We all have a picture in our heads of the ultimate “us”.It’s ourselves; but the best of ourselves: thin, attractive, brilliant, witty, and magnetic. Our most sophisticated bon vivant selves. No society guest list is complete without this sparkling personage. This paragon’s regrets to an invitation render hostesses suicidal.
In New York of the late 1800’s there was a squidgy little problem and two very proper and pedigreed people took it upon themselves to solve it.
The problem; New York was being flooded by parvenus. The old families, many from the original Dutch settlers of Manhattan, were having their shoes pinched by an influx of immigrants and their children who’d made buckets of money in the industrial revolution. They had cash, but it had been acquired by the most vulgar means possible; labor, rather than inheritance.
Caroline Webster Schermerhorn Astor and her cousin by marriage, Ward McAllister, relying on their own instincts and impeccable breeding, would create the definitive list; announcing to the world, via The New York Times, who made the cut, and more importantly, who did not.
Some of the socially acceptable were Clement C. Moore, whose family was long-time New York royalty and whose father was author of ‘The Night Before Christmas’. The Post family, as in the doyenne of etiquette, Emily. And some guy with the extra-fancy name of Marquise de Talleyrand.
Left off this very exclusive index were folks with names like Vanderbilt, Roosevelt, Carnegie, and Duke.
I would definitely not be considered for anybody’s list of old, aristocratic money. I may be old, but don’t know my family lineage past one great grandmother. Until I was in junior high I thought aristocrats was a Disney movie about cats. And there sure ain’t no money, honey.
But I like to think of myself as having enough personality to be an asset as a party guest. I’m well-mannered, up on current events, and many people think I’m vaguely humorous.My theory was cruelly disproved last week at a party I was invited to in connection with my food columns. It was a chic party at a new and extremely fashionable location. The guest list was chock-a-block with beautiful people.
I’d attended a very similar gathering a couple years ago, and was so uncomfortable I went home after about 7 ½ minutes, feeling like the countriest of country cousins.
This time I decided to get The Kid to come along for moral and comedic support.
After about 7 ¾ minutes, The Kid and I felt like sweat suits at a royal wedding. We escaped to the bar for a couple very expensive drinks, and then went home.We just aren’t ‘beautiful’ people.
But you know, I don’t think that those other guests, almost visibly straining to be stylish and sophisticated, were all that beautiful either.
Here is a partial list of sights that I think are truly beautiful:The exhausted face of a nurse who is 14 hours into a double shift.
The eyes of a groom as he watches his bride coming toward him.
The hands of an old woman which have cooked, and nurtured, and loved for decades.
The embrace of a mother and soldier son on his return home.
Robert Redford in The Way We Were. I mean c’mon, that guy was walking art.
So, I’m not the sparkling social butterfly I’d always thought I was. But I still think I’d be fun at a Tupperware party. And if you invite me to your cookout, I’ll bring the potato salad—and I make banging potato salad.
Thanks for your time.