Hominy & Hash
HERE'S TO 'THE LADIES WHO LUNCH'
by Constance Daley
American Reporter Correspondent
St. Simons Island, Ga.
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. -- There are times just a word, a song, a scene bring the past back into focus for a fleeting moment.
We went to Delaney's for lunch and three large tables were set up for what we thought might be a bridal or baby shower when only ladies were arriving. They didn't appear to know each other. Some were vivacious and picked up the conversational slack while the quiet and shy ladies smiled in appreciation.
What's that they're wearing? Names and organizational tags pinned to the soft summer fabrics most of them wore. This was a very diverse group of women, ages going from early twenties to mid-sixties, but they all smiled when one of their number started taking pictures, almost as if they were having a good time.
All right, I gave up. I asked the waiter who they were. "They're the wives of State Inspectors, you know, like plumbing inspectors, electrical, housing, and so forth. They check if buildings are up to specifications."
Ah, so it was workshops for the men while the ladies lunched. Or, the husbands played golf - more likely - while the wives lunched.
That was the trigger for me to remember lunches with just the wives or the annual parties where husbands and wives were together. These parties were never fun for me no matter how joyful the music or how good the food. I was always surprised to see the other wives knew so much about their husband's job. Mine always left the job at the office. I would just smile and look perky, clueless.
Not long after those fleeting observations, I heard the Broadway musical "Company" on tape and really heard it for the first time, I had thought Stephen Sondheim's song: "The Ladies Who Lunch," was more a tribute to Elaine Stritche's vocal range and ability than to the lyrics of the song. Today, as I listened, I related.
Ms. Stritch held a glass high and said in a rich baritone: "I'd like to propose a toast." The lyrics following, half spoken directly to the audience and sometimes sung in her deep husky voice, toasting women I knew as well as a filmy glimpse of the woman I was.
"Here's to the ladies who lunch--
Lounging in their caftans
And planning a brunch
On their own behalf.
Off to the gym,
Then to a fitting,
Claiming they're fat.
And looking grim,
'Cause they've been sitting
Choosing a hat.
Does anyone still wear a hat?
I'll drink to that.
And here's to the girls who play smart--
Aren't they a gas?
Rushing to their classes
In optical art,
Wishing it would pass.
Another long exhausting day,
Another thousand dollars,
A matinee, a Pinter play,
Perhaps a piece of Mahler's.
And here's to the girls who play wife--
Aren't they too much?
Keeping house but clutching
A copy of "Life"
Just to keep in touch.
The ones who follow the rules
And meet themselves at the schools,
Too busy to know that they're fools.
Aren't they a gem?
I'll drink to them!
Let's all drink to them!
And here's to the girls who just watch--
Aren't they the best?
When they get depressed,
It's a bottle of Scotch,
Plus a little jest.
Another chance to disapprove,
Another brilliant zinger,
Another reason not to move,
Another vodka stinger.
I'll drink to that.
So, here's to the girls on the go--
Look into their eyes,
And you'll see what they know:
A toast to that invincible bunch,
The dinosaurs surviving the crunch.
Let's hear it for the ladies who lunch--
I see myself. We would have been wearing a bright colored muumuu for keeping house, not a silken caftan; and we clutched a copy of Time not Life, just to keep up with people, before People spun off into a magazine of its own.
And, we occasionally had lunch - just the ladies. We'd choose an elegant restaurant, wear high heels and hose, earrings and cologne. And we would talk about the children. Or, perhaps something we read in Time.
Sometimes it would be an organizational lunch where fund raising would top the agenda - money for Jerry's Kids, the March of Dimes, band uniforms and instruments, a new roof for a church, whenever a need arose, we always found time to do the things that have to be done.
We know as well, as Stephen Sondheim suggests, "everybody dies." Our circle of ladies who lunch witnessed the deaths first of our parents, then our siblings, occasionally a child, and lately, a husband. As always, we do the things that have to be done.
Let's drink to that. But, just a touch.