Sunday, December 7, 2008

Tales of a Patriot Family

I want to share with you a favorite family story, as the inaugural post for a new section on this site: Tales of a Patriot Family

I think this story reflects a recent, yet bygone era in our society. I know we can't all throw... Well, I don't want to give the story away.
I would love to include stories that you, (members of my large conservative family of friends and relatives), submit for publication.
It is invaluable to record and share stories which keep us laughing and remind us of simpler and in some ways, better times.

Thanks for taking the time to read the story. I hope you enjoy it.


I could describe the Filet Mignon I ordered that night at Parc Stafford in glowing terms. I could tell you that it was the best meal I have ever eaten, and that the meat was a succulent cut of melt-in-your mouth glory. But in truth, while my food was delicious, it is the memory of my father’s order, as well as a most unexpected occurrence, that evening, which I shall forever savor.

Dad spoke often of "Stafford’s," upon his return from business trips to Philadelphia. He used a hushed tone. "That Lemon Sole, Christopher, you know it’s my favorite and Stafford’s prepares the freshest and sweetest I ever ate."

He brought home postcards depicting the restaurant’s grandeur. Mom magneted them to our refrigerator door. The postcards hung as a shrine to the majesty of Parc Stafford and served as a sort of delicious tease. For whatever our refrigerator contained could not approach the splendor I dreamed my taste buds would some day experience, while dining beneath one of those sparkling crystal chandeliers.

Mom and I were excited for weeks. Dad made our reservation well in advance, and I believe Mom confirmed it twice.

Dad picked up Mom and me in his brand new ‘79 Silver Cadillac Fleetwood. He had a single red rose for mom. She snapped off its stem and pinned it to her ample cotton shawl.

"You know Chrissie," my mom said, turning in her seat to look back at me, her eyes moistening, "when your father was a young man, I didn’t think he had a romantic bone in his body. And now I know that deep down under all that Navy Officer cha cha, was a true lady’s man. So, don’t you go hidin’ your heart from a girl until you’re fifty, provin’ you’re a tough guy!"
Mom scooched over and planted a big kiss on dad’s cheek.

"Stop that Shirl!", my dad yapped, batting at the soft pink lip mark. He knew without glancing in the rear view, she had stamped his cheek.

"We’re all gassed up folks. Sit back, make yourselves comfortable. I’ll have us there in a jiffy." .
Dad is a veteran of long destination car trips. To him the 2 1/2 hour drive from Harrisburg to the posh Phili suburb of Gladwyne, home to Parc Stafford, was a short haul. At twelve years old, it seemed a long ride to me, but my parents heard no complaints.

"Chrissie," my mom said, "here’s your napkin Honey." She placed the silky, pale gold napkin across my lap.

"Good evening, I am Girard. Cocktails, Hors D’oeuvres?" Our waiter impatiently snapped.
Like all of the servers at Parc Stafford, he wore a crisp, perfectly sized tuxedo. "Zirard" held his thin, delicate nose high in the air.

"Do you require additional time?"

My dad was busy studying his favorite menu, considering the appetizers.
With a flick of Girard’s pale, boney wrist he snapped my mom’s napkin open in mid-air and slung it across her lap.

"Well thank you, sir," my mom said, ever the good sport. " Fancy service here, Chrissie," she said, leaning in to me, smiling.

"Well Bob, what are we drinkin’ tonight, Hon?" Mom asked, deferring to my dad. He tended to choose their alcohol, always to their great satisfaction.
"Manhattans, Shirl."

"Sounds yummy, Honey" my mom replied, fluttering the lashes of her pale blue eyes.
Girard stood statue-still beside our table, his nose and order pad held conspicuously in the air.
"And a Shirley Temple for Chrissie here," mom said.
Mom and Dad got into a disagreement about my drink. Dad said Shirley Temples are for girls. Mom said it’s the same drink as a Rob Roy, which was the name dad used for this drink.
" Make it a Rob Roy, Girard," said Dad.
"Yeah and a cherry too sir," I added.
"Girard, bring us adults the escargot and our boy will love your onion soup, dad said."
"Sound good Christopher?"
"Great Dad."

Girard repeated our order, his accent and attitude, thickening.
"Yes, sirh, two Manhattans and a Rob Roy," Girard rolled his eyes, "and escargot and onion soup, sirh." He clicked the chunky heels of his black leather platform shoes together. And off to the kitchen Girard pranced.

"This fancy pants has never waited on me before. I’ve seen him here for years though," Dad said, looking as if something smelled rotten.
"Well Honey," my Mom said, intoning her deep, breathy Peggy Lee voice for flirtatious emphasis, "we got the only Frenchman in a restaurant that’s not French.
I love it!" Mom chuckled with excitement.

Friendly waiters and waitresses who’d waited on dad, came by our table to say hello. Dad proudly introduced Mom and me to each of them.
"It’s a pleasure to meet your lovely family Mr Cochran," said Adeline, one of dad’s favorites.

"This is just a beautiful place Bob." Mom stroked the petals of her rose corsage, "And a wonderful experience."
She looked over both shoulders, wide-eyeing our surroundings. "The woodwork...I love the music Bob. You know he’s playing tunes from Chorus Line, dear," Mom said, tapping her finger in the direction of the pianist.
"What I did for love..." Mom began to croon , pretty much on key with the music.
Dad smiled, "Well nothin’s too good for my family, Shirl."

"Chrissie," mom said, "You should thank your daddy for bringing us here. This is a special treat. Won’t your brothers feel like they missed out when they hear about this."
"Yeah, I guess the food at this place way beats summer camp cuisine. Thanks Dad."
Mom and Dad both laughed. I sure knew how to bring a smile to my parent’s faces.

Girard trotted over to our table. He positioned his order pad like a weapon, aiming it at us. And he fixed his gaze just above our eyes.
"Dinner selections?"
Undaunted by his attitude, Mom said, "Girard, you offer so many wonderful sounding choices here. She attempted to look him in the eye, to establish a connection with this man who seemed determined to maintain an air of superiority.

"Sirh?" Girard impatiently skipped over Mom.
"Now just a minute Girard," Dad said.
"Mermaid Girl, you’d love their Seafood Coquille." This was dad’s favorite pet name for mom who grew up in Delaware near the shore. She used to tell us kids stories of...A little girl named Shirl, who wore a fancy pearl, and whose heart belonged to the sea.

"Oh Bob, that sounds just wonderful," Mom said, rolling her shoulders with excitement.
"Now Christopher , would you like a steak?" Dad asked.
"Yes sir. In a fancy restaurant like this, I bet it’ll be the best steak I ever ate."
"Such a sweet boy," Mom said, as she combed her fingers through my thick, feathered hair.
"Cook the boy’s filet medium," my Dad commanded.
"Yes, Sirh."

"I see you’ve got my favorite dinner on the menu tonight," Dad said with a wide grin.
Girard placed his hand on his hip and cocked his head in a most unattractive way if to say Sirh, you who thinks he’s so clever, do enlighten me...I want nothing more than to know your favorite.
" That would be Filet of Lemon Sole, Girard."
"Yes, Sirh."

Girard reappeared with our first course. I dove my spoon right into the soup’s lid of golden brown cheese. A musky aroma rose from my bowl. "That’s stinkin’ good," I said. Girard shot me a nasty look.
"Oh Bob, look at these escargot. Why, they are the most beautiful we’ve ever been served," said Mom.
"Don’t look at them Shirl, eat em."
We ate in the silence that only good food could produce in my family.
I tipped my bowl, angling the last of my soup onto the spoon. Dad forked the final escargot over to the edge of Mom’s lips.
"Oh Bob, I’m getting full already, and with so much more to come. You have it."
"No protests Shirl, just enjoy."
Mom slipped the escargot off Dad’s fork and covered her mouth as she chewed.

"Alright. Here comes Fancy with the entrees," Dad said, as Girard approached.
Each entree was placed on our table, enshrined beneath a silver lid. Girard lifted the lids, unveiling our dinners. He announced each entree, his voice searing with attitude.
" Seafood Coquille,.... Filet Mignon,.... and of course, Filet of Sole, for the gentleman." Girard clicked his fancy heels together and hastened to the kitchen.

Dad studied his plate with a doubtful look. "This doesn’t look like any Sole I’ve ever seen.
He brought me the wrong order, Shirl. This is Flounder!"

Adeline, who was helping a party seated next to us, overheard dad. She said she would let Girard know there was a problem.

Girard came stomping out of the kitchen.
"Yes, Sirh?"
"This isn’t Lemon Sole. This is Flounder. I ordered Lemon Sole!" said Dad.
With great effort, Girard lowered his gaze from the ceiling down to dad’s plate.
"It is Filet-of- Sole, sirh, as you ordered" Girard clicked his heels.
"This is Flounder!" said Dad, his face reddening.
"No, sirh, it is Sole." heel click!
"It’s Flounder!"
"No, sirh it is FILET-of-SOLE." Girard gave his loudest heel click yet and turned to leave our table.
Dad stood... Grabbing hold of Girard’s tuxedo lapel, and shiny black belt, he lifted him several inches off the ground.
I remember seeing Girard suspended in the air, staring at the ceiling.
Then Girard’s eyes met mine in a moment of fright, as he came flying, together with our plates and glasses, across the table, toward mom and me..
Dad had aimed Girard in the space directly between us. He landed on the floor and skidded to a stop at the feet of another table of diners.

A few frozen moments followed the sound of shattering glass and gasping patrons, as everyone considered what they had just witnessed.
Girard was the first to break the stillness. He rose to his feet, brushing shards of glass from his tux with his server’s napkin.

Dad looked from his plate to Girard. "This is not Filet-of-Sole!"
"I will bring you Filet of Sole, sirh." Heel Click.

Mom’s forehead rested on the table and her hands were clasped before her. "Dear Lord, please don’t let them call the cops on Bob." She raised her head slowly, looking around.
"Bob, that was so rude."
For one heartbreaking moment I thought Mom was criticizing Dad for his handling of Girard. "He had it comin’ to him. You ordered Lemon Sole. He can’t treat people that way."

"Yeah Dad. You sure showed him," I said, a little frightened, but never prouder.

First one table stood. Then a second. Then all the others at once.
The chefs marched out of the kitchen. The servers stood at attention. And then all together we applauded dad. I think everyone in the restaurant, except for Girard, participated in the standing ovation.

Several servers came by our table and thanked dad. They said Girard had been awful to customers for years and no pleasure to work with either. Apparently nobody ever stood up to him. Not even the owner of the restaurant. "I think you taught him a lesson he won’t soon forget," Adeline said, with a smile.

"Filet-of-Sole, sirh." Girard placed the entree before my dad. The fish was presented more beautifully now, accompanied by a mini pear, sprigs of parsley and a half lemon in a small pouch.
"Now that’s what I ordered. I know Lemon Sole when I see it," said Dad.
"Enjoy it sirh."
Girard had a replacement Seafood Coquille and Filet Mignon, for Mom and me, as he had prematurely cleared our meals while flying across our table.
"No hard feelings Girard. I just expect to get what I order," dad said.
"Yes sirh." Girard clicked his heels and returned to the kitchen.

"How are your dinners?" Dad asked us.
"This Coquille is marvelous, Bob."
I held up my pointer finger and thumb together, in a gesture of perfection.
"How’s you sole Bob?" Mom asked.
"Just as fresh and sweet as ever, Mermaid Girl."

Returning to our table, Girard said "I hope everything is satisfactory? Madame? Sir?" His eyes met my father’s momentarily.
"Delicious. Just delicious, Girard," Dad assured him.

As we rose to leave, the pianist began to play Hail-to-the-Chief. Dad saluted him as we strode by. I took a careful last look around the restaurant, noticing details I didn’t want to miss; the funny flowered hat worn by the fancy old lady seated at a table in the far corner, the rainbow of colors sparkling from the largest of the crystal chandeliers, the respectful, parting nods of servers and patrons alike.

In the years that followed, dad returned to Parc Stafford many times and was always treated as a celebrity. Drinks were on the house and smiles were plentiful. His entree order was always anticipated. Adeline told dad that Girard was a lot more respectful to his customers, and even his fellow servers, thanks to him.

One balmy summer night on our porch, following a telling of this classic story to friends of our family, my Dad said to me, "Maybe I was a little tough on ole’ Girard, but like I’ve always told you son, sometimes you’ve got to fight for what you love, and Christopher, I sure love Stafford’s Filet-of-Sole."

By Christopher "Hollywood" Cochran