I didn’t come from a wealthy family, but happened to live across the street — oops, road, because we were never permitted to call it a “street” — from one very wealthy lady. She was a memorable woman who had the economic recourses to build what she called was a white Connecticut farm house, breezily overlooking the fact that it was on Staten Island in New York.

Lovely place. She even stocked it with bucolic-looking animals behind which she never had to walk with a shovel — staff was available for that. These creatures grazed around the grounds as if out of a Grandma Moses painting while the lady of the house sat above on her lanai, sipping tall drinks from beneath huge summer straw hats, sometimes crowned with real flowers from her picking garden.

Her name was Alice V. Remington, and she was most assuredly to the manor born. No one ever checked her background. No one ever dared question The Lady Alice. She claimed she was once one of the Queen’s Ladies in Waiting, but it must have been the Queen Mum — a bit of a stretch because I don’t know that they ever took on Colonized Yanks, but it made for a very good story.

But Alice was remarkable — beautiful, graceful and impeccable from sculpturally coiffed head to perfect shoes. She entertained at high tea every afternoon at 4 p.m. sharp. And if one did attend, one did it properly or one didn’t bother to show up.

I recall once, when my sister and I were summoned for the famous high tea, when my poor sibling very nearly fainted into a cold heap onto Mrs. R’s GEN-U-INE hand-knotted Persian carpet in her elegant garden room. The reason: I left my spoon — oh gasp and choke — sticking up from the cup when I stood up to go to the loo.

My dear sister’s face got positively chalky and she kept gesturing wildly with her head and glaring at me, eyes rolling from my face to the teacup. I finally said, “Sister dear! Are you having some sort of seizure?” I was that concerned. Eventually I figured out the source of her angst and pulled the offending spoon from the cup and clattered it to the saucer. Seriously. She was that horrified. I’ve never seen such batty drama.

Alice’s daughters all Came Out at what was, I think, the Waldorf-Astoria (wherever it was, you had to drink your teas and lemonades with your gloves on and they got wet and gross and eventually became quite grey). The débutantes at their Comings Out wore long white strapless dresses that scraped their tender chests quite cruelly. Meanwhile, the boys, all potentially good-catch husbands, sweated horribly in white tie and tails, none having marriage on their minds at that party or at that age, although that was the original centuries-old strategy behind those dreadful assemblages.
I recall seeing Lady Alice at a dinner party to which my presence had been requested — Goddess knows why — at the Richmond County Country Club on Staten Island. She had picked up a soup bowl (a bowl, not a soup plate, mind you — it’s important to remember that), and went to drink most of the soup from it.

I well recall staring with horror at that dignified, beautiful grand dame, and finally blurting rather too loudly, “Mrs. Remington! Are we allowed to DO that?”

She looked at me with that haughty, icy, I-must-be-kind-to-the-lower-classes-no-matter-how-difficult-it-is smile only she could manage, and opined in her silky, upwardly-mobile voice that in fact it is allowed, but of course only if the soup bowl has two handles. Two. It did.

Handles? Who the bloody hell makes up these addle-brained rules? One can slurp from a bowl like a thirst maddened mule as long as the trough has two handles on it? Please, where is the logic in that?

But there you have it. I can look up the handles rule in my old Emily Post book, but it’s been holding up the back corner of an ancient cabinet of ours for years. It was just the right size for propping when that leg got kicked off by a sullen teenager who has our last name, and there it remains. The book, that is. The teenager grew up and moved out.

Anyway, I figure if Alice Remington can drink from a soup bowl with two handles, then we mortals can as well. And since Mrs. R. has died — she managed to frost people, but kindly, of course, for 103 years — I think the rules can be bent a bit and that we can with no shame suck up soup from a bowl with no handles whenever we damned well please. But maybe with just a tiny homage to the remarkable, indomitable, one of a kind, never to be seen again and very classy Alice V. Remington.

LC Van Savage is a Coastal Journal contributing writer. She can be reached at [email protected].