Mrs. R and Eloise would exchange knowing glances as Missy prattled on about parties and dresses and (her favorite topic) decorating. Missy would usually have a trendy tote bag in hand (one of those with polka dots, fur, and feathers, the kind that made Mrs. R wrinkle her nose in distaste). It would be overflowing with the latest decorating magazines. Eloise knew, of course, that Mrs. R had deeded the house to Nephew. Fortunately, a lifetime dowry clause insured that he and Missy couldn’t take possession as long as Mrs. R lived in the house.
One day Eloise observed Missy walking around in the room that had been Mr. Rivard’s favorite: his den with the dark wood paneling. Eloise casually glanced over Missy’s shoulder. She was holding up one of her magazines, open to a page on Country French decorating. Without thinking Eloise spoke. “You’re NOT thinking about painting these walls, are you?” “It’s not painting, Eloise. It’s faux finishing. There’s a glaze over it.”
“Hmmmm,” Eloise thought, ”glaze or no glaze, Mr. Rivard will be spinning in his grave if she touches his paneled walls with one drop of any kind of paint! Oh well, I won’t be here to see it happen.”
Before he died she’d promised Mr. Rivard she’d stay with the old girl for as long as necessary. He was a fine man, one of the best Eloise had ever known. They’d had a mutual respect for one other. Over the years, a sort of friendship had developed
There was irony in Eloise thinking of Mrs. Rivard as ‘old girl.’ Eloise was actually a few years older and had worked for Mrs. Rivard’s mother. When Mrs. R’s father had the new house built for his daughter as a wedding present, Eloise was “transferred” and went to work full-time for the attractive young couple.
Mrs. R’s amazing recovery seemed to have begun with a phone call a few days earlier. Eloise overheard her talking and laughing, ending the call with “Friday night would be perfect, Ted. See you at seven!” She called out for Eloise to come to the bedroom. Eloise hesitated a few seconds and then walked slowly into the room (to avoid the impression she’d been eavesdropping just a few feet away).
“Did you know Dr. Wentworth is back in Natchez for a visit, Eloise?” Yes, ma’am, I believe I did hear that.” There was little Eloise didn’t know that went on in this town. What she didn’t see or hear directly, she’d learn during nightly phone calls from her cousin, Tressie.
Tressie lived next door to Eloise, and their kitchen windows faced each other, only a few feet apart. They could’ve opened the windows and spoken directly, but they preferred to sit at their kitchen tables as they chatted. Sometimes they’d gesture to one another when something particularly hilarious had been said (usually about their employers or the mutual cousin they both detested). Eloise told Tressie, “seems Old Girl’s not dying after all. She’s just been very depressed!”
Eloise knew that Dr. Wentworth’s wife had died the previous year, and he’d sold the family home. He’d gone to live with his unmarried sister in Houston, unable to bear the thought of being alone in his big, empty house. The Wentworths and Rivards had been great friends for decades. The wives were in the same bridge club; the men played golf together at least once a week. The two couples had vacationed together and been frequent dinner guests in each other’s homes.
Eloise learned that she’d be cooking dinner for Mrs. R and Dr. Wentworth on Friday evening. Mrs. Rivard began spending more and more time out of bed, humming softly as she planned the menu and tried on one beautiful dress after another. Most were too big for her now. Finally she went to a closet filled with cocktail dresses from the 60s. “I guess I do still have good legs,” she thought, ”and I believe I’m the size I was then.” She picked a pale blue one, with long sleeves. Not a mini; it hit just above the knees. She smiled remembering that Jackie Kennedy had worn one just like it in a photo published in Life magazine. “I bet I could find that magazine around here somewhere. But not now … I’m late for my hairdresser’s appointment!”
Somehow Mrs. R had always been able to drag herself out of what Eloise had come to think of as “the deathbed” every Friday morning to go have her hair done. When she arrived home from the salon today, Eloise noticed that Mrs. R’s white hair had been tinted a pale strawberry blonde color. It warmed her fair complexion and complemented her still-pretty green eyes. “My gracious,” thought Eloise, “old girl can pull herself together when she needs to!”
“Set a table for two in the den, Eloise. I think it might be nice to be near the fireplace, in case it’s cool tonight.” Eloise laughed softly to herself “she’ll make sure it’s a cool evening. She’ll have that air conditioner blasting while the fire’s going. It’s not like she has to worry about how she’ll pay the utility bill!” Eloise had seen her do it before in years past, setting the stage for a romantic evening.
“Run upstairs and bring down that box of Mama’s old Fostoria crystal, Eloise.” “Why don’t YOU run upstairs?” Eloise thought. But she went and fetched the etched stemware. “Maybe she thinks it’ll bring her luck,” Eloise thought. “It was on her mama’s dinner table the night Mr. Rivard asked for her hand in marriage.”
“Use the wedding china, Eloise.” “And which wedding china would that be?” Eloise had never known anybody who loved dishes as much as her employer. She’d picked multiple patterns as a bride and had so many teas and showers given in her honor that she ended up with three full services for twelve!
“The Ladore, Eloise. The Haviland with gold trim and scalloped edges.”
Dinner was ready. Eloise had ended up mixing three Haviland patterns on the table (the way Mrs. R used to do before she stopped entertaining and took to her bed). She decided she liked the effect. Mrs. Rivard had told Eloise she wouldn’t need to stay. She said she’d stack the dishes in the sink for Eloise to deal with the following morning. It was two minutes before seven when Mrs. Rivard slowly descended the stairs. Something about the way she looked brought tears to Eloise’s eyes. In the simple blue dress, with her halo of pale reddish-golden hair, perfect make-up, and the diamond earrings and bracelet Mr. Rivard had given her, she looked the way she had forty years earlier. She even appeared taller.
“Ah,” thought Eloise, “she’s tall again! I thought she shrank! I guess she just stopped wearing her high heels.” Just then the doorbell rang. Eloise opened it and there stood Dr. Wentworth looking distinguished, tall and perfectly turned out. “He used to be a handsome devil,” Eloise thought. “well, still not bad looking, not bad at all”
Mrs. R rushed past Eloise and fell into Dr. Wentworth’s arms. Gazing upward, she said simply “Hello, my dear friend.”
Eloise smiled as she walked toward the bus stop. “I don’t think she’ll need that burial dress she keeps reminding me is in the closet, not anytime soon. It’ll probably dry rot hanging there!” Then she laughed right out loud and whispered softly … “And Missy’s going to have to find herself another room … in another house … to slap that country French paint on!!! I guess I won’t be retiring this year after all.”
If you'd like to see the post where readers of Affordable Accoutrements first met Mrs. Rivard, click HERE.
I'm posting early this week, because I'll be out of town for a few days attending a conference. I'll attempt to link to Tablescape Thursday with Susan of Between Naps on The Porch.
Selected items used to set the stage for Mrs. Rivard's new romance:
Plates: Haviland Ladore, Made in France, 1962-1988 (estate sale)
Coffee Pot, Cups & Saucers: Haviland Gotham, New York, 1945 - 1958 (eBay)
Sugar & Creamer, Gravy Boat: Haviland Berkeley, 1958 (eBay)
Crystal: Fostoria Woodland 1922 - 1928 (local antique shop)
Silverplated Flatware: 1847 Rogers Bros. Remembrance, introduced 1948 (my mother's)
Vase: New (Ross)
Candleholders: Lenox (eBay)
Silverplated Candelabra: Unknown (estate sale and antique mall)
Tablecloth: One of Mrs. Rivard's old ballgowns and a shawl (not really! Silk curtains from a moving sale, $1; round lace topper from a thrift store, 50 cents)
Flowering branches: Neighbor's tree
I hope you liked my little story and Mrs Rivard's romantic table for two.