Monday, December 24, 2018

Catch the Wind

'Tis the season to be running around like a chicken with its head cut off.

But it's also a reminder of reason #894 why I love city living. Because when I have a 6:00 pickup and it's 5:35 before I realize my mistake, I can walk a mere two blocks to get the birthday card I forgot to get because Holiday Life.

As an added bonus, a woman checks out my legs at Rite-Aid and observes, "Cute tights, leggings, whatever they are." When I share that they're actually stockings, she's even more impressed.

Meanwhile, when Mr. Wright shows up, I am ready, card in hand, to head to the Tavern and Holmes' birthday dinner. Since I'm not a West End kind of a girl, I am completely unprepared for the hordes occupying nearly every table at the restaurant on a Sunday night. When the hostess asks if we want a table for two, I explain that we're there for Holmes' party.

A look crosses her face and she smiles knowingly. Holmes is a regular at the Tavern and well known by the entire staff. "It's that big table in the back," she tells us and takes off.

After much confusion and pointing at seats, it becomes clear that the pastiche of tables and banquette that has been put together is inadequate for the size of the birthday party and another table is brought in. The table's configuration resembles an amoeba, with odd-shaped offshoots.

When we finally sit down at the corner of the madness, conversation with Holmes' extensive family begins in earnest.

The woman next to me remembers me from one of these dinners a few years ago, even recalling what I do and who I write for. The gregarious brother  and old hippie who'd been down at the beach when I was visiting Holmes last summer waves and says, "Hi, beach buddy!"

But where we score the jackpot is with the woman seated next to Mr. Wright, a spitfire of a woman who lives in Annapolis and had the energy and enthusiasm of a 20-something along with a lifetime of stories to share.

One of the more fascinating facts gleaned over the next couple hours was that Newfoundland is pronounced new-found-land and not new-fund-land, as I've always heard, leading us to the subject of travel.

Turns out her son designs cruises for a cruise ship line and he's frequently designing custom cruises for her, so she's been everywhere, And don't even get her started about her disappointment that her Canadian cruise didn't go as far as the Bay of Fundy.

Besides a love of travel, where we found common ground was our shared distaste for shopping. Her entire wardrobe came from a dying Korean woman she knew who was her exact size and invited her to come peruse her closets and take everything she wanted before the Grim Reaper arrived.

"I had to go buy a big, used suitcase from the thrift store just to bring it all home!" she said. When the woman's aunt died, she got all her clothes, too, including a black velvet gown with lace cuffs and collar that she'd worn to many a gala event.

Truly, this woman was my spirit animal.

She told us about a trip to Florence where she spotted a painting in a shop window and uncharacteristically told her husband (a technological adviser to multiple admirals) she wanted it. After doing some calculations in his head to convert the price to dollars, he asked if she coveted it enough to pay for it out of her grocery money. When she said yes, he asked, "Your grocery money for how many years?"

Nope, not that willing.

Only then did she realize it wasn't a painting but a mosaic, which only made it more beautiful to her, but she was also sensible enough to realize it was just too expensive.

We heard about the 14-mile bike ride she took in Germany after years of not being on a bike. Asking about our plans, she shared how much she liked Portugal and the tapas in Spain. Then there was the time in the '80s when she and the Officers' Wives Club stationed in Heidelberg toured the Gucci factory, each of them leaving with a new Gucci bag and a Gucci belt buckle for their husbands.


How in China, the wives were served only one beer when drinking at a bar and how every bottled Coke had a different taste, leading the wives to conclude that they were concocting pseudo-Cokes in the back room and pouring them into Coke bottles.

The woman was a font of stories about Greece, Barbados and the bogs of Ireland, a country that appealed to her for its food, music and scenery.

As many trips as Mr. Wright has under his belt, he couldn't begin to compete with a woman who can boast of traveling to Estonia and Newfoundland.

As for her souvenir advice? "Refrigerator magnets! They don't take up room and they look great on your fridge." Spoken like a woman who's learned that memories are the best reminders of life adventures.

Her company was so charming and her enthusiasm for life so engaging, it wouldn't have mattered if the food had been bad, but it wasn't.

My crabcakes got high points for the lack of filler and that they were griddled, not fried, while the toothsome vegetable melange of carrots, green beans and onions accompanying the crab was perfectly cooked and seasoned. A special of grilled lemon pepper rockfish  got high marks from Mr. Wright and several others who'd chosen it.

It is bigger rockfish season, after all.

Come dessert time, Holmes' family was as different from mine as could be, meaning that only 2 of 16 ordered it, while I didn't hesitate to ask for a slice of chocolate pecan pie and offer to share.

What's a birthday celebration without sweets anyway?

By the time we got home, photos of the fun had already been posted to Facebook and there we were, smiling with the most well-traveled woman I've ever met. That she only wears dead women's clothing makes her even more of a role model to me.

Where we differ is I might've promised away my grocery money indefinitely for the chance to have an Italian mosaic and worried about the details only once I was back in the kitchen.

I'm going with the theory that no adoring man would have let such a charming woman starve to death. Not when great travel partners are so hard to find.

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