- Chapter 8 -
PLANNING A SPECIAL OCCASION
t is possible, with a little imagination, to design a special and enjoyable event, at no great expense and with no special equipment. It takes a modest amount of time and effort, a sense of fun, and family or friends who are not too stuffy to participate.
VELLY GOOD CHINESE RESTAURANT
When the Gosnell family (my daughter Bee, her husband Peter and three grandchildren) returned to New Orleans from England, there was much excitement. One of the events which had been anticipated with enthusiasm was a meeting of the Secret Club, which had not been able to gather for two years as distance had prevented it. An additional feature, on this occasion, was that Emily was old enough to join this exclusive organization, Emily being 3. The other members were Elizabeth 9, David 6, and Grandy (Grandfather Bryan Bell).
The meeting place is halfway up our front stairs where there is an alcove containing a large brass lamp. Behind the lamp, there is an excellent hiding place for secretarial notes, dues, and secret communications. Elizabeth is secretary and keeps accurate records of the proceedings, and even includes letters that she has written to other members of the Club. David is Treasurer. No one, not even club members, can attend unless he or she has said the secret password. So the members gathered in the dining room, and one by one knocked on the door to the front hall and uttered the password to the person on the other side in a soft voice so that it could not be overheard. Only then were they admitted.
At our first meeting this year, David, the Treasurer, collected 1-cent dues from each member. Then, he said he wanted to go get something, and came back to the Club meeting with a $20 bill and 60 cents in change. "It was just lying on the counter.", he said, and suggested it be put in the treasury. Grandy agreed, saying he knew where it came from, and that it could be used to finance the exciting project which the Club was undertaking.
Because the rest of the Bell family was also home visiting, Beverly Bell, who is very organized, set up a chart for various family members showing when they were to be responsible for preparing the dinner and cleaning the kitchen. Tuesday night fell to Grandy with Elizabeth and David as helpers, and since Emily said she would participate, it became a project of the Club.
The idea developed that we should operate the Velly Good Chinese Restaurant, and serve appropriate food to the guests. We all went off in the car to get takeout menus from potential suppliers of the meal. The Uptown Chinese Kitchen had a pink menu; Kung's Dynasty had a green menu, and Five Happiness offered their selection printed on white paper. A special meeting of the Club was called, and after considering the selection and the prices, Five Happiness was awarded our business. A menu was prepared, shown below, with enough copies for all. (Note the spelling of "Vegtables" and "Cahews".)
It was most important that the waiters be dressed appropriately, so they wore Grandy's pajama tops. David chose a blue one which was especially fitting as it was genuine Chinese silk, having been brought to Grandy by Bryan Jr. from the Orient. Elizabeth chose a bright red one, and Emily wore blue. The waiters had their sleeves rolled up, and to hold them in place large Boston paper clips were used. "This will make them laugh," said Elizabeth, and it did. The dining room table was set for the guests, and after a little practice, Emily got very good at putting the spoon on the right.
The adults were kept out of the kitchen and the dining room during preparations, although a partial exception was made for the children's mother who came to the kitchen for brewer's yeast, which is reputed to be helpful during pregnancy.
The waiters appeared before the guests. Emily found that she could only keep her sleeves up if she held her arms in the air as though she were surrendering to an enemy or praising the Lord, and when she got a little tired, she just folded her arms over her head. David announced, "Welcome to the Velly Good Chinese Restaurant." Elizabeth pointed out that the specialty of the day was bird's nest soup and roast pig with an apple in his mouth, but the kitchen was having difficulty getting a sufficient supply of bird's nests, and the roast pig would take three hours, so she recommended the buffet. All of the guests accepted her recommendation. Elizabeth read the buffet selections, but in order for everyone to see the choices, the printed menus were distributed as well.
The waiters retired to put the food on the sideboard in the dining room. The varied collection of mismatched serving dishes, assorted plates and table utensils added to the ambiance.
Guests enthusiastically served themselves. Elizabeth pointed out that waiters do not eat with the guests, so Grandy had to eat in the kitchen with the help, that is, the three other members of the Secret Club, which he was very glad to do.
There was a belief that far more food was purchased than would be required, but that was considered no problem as Chinese food would be good the next day. However, the enjoyment of the patrons was great, as were their respective capacities, so there was hardly anything left. They all expressed great enthusiasm for the food and the service of The Velly Good Chinese Restaurant. Elizabeth kept asking them, with great frequency, if they wanted more water to drink, and, indeed, on two or three occasions they did.
Part of the requirement of Beverly's chart was that the assigned members had to do all of the cleanup as well. Mamou (Grandmother Rubie Bell) had expressed great reservations about having the Secret Club clean up, and urged that we all go out to dinner, because, as she pointed out, she is frequently left with the dishes no matter how good the intent. The Secret Club members assured her absolutely, positively that they were deeply committed and would be responsible for the cleanup.
It was suggested that the guests take their own dishes to the kitchen, but they were prohibited from doing so. Because Elizabeth was older, she was charged with taking the china dishes out while David removed the glasses. Indeed, she did take two such dishes out, and David accompanied her with two glasses. However, at that time, Bettina started a game in the den, and all but one Club member immediately disappeared.
Mamou kindly came out to the kitchen to help, but Grandy thanked her and said that he planned to live up to his responsibilities. Grandy finished the whole cleanup at 9:03 P.M.
One important fact should be added and that is that when Grandy went to pay for the meal, the cost was considerably in excess of the amount in the Club treasury, so he used a credit card. This was carefully observed by the sharp-eyed Treasurer, David, and he asked later in the evening and on subsequent days, if Grandy had kept the Club treasury solvent. The answer was affirmative.
After the event, Elizabeth brought up a matter of interest. She said she understood why we used the Velly, because the Chinese have difficulty with English "r's", but if that were the case, why didn't we call it a "Lestaulant." Grandy said that was a very good point. He had not thought of it.