An Excerpt from Uncle Anton

iStock_000001811220_MediumAs live-ins with a night-terror baby that even old Meemo couldn’t soothe, Mary felt compelled to participate as much as she could in the household maintenance. Tuesday was silver-polishing day. Wednesday was dusting. Thursday meant the crystal and windows. The main house dated from 1870. Everything was elaborately wallpapered. The wing additions came later. All of it with a baffling internal symmetry, due to separate stairwells, entrances, sleeping quarters, and facilities for the servants. Mary occasionally found herself lost in the wrong stairwell or hallway.

“Miss Mary, you could leave a trail of breadcrumbs,” Meemo suggested.

Meemo instructed Mary on baking K-bars and negotiating other domestic idiosyncrasies, such as how to execute the imperceptibly small faucet turns to adjust water temperature in the claw-foot bathtubs, and which of the thick, swollen doors required shoulder-shoves to open. Mary could not bring herself to tinkle the little porcelain bell on the dinner table to summon Meemo for the next course, despite Constance’s assurances that this was how it was done.

Meemo was the only servant in residence now. She oversaw a small day staff. They were kept busy preparing for the next big Wangert Public Relations party, or cleaning up from the last one.

The house, which loomed above the street from a small rise at the front of a double lot, was surrounded by meticulously trimmed yew hedges. A pea gravel path from the side screen porch meandered to the new bomb shelter, located among the walnut trees along the back alley. At first glance, the bomb shelter appeared to be a square, flagstone patio, carved out of the walnut grove. Flush to the ground at the south edge of the patio, a steel covering, somewhat like an old-fashioned cellar door, opened upward to reveal a marble stairwell. As Ward predicted, the bomb shelter served primarily as a wine cellar. One design flaw was the failure to anticipate the effect of walnuts falling from great heights onto the steel door, creating noise not unlike an artillery barrage.

Constance and Ward Sr. patriotically championed the new bomb shelter. Their parties commenced with guests strolling back into the walnut grove for cocktails and guided tours of the four richly appointed subterranean rooms.

Mary convinced Constance to implement some updating of other Wangert party traditions. They no longer separated the men and women after dinner. Young Ward Jr., white towel on his shoulder, personally indulged his bartending interest, shaking martinis and mixing drinks to order. Another innovation, thanks to Mary, was targeting invitations to select members of certain industries, such as real-estate and construction, rather than a random crop of prominent citizens.

However, Constance held to the traditional format of name card place settings and equal pairings of male and female dinner partners. Mary’s first attempt to invite Rusalka Jones failed because her husband was out of town and Constance did not have a bachelor gentleman available to seat with her.

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