Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Women's Annual Floral and Tea Event

You can imagine my surprise when I received an invitation in the mail to speak at the Women’s Annual Floral and Tea Event. Being literally inundated with requests to speak publicly—in my lifetime, I’ve received a total of one and this was it—I jumped at the chance.
I was especially excited to read that four of the women attending had read my newspaper column. Assuming the other women, who would be there had never heard of me, my hope was to increase my fan base by reading an excerpt from my latest attempt at a romance novel, Shipwrecked In A Dry Dock.  
In addition, the invitation specified formal attire. That stirred up visions of attractive women dressed in long beautiful flowing dresses with their eyes focused on me, so I decided to wear a tuxedo.
Then I read the postscript. The Women’s Club was offering to pay up to $50.00 to cover all of my traveling expenses. That changed my vision to one where I'd be speaking at a nursing home where none of the residents had purchased gasoline since 1964 when regular was 24 cents a gallon.
After driving two and half hours, asking for directions twice, I arrived at the address I had been given. The home of Mrs. Lillie Mae Cottingham could have been in the movie Gone With The Wind. When I was escorted to her back yard, I was shocked to see ten round tables draped with pressed white cotton linen table cloths. Eight chairs wrapped with green bows circled each table. Atop each table were fine China plates separated by silver place settings that had been polished so much the sunlight reflected off them like  streaks spewing from from a super nova. A florist could have retired on Martha’s Vineyard from the proceeds he earned from all the flowers displayed on the tables, and around the cobble stone patio.
It didn’t take me long to realize I had not arrived at a nursing home. When I was announced by the young women, Lillie Mae's granddaughter, who escorted me to the back yard, I feared Lillie Mae might have a heart attack when she saw me dressed in a purple claw-hammer tuxedo I wore when I played the character Seefer Settlemyer at the local playhouse theatre, where the entire audience, comprised of eighteen people, gave us a sitting ovation. Instead, the women in her late seventies, welcomed me to her home with a youthful looking smile.
When the time came to give my speech, Lillie Mae introduced me as the young man who wrote the obituary column for The Langley County Weekly Newspaper. She was going way back. In those days, I was sixteen and one of three employees at the antiquated newspaper office. Since no one was dying in those days, at least not in Langley County, I made up fake obituaries. Mr. Morgan, the owner and editor of the weekly newspaper, read one of them and came up with the idea for a column under my name. After the first one was published, circulation of the four page newspaper went up twelve percent, an increase of thirty-eight subscribers. My newspaper career ended at the age of 17, when Mr. Morgan died peacefully in his sleep one night. My column and the only real obituary I ever wrote were buried along with him.
I wish I could say I received a standing ovation for my speech, but the truth is I didn’t. The ladies remained seated and clapped politely. What I did receive was far more meaningful. I was invited to come back, when my book is published, if I promised not to wear that atrocious outfit I had on.   


  1. Any publicity is good publicity. I'll bet the gals in Lillie Mae's bridge club are still a-twitter!

  2. I googled "purple claw-hammer tuxedo" and one of the first results was your blog. =) But it didn't answer my question: What is a purple claw-hammer tuxedo?

  3. For over two decades, beginning in the 1830s, the tuxedo tails were the day to day attire of the men. During that time, tuxedo tails were known as the 'claw-hammer'.

    The color purple was probably not the color of choice back in the 1830s, but the color a character like Seefer Settlemyer wears in a comedy stage play.

    Thank you for that question, Rain.

  4. I see! The claws on a hammer do look like coattails.
    Obviously, those ladies don't have very good taste. Purple is my favorite color. (Well, it's tied with black.)

    Thanks for answering, Jack!