My daughter and I traveled to Louisiana last week to empty the house, which has to happen before any work can be done. With the help of a hard-working crew and friends, this was accomplished in three intense days, book-ended by flights that had what seemed to be an unusual number of a parent or parents traveling with young children, ranging from babes in arms to children not yet old enough to be in school.
Which reminded me of the first air trip our family took, the summer of 1969. Our girls ranged in age from four to almost thirteen, and their wardrobes would probably raise eyebrows today. They wore dresses with matching coats and hats, carried purses in gloved hands, as did I, because at that point in time, that’s what people wore when traveling by plane or train.
We flew to Atlanta, where we would take the girls to Six Flags Over Georgia. After checking into a Howard Johnson near Six Flags, we got in our rental car and searched for a place to have dinner. We ended up in downtown Atlanta, which looked like a ghost town, and where our search seemed fruitless. Until we spotted a man on the sidewalk, asked him if there were a restaurant nearby, and were told that The Midnight Sun was only a block away. “It’s on the ground floor of the atrium,” he said. So off we went, the girls still in their traveling clothes, as were their father and me.
The minute we walked in we knew this was a high-end restaurant, one where children rarely dined. But we were all hungry, this bird was better than one in an unknown bush, and so we approached the maitre ‘d, who showed us to a corner booth. At that moment a strolling string instrument quartet began playing, and I watched the girls’ faces light up. Clearly, this was going to be a very special night.
The boy who brought us bread even before our waiter arrived admired our eldest daughter, showing his interest by keeping our bread basket full even after our food came. Only when we picked up the menus did we realize we were in a Swedish restaurant: now, added to the lateness of the hour, the fatigue of a long day, and excitement of going to Six Flags was strange food. Not a very optimistic situation.
Our waiter, however, proved to the soul of patience and a child lover to boot. He made adjustments to the menu, suggesting grilled fish with no sauce, creating salads the girls would enjoy, and generally making ordering a much less complicated experience than we’d expected. We hadn’t expected such a long wait, but then chefs in high-end restaurants can’t be pressured into short cuts.
The basket of bread helped, as did the string quartet, who played several selections at our table, a huge diversion while we waited for our food. Which was beautifully presented and superb. We had a traditional dessert I don’t remember, but which was enthusiastically received. Then came the high point of the evening. The maitre ‘d came to our table and congratulated us on our children’s manners. “I was naturally doubtful if they would be happy in such a place,” he said. “But obviously, they have been taught well.” Words like these will keep parents going for a long time!
The next morning was a different story. I ordered breakfast from room service, because it was easier than going out. The girls ordered pancakes, and when they arrived, I was surprised to see them on rough cardboard plates. Plastic cutlery, paper napkins–. Our accommodations were comfortable, the staff seemed competent, so I couldn’t understand why their food wasn’t served on china plates. I called the desk to inquire, and was told that when they realized that guests who had room service made off with the china, glassware, napkins and cutlery, they had to change to disposable items. I still remember my somewhat naive shock that people would steal such things.
Six Flags was a huge success, and the next morning, after a meal at a Waffle House down the road, we flew to Columbia, SC, where friends of ours had moved. They had three children equivalent to the ages of three of ours, and we looked forward to a reunion. After that, we planned to go to Charleston, but there were riots there, and so we decided to go to New Orleans instead. We booked connecting rooms at the Monteleone, and the next morning, I ordered breakfast from room service. The girls were in our room when our food arrived, and they watched in wonder as two waiters pushed two linen-covered tables with flowers and domes covering plates of hot food , along with silver pots of coffee, milk, juice, and a covered basket with biscuits, beignets and cinnamon rolls.
As the waiters removed the domes with flourishes, one of the younger girls said, “Oh, Momma, now I know why you don’t like the Howard Johnson.”
The waiters laughed and the older one said, “Little Missy, your Momma has good taste.”
That trip had many wonderful moments that I can revisit in memory, but the one I just described is the one that always makes me smile.