Crumbs From the Corner: Adventures in Woolgathering

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Just Lunch

Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened.
-T.S. Eliot

I did not eat in a restaurant until I was in my twenties; despite working for years in numerous eateries I never had inclination or superfluous funds to dine in any.
When I was nine years old my family was given, by a neighbour grateful for some help, a gift of a ticket for Sunday lunch. The meal was to be had in a rather nice hotel in the city, about fifteen miles from our home in the countryside.
The anticipation was palpable, and when the big day came we all dressed up, shined our shoes, polished our faces and prepared to partake of a lavish banquet.
I had a nagging headache from the moment I awoke but I vowed not to let it bother me.
I thought I knew what caused it: I had- and still do have- allergies to perfume or strong synthetic scents. They cause me dreadful headaches which always turn to migraines and which invariably lead to my getting physically sick until I fall asleep where it thus passes off.
My mother had, in a sweeping moment of housekeeping, put a air freshener in my bedroom and it had leaked steadily throughout the night. I must surely have been breathing the fumes in my sleep. No wonder, then, that I was a little groggy. Still, I attempted to shake it off and I pushed forth with the adventure without saying anything, as was my curious habit.
We reached the hotel and oh, by then I could hardly see, so blinding and harsh was the pain. I still did not want to spoil the treat and I thought I might yet be able to keep quiet.
Then the food, the glorious Sunday roast of beef and potatoes, gravy and vegetables, was served before us. I can yet visualise it; but seeing was all I did, or that any of us did. The serving of the meal was the end of everything for me. I needed to get sick urgently.
I ran outside, onto the street, and was careful to do what I had to do behind the large board that said "HOTEL" so that I might be as inconspicuous as possible. Goodness knows why I bothered so much but I had my peculiarities.
Of course our luxury lunch was not an option after that, and we all went home sadly and quietly stunned. Nobody berated me, nobody complained except inwardly with rumbling, wistful stomachs.
It was just lunch, but it meant a great deal to us. I have eaten in many a restaurant since that aborted attempt but I still relish every occasion.


Anonymous said...

My mom and stepmom both have similar allergies. Because of that, I am incredibly sensitive to perfumes. I grew up without them, so now they are offensive to my senses.

As for being inconspicuous, I think that's a somewhat natural tendency. I can't think of anyone who wants the added humiliation of being seen in such a state.

Phyllis Hunt McGowan said...

Mada, thanks so much for the comment. I do agree with your last point but I was the only child I knew like that. Everyone else would get it over with but my being nine and always going to a corner to hide and prepare before it happened was not the normal way, not in my experience- so my mother said anyhow :)
It's actually good to meet someone else who can't abide by perfumes. I thought I was the only one! Thank you for coming by.

Pappy said...

Hey, a picture of the mystery couple. The young The and Spouse on the hood of a 70's model automobile? Great story. My dad was in the pest control business early in his life and refused to eat in restaurants. He said he had seen too much in the kitchens he treated. We once went to a buffett at a very famous restaurant in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Since I had no experience in restaurants, when asked how I would like my roast beef I said rare thinking "hard to come by." The chef placed a bleeding slab on my plate and I almost lost it. Everyone in attendance had a good laugh at my ignorance. :o)

Phyllis Hunt McGowan said...

Texican, it's in fact my brother with me in the picture! I thought I'd put him in the blogosphere for a while. I didn't know Spouse until much, much, much later on... I was six, I think, in the picture. But this: "The young The and Spouse" made me laugh heartily. Sorry it's only one half of the mystery solved ;) I don't do anything straightforward.
After you said the other day you didn't know what some of your blogger friends looked like I thought about it and thought I'd offer a non-shadow picture.
I've heard from lots of people that say they can't eat in restaurants because they worked in them.
Thanks for sharing that story- it's a real shame your chance was ruined like that. I don't know about here but in Ireland we call that 'blue'- still bleeding. I took many an order for a blue steak and the first time I thought the customers were joking with me.

Jaime said...

Big hugs to your younger self. That must have been hard...and painful! If only your relative from Tennessee (the man with only one headache) had been a more prominent figure in your life back then!
I too am sensitive to perfumes, so I understand the suffering that goes along with it.


hele said...

Your writing is so awesome.
Its like I am there with you.

Reading this story reminded me of hearing the chrismas tale as a child. I kept hoping that somehow this year they will find a bed to sleep in.

Even if it was years later I am glad you finally had that meal.

Phyllis Hunt McGowan said...

Jaime, "Big hugs to your younger self." That's very sweet of you. I thank you :) And good catch on mentioning my relative from Tennessee- how different two people can be!
Hele, you always say something that makes me feel so good about my writing. "Its like I am there with you." That's all anybody who writes wants to hear, I think.

Beth said...

Oh, what a poignant story. I am glad your family took it well, it could might been one of those horrible relationship-ruining moments otherwise.

Phyllis Hunt McGowan said...

Beth, welcome back!
I know it wasn't my fault I was sick but still, they were disappointed and never showed it.

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