Adventures with Miss Patty
Part One – Dancing with the German
Mother was divorced in 1983, but that was only part of the reason why she and I were chasing after a75-year-old woman down the length of Amtrak’s Crescent City train to New Orleans in 1985. That situation largely stemmed from two room service hamburgers ordered at the Macon, Georgia Hilton in 1979 and the funeral of my beloved Great-Grandpop, Jim.
My Brother had ordered one of the hamburgers. I believe that the incredible possibility of never setting foot inside a Stuckey’s roadside store ever again while en route to visit our southern kin made him a little crazy in the head. I can't say that I blamed him. We actually flew to Macon instead of taking the interminable drive jammed in a very used car with temperamental air conditioning. Those had always been awkward and largely silent sojourns for a group of people who were always vaguely uncomfortable in each others' presence. While I had been elated that the trip wouldn't take more than a few days instead of more than a week, I couldn't help being uneasy about rushing to a funeral.
Father rented a car that was cavernous and enthusiastically air-conditioned when we arrived at what was considered an airport in Macon, Georgia. It was the first car he had ever rented. Mother, known to my friends as Miss Patty, was more than frayed around the edges when we landed in Macon. That was her first plane trip. Had she her druthers, I doubt that there would have been a first. She was terrified of flying. Only honoring someone as terrific as Grandpop Jim could have gotten her on a plane. Luckily, smoking was still allowed in parts of the plane. I had been the designated child to sit with her. It's still unclear to me how smoking is relaxing. The smoke I inhaled from the full pack she consumed didn't do me any good. Nor did she ever relax the vise-like grip on my arm from take off to landing. By the time we disembarked from the tiny prop job that took us from Atlanta to Macon, our nerves were completely frazzled. I think if we had to wait for the local kin to finish debating who was the least busy and pick us up, Mother or I would have been screaming to the rafters in the tiny airport. Besides, my Father had been used to having autonomy of movement while visiting Georgia and preferred it that way. That seemed especially true on this trip.
My mother, brother and I became convinced that more was afoot than a funeral when we headed for downtown Macon instead of out to the edge of town and Grandpop's house. We checked into a Hilton Hotel instead of dividing up mattresses and box springs across the floor of the humid familial homestead like a UFO cult or mobsters hunkered down for a long street war. These unprecedented extravagances caused my Brother to extrapolate wildly on Father’s new found joie de vivre. The result was the aforementioned room service hamburger. I did not believe for one second that we were authorized to sign for meals on the room, but the evidence was hard to ignore. We were in air conditioning in Georgia that was not inside a Handy Andy convenience store near Grandpop's house. I admit to being overwhelmed by the possibilities as well. I, too, ordered a hamburger from room service.
The burgers were good, but I'd had better at diners for a third of the price. We ate everything except for the curly parsley garnish. The trays were banished to the small table in the corner of the room. When our parents returned from the family summit with Grandpop's preacher, I was studying for mid-terms and my Brother was making fun of the local news anchors. The lovely scent of grilled beef and onions still hung in the air. My mother looked really sad. I expected that. She really loved Grandpop Jim. In a family full of hostile factions, especially toward in-laws, he had been squarely in her camp.
My Brother and I adored him because he was still spry enough to walk us to the Handy Andy for comic books and Popsicles. Grandpop Jim had also introduced boxed cereal to breakfast in Macon, giving us a reprieve from the giant, meat feasts they still made in the mornings well after the long hard days on the farm had ended. And he used to slap his knee when he laughed. He laughed a lot.
Father looked angry and tense entering the hotel room. His jaw was tight which meant he was really upset. My Brother and I got tense, thinking there would be a room service related explosion. Instead, he went to make some phone calls.
Mother looked at the room service trays and then at Father making expensive phone calls from a hotel phone rather owlishly. She picked up a cold, gummy piece of a French fry from the tray and ate it.
“I've never had room service,” she said quietly before picking up a small pile of clothes and heading into the bathroom to change.
I think I was the only one who had heard her. Father hung up the phone with a loud bang a little while later. Then, he took us to the Pig n' Whistle for pulled pork barbecue sandwiches. The ill-gotten hamburgers were forgotten in favor of slow-cooked, spicy sweet meat on the fluffiest of buns.
My strongest memory of the funeral itself was an irreverent one that Grandpop Jim would have enjoyed immensely. We were in an extremely hot, stuffy country church during a service long enough to make a High Mass seem as short as a movie trailer. I was fanning myself with the funeral program. My Brother was reading it.
“What's a Funreal?” He asked.
I looked at my program. Sure enough, funeral was spelled wrong.
“I don't know what a fun-real is, but I know it isn't here,” I retorted.
My mother stifled a chuckle which caused my Brother to lose his composure entirely. He slid down to the floor shuddering with silent laughter.
Months later, Mother's lament about room service still bothered me. I was a sophomore in college who'd never given a thought about how my parents spent their vacations. My father had taken up deep sea fishing at some point while we were still in grade school. Mother got two weeks off a year from her job at a hospital lab. I'm sure that just having a break from work gave her some amount of respite. But the trips we took couldn't have been much fun for her. We were either heading down the highway to visit the Georgia in-laws or heading to Atlantic City for a week by the beach – sort of.
In Georgia, she was still cooking and cleaning and looking after us on top of dealing with the hordes of our Father's southern relatives. I always found them to be a raucous good time with all the beer and Old Grand-Dad bourbon flowing, but I can't say that anything that happened there was restful. In Atlantic City, there was generally less cooking – unless they rented a room with a kitchenette – but there still wasn't anything like luxury. Whether we were at the beach or at the motel pool, Mother spent her day with her eyes glued on me and my Brother and whatever stray cousins were with us, making sure we didn't drown. How she didn't burn her retinas out in the glare of reflected sunlight, I'll never know.
When I thought about it, Mother never had what could be called a real vacation. Her sad statement about hotel room service brought me up short. It was the first time that I felt what I call Adult Childhood Guilt. That is, the guilt I felt as an adult about things my parents went through when I was a child. I would feel this many more times as I grew older like when I found out just how little fun there is to be had driving around with a cranky toddler is in the car. I decided that from that year on, Miss Patty was going to have real vacations.
The plan to go to New Orleans evolved after five years of fairly successful, modestly luxurious vacations in Atlantic City. I wanted to go somewhere exotic. Mother was newly divorced and more than a bit down about it, so I thought that year's vacation should be something really special. I also wanted to go somewhere far enough away that we wouldn't have any visitors from Philly. I didn't mind the occasional Aunt or cousin coming to hang out in the nice hotel room. Miss Patty certainly enjoyed company. But she was down, and I thought she needed real rest on that trip, And I needed to talk to her about some things I wasn't ready for the family to hear.
A Caribbean cruise was my first thought. The fare was all inclusive so we wouldn't need much spending money. It was certainly luxurious. However, the price was just beyond what I could squeeze out of my budget. Since Mom wouldn't fly anymore, and I wasn't that crazy about planes at that point either, the trip had to be to somewhere exotic that I could afford and could reach by train. New Orleans had a lot of bargains during the summer months. I had no idea why those 4-star hotels were so cheap in July until we got there, but it didn't matter at the time I booked the trip. I found a luxury hotel just steps from Bourbon Street for the price of a mid-range Atlantic City hotel. The Crescent City train to New Orleans made a daily trip through Philadelphia. It couldn't have been easier to plan.
Miss Patty was a very outgoing woman. She smiled easily and could start up a conversation with almost anyone. This trait is particularly useful on a train. We had nice wide leather seats that reclined pretty far back in the main passenger area. I had really wanted a sleeper car, but that was way out of my price range. And since they didn't look like the sleeper cars in Murder on the Orient Express, it didn't really matter. We spent most of the evening after dinner in the bar car of the train. That was where the wine was, after all, and it was where Mother could have a smoke.
On a later train trip without me, Mother would nearly miss re-boarding her train to Atlanta in Washington D.C. because of a wager involving a Bourbon taste off. Apparently, two gentlemen on the train got into a heated disagreement over whether Jim Beam or Maker's Mark was the better Kentucky Bourbon. Amtrak only carried Jim Beam. For some reason, Mother went with one of the gentlemen to purchase a bottle of Maker's Mark on the layover in Washington D.C. He was the one dressed like Colonel Saunders, of course. They barely made it back. The argument was never settled, but I understand there was quite a party in that bar car.
On this trip, we met Sadie. I can't recall her last name. She said she was in her 70s, but her skin was smooth with just a few smile lines. She had white hair done up in a lovely twist and was on her way to visit her great-grandchildren. I can't remember what we talked about until way into the night, but there was a lot of laughing. We walked Sadie to her seat as it was a car before ours and went to sleep. I didn't think we'd see her again. She was bound for Mississippi and likely to be gone by the time we were and about.
Just before dawn, the conductor began the announcements for the first breakfast call and for those getting off the train at Atlanta. We managed to doze through the announcements. As we went off to bed, we'd signed up for the last breakfast seating since we were going to the end of the line. At a little after six in the morning, Sadie was shaking my shoulder.
“Wake up! Alabama and Mississippi are dry,” she said.
Well, that made no sense, especially since I was half asleep.
“They stop serving liquor after Atlanta. The train is dry until Louisiana,” she said impatiently.
I turned to wake Mother, but her eyes had already popped open. Now, I don't want to imply that we're winos in any way, but we had a lot of train trip ahead of us. And it isn't nearly as entertaining stone cold sober. Sadie had turned by then and was heading out of our car at a brisk clip. I grabbed a tote bag that had my books for the trip and my purse to follow her. Mother was right behind me. We were really moving by the time we reached the dining car. Atlanta was less than five minutes away. The bartender was on duty but still setting up for the day when we piled in.
At first, the bartender was reluctant to sell us a tote bag full of small bottles of wines and spirits. The beverages had to be consumed in the bar car, and I doubt he thought that was possible. We assured him that we would stay in the car and that we wouldn't be drinking everything ourselves. He was dubious, and I wasn't up to using my feminine whiles. It was six in the morning. I hadn't even brushed my teeth. My feminine whiles were still in my toiletry case. We opted for looking pathetic, then gave him a huge tip when he complied. We took turns guarding the stash while each of us cleaned up and changed clothes. We had breakfast and lunch in the bar car, guarding our horde like dragons guarding their eggs.
I can't recall what we talked about in the time between leaving Atlanta and pulling into Meridian, Mississippi where Sadie took her leave of us on surprisingly steady feet. I remember that the time passed quickly and the swiftly moving scenery seemed more interesting. I don't think it was purely the secret stash though that certainly helped. There was a hint of wickedness that we three shared as we poured our refills in such a way that other denizens of the bar car remained unaware of the treasures we concealed. Other than some rare days when Mother, my Brother and me played hookey from work and school respectively without Father's knowledge did we share in a conspiracy. This was a watershed of sorts between mother and daughter.
Our good spirits both literal and figurative continued even after we reached New Orleans. As is the way of a protracted trip on Amtrak, the many delays along the route amounted to a few hours late in our arrival. I hadn't been concerned. There was more than a one night credit card deposit on our room. It had been paid in full. As with all of our big vacation over those years since Granddpop Jim's funeral, I paid for the entire trip save for spending money before we left Philadelphia. And I brought my receipt. Thus, despite having a slightly noticeable buzz and being thoroughly rumpled from a 17 hour train trip, I was brooking no nonsense from a night shift hotel clerk. Miss Patty discovered that her daughter had an imperious side that had never manifested itself at home. I gave the clerk and the night manager such a what for that they upgraded the room to one with a view of the riverside.
The room was really nice, but we were too wound up from the events of the day for dinner from room service. Bourbon Street was mere steps away. Though it was a Sunday night at 10 pm, the street was jumping. Music was blaring from every open door. Most establishments also had barkers trying to lure people not persuaded by the music to come inside. We were hungry, but it was too late and we were too tired to figure out which of the local eateries wouldn't be too much for our timid Northern tummies. Thus, that night we settled on one of those chain restaurants that has all sorts of allegedly eclectic paraphernalia on the walls and waiters in whimsical suspenders. Miss Patty called them O-It's-all-the-same-agains Restaurants. These were safe introductions to local food. Each menu had at least a couple of regional dishes or reasonably close facsimiles. She tried some shrimp gumbo. I had jambalaya. The food was satisfying and the atmosphere just zany enough for our train weary sensibilities. The after dinner nightcap and travel fatigue caught up with us just as we got changed for bed. I could still feel the rumble of steel wheels on tracks in my sleep.
The slight time difference from Philadelphia and our excitement caused us to be up and about really early. We had breakfast at a local diner then took a carriage tour to get a feel for where the nearby attractions were. It wasn't even noon when we figured out why our rooms were so inexpensive. A heavy, hot blanket of humidity descended upon the city as we finished the carriage tour. Our driver and tour guide, Hattie, told us that sensible souls stayed inside until later in the afternoon when the sun wasn't hanging overhead. Mother looked wilted, and my clothes were already clinging uncomfortably everywhere.
“Mad dogs and Englishmen, I suppose,” Mother said as we stepped out of the coach. “But you have a list and some of those places are just down the street.”
I could see the shimmering mirage effect on the pavement in the next block. “They'll be there later, too. We're supposed to be taking a break from hard work.”
“We just stay in the hotel room?”
“Sure, why not? We have books to read. There are more in the lobby store if we run out.”
Miss Patty smiled. It was that conspiratorial smile from the train. “Let's get some snacks and sodas for the room.”
The skies grew dark an hour or so later. A violent and noisy thunderstorm roared through the city. We fell asleep while reading during the midst of it. Apparently, we were still exhausted from the trip. It was just as well we came back to the room. The rain was so heavy as I drifted off that the huge hotel across the street was a vague gray mass. I was doubtful of going back out again at all that day.
The next morning we were smarter tourists. That may have been due to the lazy evening and full night's sleep pushing train fatigue from our minds and bodies. We woke early and took in a few sights at first light, making sure we were back inside the hotel room or someplace cool until the afternoon thunderstorm passed. On the third day, that place was a ramshackle building called Jean Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop. It was a tavern that purported to have been a pirate den. The nearly albino blonde bartender regaled us with how nary a horse was ever shod in that establishment during the time Lafitte owned it, but many a plot was hatched that drove Andrew Jackson to drink. I had no idea if any of the yarns were true. All I knew was that the beer was really cold and the slate roof kept the dark wood and stone building comfortably cool. The bartender, like our tour guide, was a natural storyteller. I learned quite a bit from the hours we whiled away nursing those beers as the afternoon thunderstorm raged on.
First, I learned that if a tourist spies an old woman on roller skates pulled by a fire engine while being chased by a flock of ducklings, he could be persuaded to stay in New Orleans and tend bar in a bona fide pirate den. That actually seemed reasonable to me. Miss Patty looked at me curiously. I planned my trips with lists of lists. Being whimsical about changing cities was something that she didn't expect from me.
“Sometimes, you have to go with the signs,” I said with a shrug. It was time for another beer. I wasn't ready to talk about the impending change in my life.
Second, and even more exciting, I learned that the pirate den had become a writer's den at some point. There were writers both known and unknown in the joint almost nightly talking about writing and the jarring quirks to their lives they had endured. I had long been interested in writing and writers. The interest had become a pull that I could no longer ignore. Yet I had never met anyone who was a professional fiction writer. I knew about a dozen seasoned journalists from my undergrad years. I learned a lot from those very interesting souls, but I really wanted to meet people who made their living making up stories from whole cloth. I really needed Miss Patty to meet people like this.
I had become resentful since graduating college. I didn't want to be in Public Relations. I didn't want to be a news reporter. I wanted to have James Michener's life. I wanted to write while under an umbrella on a beach in Hawaii or some other exotic place and make a living at it. When the trip was planned, I knew that I wanted to change the direction of my life. Though I doubted there would be any objections to my going to graduate school in general, I needed Mother's support for the major I had in mind. The films my mother introduced me to often involved those who marched to a different drummer. She always admired those screen heroines who bucked convention to follow their dreams. She loved the tales of expatriate Blacks in 1920s Paris. And more than once during my young adulthood, I was told how she would have easily been a love child in Haight-Ashbury or a mud covered hippie at Woodstock had she not married so young. Miss Patty wanted to be a painter. I was told after her passing that she had talent. But when she was my age, respectable women went from their father's house to their husband's. Women pursuing an artistic bent were either 'funny' or loose. I worried how she'd feel about this path I desperately wanted to take and where it may lead me. But I needed her support above any others. Somehow, I hoped to find a way to show her who I had become.
When we left the tavern late in the afternoon, it was cooler. We set out to enjoy the tableau that was Bourbon Street. The performers were taking up their places for the lucrative evening shift, and there were enticing scents drifting out from the many eateries. Mother was quiet for a while. I was worried that she wasn't having a good time by the time she finally spoke.
“We could take a cab back to Jean Lafitte's after ten,” she suggested while we considered menus posted in front of restaurants.
I smiled at her. She had heard more than I thought. “No, I don't trust the cabs going or coming back. And we don't know when the writers will be there. Besides, they may all be jerks. Let's get some dinner.”
We had everything blackened that night including the vegetables and the dessert, but somehow it all tasted good. The local karaoke was not, but it was funny. We really enjoyed Bourbon Street. We even saw a mock, old school funeral procession playing When the Saints Go Marching In. It was like seeing a movie in real life. Of course, the cop's kid and ex-wife also spotted every pickpocket in action and reacted accordingly. Father's edicts always seem draconian when I describe them, but I've never had a bad incident while on vacation.
The next day, the rains came in the morning. The weather report said that it would last throughout the day. My reaction was to order the deluxe room service breakfast with a herb omelet and a rasher of bacon each, a carafe of coffee and orange juice and toast. It was rolled in on an opulent cart with silver accents and very fine linen. This was appropriate. There was a Royal Wedding to watch. Sarah Ferguson was marrying Prince Andrew. Miss Patty was quite tickled to have her coffee in the delicate cup and saucer while watching the events unfold. I was pleased that everything was steamy hot, and the bacon was extra crispy.
“You know, these royal women have the same tastes in hats as the church women at Zion Baptist. One of them looks like she has a bird's nest with the bird on her head,” she said wryly.
It was true. The contraptions formed of incongruous shapes, colors and textures perched just so on those well-coiffed heads reminded me of the women fanning themselves in that tiny southern church. I wondered what those refined women sitting so still in Westminster Abby would think of that comparison. During that delicious and leisurely breakfast, we gleefully critiqued outfits, hair, and hats. Our favorite moment was late in the proceedings when Queen Elizabeth reacted with cat-like reflexes to corral her grandchildren before they ran after the wedding carriage.
“She's fast for a woman that age,” Mother observed. “Didn't even lose that hat.”
We kibitz over clothes and all of the pomp until the meal was done and the coffee was nearly gone.
“It's still raining,” I said as the coverage wound to a close.
“Emmmhmmm,” Mother replied. “The weather trollop said it would be until the afternoon.”
“We could fill out the postcards,” I suggested. “It would be great to actually mail them instead of handing them out when we get home. There's a mailbox in the lobby.”
I found the cards and pens and we set about writing at the little table by the windows. The coverage of the wedding ended at some point. The next program featured interviews with regional celebrities. That week's special guest was author Eudora Welty. I wasn't paying close attention to the interview as I had not read her work for some time. But Miss Patty was listening.
“She sounds like you,” she said at one point.
I looked up from the tome I was trying to inscribe into 3 square inches of the postcard to figure out what she was talking about.
“You mean you hear voices in your head that make your write?” The reporter asked.
“Now, I'm not saying I'm crazy,” came the dry reply. “I'm saying there is a point at which the characters become so fully real that they speak to each other. Then, I write it all down.”
I still think the reporter thought she was crazy, but I smiled. At that point, I had never heard another author describe the process that way.
“Is that what you mean?” Mother asked.
I nodded. “Sometimes, it's like watching a movie in my mind. Then, I have to write it all down.”
“You always were writing things down everywhere,” she replied thoughtfully. “And the nuns always said you could write.”
And we have to listen to the nuns, don't we, I thought.
“It's like I have to write, Mom,” I said. “Sometimes, the stories in my head drive me to distraction. I write now because I have to write. I think I always felt that way.”
“But you've been doing well in your job,” she countered. “Can't you keep writing on the side?”
I didn't want to tell her that I hated that job and public relations in general. It was organized lying. The Park Avenue company I worked for was still dealing with the Apartheid government in South Africa, and we'd had staff meetings that included discussions on whether to supply VIP clients with cocaine. I got a headache at 3 pm every single day in my power suit.
“I made the wrong choice with my career,” I replied. “I want to work with books and writing. I've found a Graduate Program in Philly where I can get a Masters in two years. It requires a novel to graduate.”
“You could teach,” Mother remarked. “And you can move back home.”
I nodded at that. That was the angle I planned to take with Father. He wasn't living with Mother anymore, but I still didn't want to deal with his disapproval. Teaching was something that I neither wanted or eschewed. It seemed to come with the territory for professional writers, so I was open to the idea. And the notion calmed my mother down.
“You aren't going to go tramp around Paris like James Baldwin, are you?”
“Maybe. But If I do, I'll take you with me.”
She was quiet for a moment, affixing stamps to the postcards. “I could paint in Paris.”
Miss Patty in a beret with an easel painting along the river Seine. That made me smile.
We had a lovely, mostly lazy week in New Orleans despite the oppressive heat. We traveled on a River Boat – where Mother refused to let me belt out Old Man River – to the Plantation near the site of the Battle of New Orleans. Two things we learned from that day. First, plantation houses aren't as big as Hollywood would have you believe. And second, that southern belles had the vapors in that humidity and in those layers of petticoats is no longer a question in my mind. We wondered how they ever remained conscious and upright in the summer. The heat and humidity made if hard to breathe even on the airy veranda of that elegant mansion wearing modern, breathable fabrics. Thankfully, this modern riverboat was fully air conditioned.
There was a ladies night at the nightclub in our hotel on the last night of our stay. It was a tempting offer of free wine and an appetizer buffet along with free admission. I wasn't in the habit of clubbing with my Mother, but I thought it would be a nice diversion for a couple of hours. Our train was scheduled to depart early the next morning. So we put on our dancing clothes. Or, I put on my dancing clothes. At that point in her life, Miss Patty was a chair dancer. She looked lovely though. Miss Patty always looked classy when she stepped out. It was the 80s, thus I had big hair and a black mini dress and a jacket with shoulder pads. I looked like I belonged in a music video between the hair and make-up, and that was what I was going for.
“I still can't get over how fast you go from looking like a librarian to that,” she commented. “Just like Wonder Woman.”
I rolled my eyes and ushered her out of the door. If the men in Philly nightclubs are an indication, I did okay getting dolled up, but I never seemed to be as put together and glamorous as Miss Patty was when she and my Father went out to paint the town. From the heads that turned and the eyes that followed us as we entered the establishment, we both did okay.
Since my 18th birthday made me eligible to drink in New Jersey, my friends and I went out dancing almost every Friday or Saturday or both. Discos were still in vogue and most hotels had a dance club. Thus, there were a lot of joints to choose from. I loved to dance. In college, I used up most of my elective course hours on dance classes. Both sides of the family and all generations could really cut a rug. Thus, most family gatherings involved showing off new steps or proficiency in old routines. Most participated save for me and a couple of bookish cousins. I never liked dancing in front of the family, not even after I had had some training. It seemed that everyone had a role in the family. There were the mechanics, the cooks, the gardeners, the big party people. I was brainy and nerdy. I had glamorous cousins who were center stage at those gatherings when my nose was in a book. Even after I became more complicated than that, it was impossible for me to show my family. Mother knew I went clubbing with my buds, but I think she believed I stayed in a corner with them talking about Star Trek as the bass pulsed around us.
As I stalked into the nightclub, Miss Patty seemed to realize that I was no longer a wallflower. I had learned from the secretaries I worked with on temp jobs to walk into a club like I was on a fashion runway. My walk wasn't exaggerated, but it was in time with the music playing. I expected to be looked at, so I was. I picked a table near the dance floor where everyone could see us. Then, I ignored everyone in the room save for Mother.
“There are some men trying to get your attention,” she informed me after the cocktail server took our order.
“Ignore them until at least seven o'clock,” I replied.
“Why seven o'clock?”
“Most of the married ones will be gone,” I said, sipping the wine. It was the kind that was sold by the gallon, but it didn't make my throat raw. “Married guys cruising hotel clubs are hoping for a quickie.”
Miss Patty looked at me owlishly. I patted her hand.
“I've never had one,” I assured her. “But I've had offers, and I've seen a lot of pitches. Let me get us something from the buffet.”
I stalked to the buffet and back with an assortment of fried appetizers. There were vegetables, but they were battered and deep fried as well. But it was tasty and free. We ate and danced in our seats and quietly critiques the dancers.
When seven o'clock rolled around, we had eaten four plates of fried everything, and half the men who had been sitting at the bar were gone. There were more dancers on the floor as the music was cranking up.
“Excuse me,” A soft feminine voice said from behind our table.
We turned to find a very blonde, well-dressed woman. She looked to be between my age and Mother's – late 30s. We looked at her expectantly.
“Excuse me for bothering you,” she said. Her accent was German. “I was wondering if you wouldn't mind dancing with my husband.”
She pointed across the room to a table where a very blonde, well-dressed man sat grinning at us. He waved. Mother and I waved back.
“He looks all the time at MTV and knows all the steps,” she continued. “He really wants to dance with someone who knows how to do the moves. He can tell you can.”
“I haven't been dancing,” I replied in dismay.
“He knows from the way you walk,” she explained.
I looked at Mother. She shrugged.
“Sure. Why not?” I said. “Tell him to pick a song when he's ready.”
“Isn't that something,” Mother said. Then, she looked concerned. “You don't think this will lead to some orgy, do you?”
After nearly spitting out my drink, I shook my head. “Not likely. I saw Deter over there dancing in his seat. He wants to dance.”
I knew when the next song began that it was the German's number. Sure enough, he was walking towards me. I stood and met him on the dance floor.
“Because you look like Janet,” he said with a smile. “You like the song?”
Deter could dance. It only took a few moves for him to figure out how to follow me. It was impossible to do the choreography from the video, but there was a routine in it that suited the size of that dance floor. My partner was my mirroring everything with a big grin on his face. I was only aware of him and Mother while we danced. As long as she didn't have a look of horror, I figured I was doing okay. What I didn't expect was the applause as the song ended. I laughed as Deter kissed my hand. Then, I curtsied and went back to the table. Miss Patty was grinning.
“I didn't know you could do that!” She exclaimed. “You were always so quiet. Your Aunt Ellie and your cousins should see that.”
“I'm not ready to tour. Shouldn't we get another drink?”
The server came back with an ice bucket and fresh glasses.
“The couple over there bought you a bottle of Pouilly-Fuissé, ladies,” she said, filling the glasses.
“That's easy for you to say,” Mother quipped as she tasted the wine. “Now, that's good.”
We raised our glasses to the Germans then we touched them together
“To more great adventures,” I said quietly. The fact that the trip was ending saddened me, but I was excited about the road to come.
Miss Patty smiled and took a sip. “I'm glad you're coming home. It seems like I have to get to know you all over again. Do you know how you'll pay for school?”
“Not a clue,” I replied. “I don't know if I'll even get in the program. I just know that I have to try.”
“We'll find a way,” she said with confidence. “I'd like to see Paris someday.”
I hadn't realized it then, because I was too much in the moment, that I'd always be grateful to my Brother ordering that room service hamburger.