Around the table, it was: a retired banker who was in his time in charge of disaster recovery and continuity management, a real estate agent in the midst of losing her mind, a kindergarten teacher, a third year law student, and a college fundraiser. It was the first time that we were together since we buried my grandfather’s ashes in July from the body that died in March and was cremated soon after. We had to wait for the thaw, and then for a weekend that worked for us all to have a memorial.
Here, though, it was fall, and my parents, my sister and her boyfriend were visiting, at the peak of the autumnal colors. We were seated last among several parties that arrived between 7:25 and 7:35, owing, probably, to the fact that we were five, and not the standard two or four. I was in acute state of undeniable sobriety, sustained only by the fact that I was racing the coming week, and was off the bottle, itching hourly to get back on. My mother’s provocations (“You can have one drink”) did not aid in the slightest. Intoxication made these family weekends more tolerable; things were off to a shaky start.
While we waited for our drinks (a mojito, something that was champagne based, another that was scotch based, and my unsweetened iced tea) and my sister fingered her water glass as though it contained some secret message, my mother commented positively on the ambiance and the arrangement on the table. We touched it, to discern if it was real. We discerned that it was not. The mojito was sent back (the prognosis was cheap rum), and exchanged for a blueberry martini, which received passing marks.
The highlight of the evening, however, was the soup, ordered by my mother and sister. It had happened that the original soup of the day was a pumpkin bisque, but due to its overwhelming popularity, it had been consumed in its entirety by earlier clients. As such, it was a cream of mushroom which was served, without their being informed. We all took turns trying to figure out why the soup was not orange, but rather a greenish brown. Democratically, we decided that it was the herbs and spices. The evaluation from my mother “good, but maybe a little too gourmet for me.”
It was not until later, when we had overheard another table bring up the fact that her soup was not orange that we learned of the error. And the fight was on. Through several pointed but not quite direct inquiries, my mother extracted from another waitress a confession that a mistake had been committed and an apology for doing so. I did not expect my sister’s boyfriend, up until now a somewhat-quiet-because-he-was-bad at-normal-conversation-with-humans-and-more-than-slightly-overweight type, to get as animated as he did, but no sooner had there been an apology that he began asking the waitress what would have happened if someone had been allergic, and asserted that they should not be charged.
Things escalated; our original server came out, apologized, received more invective testimony from the law student, who informed her that while he was not certain about Vermont, in Massachusetts, it was a board of health mandate that consumers be informed of such changes; after all someone could have died here. Our server left to go cry in the kitchen to fellow wait staff, and summoned the owner who offered her own, apologies, who informed us the soup was free, and who patiently listened while the law student kept going, and while my mother informed her that she did not want the server to feel upset, but rather wanted the owner and the server to know that above all, she felt dumb for not knowing what she was eating.
I cut everyone off, told my sister’s boyfriend and my mother that there was nothing left to discuss: our soups were free, the evening had thus far passed without any occurrence of anaphylactic shock, and our entrees were consumed without incident. The owner thanked me, and once the seated members at the table agreed, or were forced by my death stares into agreement, she retreated.
My sister began to cry, we looked at the dessert menu out of obligation, and then asked for the check.