There was the little girl with her grandfather. Neatly pressed wool skirt with little red stockings, her legs swayed back and forth under the chair — from boredom or excitement, maybe first the former, then the latter. Her dark blond hair was highlighted with red ribbons. Granddad, in his tweed suit, beamed in direct proportions to granddaughter's smiles. He looked a little like Robert Mitchum, though I doubt Mitchum ate dainty egg salad sandwiches at afternoon tea. (Then again, I'd never have thought he'd make a calypso record.) This fellow pointed out the various treats, sandwiches, pastries, and the little girl's eyes went wide and wider. She chewed on a finger as she contemplated what to chew on next. She knew it was a special moment, and when little brother showed up — all ha-ha chuckles and grabby-hands — she protected the sanctity of the tearoom. She smacked his hand as he reached for a tart and shooed him back down the stairs of the Drake's luxurious Palm Court, huffing back down in her seat with a grin at granddad as if to say, "There. Now, back to us."
There were three Trixies at the table next to us. Beautiful young women, each with flawless skin and tasteful sweaters. They were bored. They slumped and spoke listlessly — until the tea came. Then the sighs and murmurs became stories and giggles, then laughter and exclamations. I counted three "you didn'ts!" and eight "oh my gods!" The brunette rose to leave, brushing crumbs from her smart slacks, and sighed with purpose. "I'm so glad we did this," she said. A beat. "Really." She was surprised to discover she meant it.
Behind us, the shopping party. They arrived in a bustle, a Joad-like jalopy of high heels and shopping bags, dozens of them. They'd been in the Black Friday throng on Michigan Avenue since dawn, no doubt, and they were pooped. Bags arranged on the floor and piled in the empty chair, they whewed and goodnessed their relief at finally sitting down, and when the waiter returned for their tea order, the raven-haired grande dame said, "Son, we need a pick-me-up, and you may need to use a forklift."
And there was us: my partner Daniel, Mom and me. She'd come in for Thanksgiving, and we were thankful. This is her first holiday season without my father, who died in March, so we're maintaining traditions but indulging Mom's penchant for branching out a bit. I thought she'd like afternoon tea, at least a little. She liked it a lot. She ordered a nicely balanced black tea blend with orange and other fruit, and talked about scones ("something you just don't make yourself, you enjoy elsewhere") and egg salad ("just can't do it without olive in it"). We conjured the ghosts of Thanksgivings past and discussed what the future ones might look like. She said, "Mmmm-mmm, that was a tasty batch of memories. Thank you." Anytime, mamma. Anytime at all.
Mom and me at the Drake (where all my photos come out blurry).