsunami—devastation exacerbated by more nuclear reactors blown to hell.
I wonder when greed will destroy our planet.
Last week, I read about the “Kill Team” in Afghanistan, a human hunting game in which souvenirs, a finger, teeth, were taken, tokens of sadism. I stood, walked away from the computer into another room, stared out the window, and cried.
The children are grown. Most among the Seinfeld gang remain. Three are cancer survivors. Another had a stroke but has made a full recovery. One died in 2008 leaving me to see the world through different eyes.
“Life is what happens when you’re making other plans,” said John Lennon. I think the same about illness, death, tragedy, and inhumanity.
Missy Comley Beattie is sleepless in Baltimore. To reach her, try firstname.lastname@example.org.