The day after tomorrow is my birthday; stroke of midnight, New Year’s Day – in case you forgot. We are having yet another shin dig here at Place de Plume. It should be spectacular; my poor staff is generally exhausted until Valentine’s Day.
At the end of 1881, my father and his sister, Aunt Gertrude – whom he called Gertie because she loathed that nickname, were having some sort of family thing over an uncle on death’s door. I can’t remember the exact nature of the squabble but whatever it was, their petty dispute led to an one-upmanship for the ages that became known as my Tenth Birthday Fiasco.
The theme of the party was layered, but only because no one could settle on just one. My mother was so excited by the publication of La Citoyenne; she issued all the females hats with press cards stuck in them and Cerruti ties so we would look like proper little journalists. A small hiccup was that the society women who aspired to be outspoken feminists had little idea what to do with a tie other than hand it to their husbands. They adorned themselves in the myriad ways; many tying the ties in bows around their necks making them look like rather uncomfortable court shoes. Some donned them as belts but a few wore them as chinstraps to keep their hats from falling off. Mrs. Crawley from next door affixed two extra long ties to the Cameo at her neck and wound them around her diminutive frame, effectively becoming a human May Pole. Instead of looking like an united front of feminine strength, we looked more like an office Christmas party after the tipple had been passed around.
Aunt Gertie, who could talk nonstop for hours at a time, had a particular interest in the new form of communication that allowed her to call someone and speak at length without making the effort to going over for a visit. She had some of the nice fellows from the newly formed Oriental Telephone Company set up a few “communication stations,” as she called them, so we could sit down and have a chat with someone in another part of the house. I don’t think the men she hired were the top tier of the company because the only thing those phones could do was ring; and that ring was not only shrill but at a volume that shattered a few of my mother’s wedding flutes. The person intended to answer the phone, once revived from their fright-induced coma, picked up the phone and shouted “I CANNOT HEAR YOU. CAN YOU HEAR ME? I SAY, DOES THIS WORK? HELLO?” for ten minutes, only to shake their heads, replace the receiver, turn to a room whose conversation had been put on hold due to their yelling and state the obvious, “I could not hear a thing.” To which, my father would call out from wherever he was, “Confounded Gertie! Take those damn things out of my house!”
Aunt Gertie was terrified of the gunfighters in the West so of course that was my father’s theme. He hired several actors to “rob” us at “gunpoint.” My father paid them extra to tie my aunt up to a chair with a handful of my mother’s reporter ties, gag her and leave her in the living room. Everyone thought it was a marvelous stunt and applauded Aunt Gertie’s sporting compliance. They made special mention of her “acting” in that she looked positively feral in her captivity. When she was finally released post party, she produced a howling that made a few banshees sit down to take notes. It was all great fun until we discovered the guns and bullets these actors were using were real; poor Mr. Palmer never saw it coming.
In the end, my friends and I stole the cake and some champagne and spent the end of the party upstairs establishing what I am convinced was the original drinking game.
My point is, darlings, birthdays are meant to be memorable. Happy New Year, my dears.