|Berry pie on
Oil on canvas board
8" X 6"
by James Eaton
Lunch at the St. Thomas Hotel was presented like Mass at St. Mary’s Cathedral one block up the street. The maître d
lorded over forty-two tables, dispensing the indulgence of forgiveness with butter and lemon sauce to the soul
weary of means and social position. At lunch, the dark cherry wood tables were set with clean white linen
tablecloths, arranged at an angle, exposing the dark wood corners. In the evening, fresh tablecloths were turned full-
square, modestly covering the table’s exposed wood corners like the bare shoulders of an attractive woman.
If dinner was High Mass, lunch was Low Mass. Served with less formal plates and without the background
accompaniment of a string quartet, lunch retained the evening’s elegance of food and service with the holy iconic
table setting of St. Thomas knives, spoons, and forks. Seemingly over-sized in the hand, when held properly, the
implements naturally balanced to slope down, addressing the plate like an artist’s brush to the palette. At the heel of
each piece was the regal crest of the St. Thomas Hotel, molded with gold plate and seemingly chiseled in the heavy
metal. The crest was a battle signet declaring a meal at St. Thomas was more a moral imperative and less mere
cuisine. St. Thomas was a fine, old world hotel and restaurant, and its long-time wealthy patrons made it, for over
one hundred years, the sacred ground of wedding receptions, funeral luncheons, and important meetings to discuss
the business of living with means. It was hard to imagine who was more loyal to tradition – the aging maître d
conducting the afternoon culinary Mass of Absolution, or the customers blessed with a central place in the social
universe of rightful belonging.
Stacey Andrews sat by the large window, at the edge of the dining room. With her back facing the corner where the
end of the window frame quickly met the wall, her regal gaze surveyed her dominion. If the maître d was the high
priest of St. Thomas, Stacey was the marble statue of the holy virgin in the corner vestibule, one hand blessing the
faithful and the other touching her sacred heart. But unlike a holy icon at St Mary’s Cathedral, Stacey’s heart was
not filled with the passion of sacrifice. Not a bad woman by most standards, Stacey was a proud woman and her
heart was filled with judgment as she anointed her family and friends with the holy oil of expectation.
Crossing the room quickly to the table by the window, Kendyll Andrews ported her purse and satchel with the
rhythm and sway of expectant good news. She maneuvered between tables and behind waiters, never disturbing
patrons or servers. Kendyll was tall, thin, and healthy in the way that tall, well-shaped women are slender and fit.
With toned biceps from the gym, her chocolate brown hair was cut at the shoulder and swayed around her
intelligent and markedly beautiful face, forming a halo of grace, brushing her neck and shoulders like a camel
hairbrush on canvas.
Like all women in her early 30’s, Kendyll was expert at the natural deception of beauty and style employed to
confuse interested men and female competitors. All eyes focused as she crossed the floor with great long strides, twice
tossing her hair, then removing her tortoise shell glasses while lowering her head with deference to kiss her mother
quickly on the cheek. With that kiss, curiosity was satisfied and the room’s envious guests angled their silverware
down again, like choreographed weather vanes pointing the direction of the changing wind, swiveling their knives
from their upward pause to the declination of redressing the holy trinity of capers, sauce, and fresh ground pepper.
The room returned to lunch, but with the shifting wind at their backs, mother and daughter sensed the gathering
storm. Flanked by sheer white curtains and heavy royal red drapes, the two women sat quietly for a moment while
a waiter made his way briskly across the room.
Kendyll learned well from her mother how to stage manage the female theater of attraction. She understood her
beauty was certain, and temporary. Already haunted by the encroaching whispers of age around her brown eyes,
she was now 32, and in a new relationship that promised refuge from the winds of time blowing landward from off
shore. But her family relationships were strained. Her mother was dissatisfied with her progress. After college and
graduate school, she was single, living two thousand miles away, and out of her mother’s control. Kendyll had
called her mother from Los Angeles requesting an audience, telling her she would arrange “a half day in San
Francisco, on her way home to Chicago.” Phrasing her visit in such rushed and casual tones was a statement of
independence more than reunion. Stacey Andrews, the matriarch and holy mother virgin of the vestibule, was not
pleased with her daughter’s pretended authority – although she graciously accepted her daughter’s request of an
The waiter approached the two ensconced women with halting respect, menus in hand, first directing his attention
to the older woman – whom he understood well. Standing strategically with the sun at his back, pouring light
directly through the white curtain sheers behind him, he began to offer menus when Stacey, her eyes closed to avoid
the bright sun light, ordered abruptly.
“Fillet of sole with butter and lemon,” then looking at Kendyll with the blank expression of expectancy, “and my
daughter will have?”
“Samuel, how are you? It is so good to see you again.” Kendyll addressed the waiter she had known for many years
with the friendly respect more appropriate for an elderly uncle at family event.
“Very good, Mrs., ah, Kendyll,” he paused for uncomfortable moment.
“It’s Andrews now. And I’m glad you are well.” Kendyll understood the confusion about her last name and
accepted her part in clarifying the situation for others. “I’d like a spinach salad with a small amount of white meat
chicken, and vinaigrette on the side.”
Samuel nodded with the dutiful resolve of a man experienced in serving difficult people. He was a professional in his
own right – an indispensible part of the liturgy at St. Thomas.
Staking out conversational territory is a fine art. While argumentative positioning is a male war tactic, for women, it
is a way of life. In the Andrews family, conversation meant one had information of importance, but releasing the
desired news only to reward the listener’s patience. Stacey held her tongue through the meal until, on cue, Kendyll
offered up the anticipated information. She had met a man in Chicago, the relationship was serious, and she had
expectations of “a more permanent arrangement.” Kendyll explained he had inherited the family’s commercial
plumbing distribution business, he was three years younger than Kendyll, and came from an Armenian family.
“And he served his mission, where?” Stacey interjected with a curious tone.
“He didn’t serve a mission, mother. He isn’t LDS. His family is Catholic.” Kendyll sat up in her chair, bracing for
the storm clouds to blow the weather vane off the roof.
“Ladies, excuse me,” the waiter awkwardly interrupted the conversation. “I have the dessert cart. I’d like to
recommend the berry pie,” Samuel showed the plate first to Stacey and then Kendyll. “It came out of the oven just 15
minutes ago and it is still warm.”
Stacey nodded no. Kendyll leaned into the plate and inhaled deeply, “Oh, I could smell that from across the room. It
looks wonderful, and messy.” Then sitting back in chair with a sense of disappointment, “But I can’t eat that. It
must be a thousand calories. Thank you, Samuel, but not today.”
As the waiter pushed the cart away, Stacey returned immediately to the subject. “He’s Catholic and American –
what does that mean?
“Armenian, mother, not American, but I mean, yes, he is American too,” Kendyll was beginning to stammer with
the speech behaviors of a thirteen year old uncertain of her footing.
“A Chicago plumber?” The mother dropped her eyes with disappointment.
“Plumbing distributor, Mother. There’s a big difference.” Kendall exhaled with exasperation.
Stacy was already incensed. She and her daughter had already engaged the mode of conflict that defined their lives
for thirty years. Kendyll braced for the question that was about to blow in like a gale from the sea, through the
window at their backs, and wash over the lunch table like a tsunami.
Stacey pursed her lips, took a breath, and fixed Kendyll with her squinting green eyes. “He’s been married before?”
“No, he’s 29 and he’s never been married,” Kendyll answered while rearranging the folded napkin on her lap.
“And does he know you’ve already been married twice?” Stacey placed the dagger squarely on target and Kendyll
deflated with defeat.
Kendyll was ready for the question, but no less undone when it came. First looking at the ceiling, then around the
room, she saw Samuel waiting by the swinging kitchen door. Raising her hand to get his attention, he started
across the room. Not waiting for him to make it all the way to the table, Kendyll raised her voice, “Samuel, I will
have the berry pie. Could you bring a piece right away please.”
Reaching into her purse, Kendyll retrieved her glasses, refolded the napkin on her lap, and looked up at her mother,
the holy marble virgin of St. Thomas, casting judgment from across the table. “Would you like some berry pie,
Mother? It’s warm and looks really messy.” – Jim Eaton