Max sat back on the chaise and looked up at the sky. “Cutlass and Bobo’s stories remind me of our family’s voyage to Europe on the RMS Queen Mary One. What a trip!”
Bobo and Cutlass had recently returned from an ocean cruise and we’d invited them over for cocktails to tell us all about it. When they left, Max and I returned to the terraza, to finish off the champagne and caviar canapés.
Max twiddled his moustache. “1958 was a lucrative year for Father in the hardware import / export business. He announced to Mother, Myrna and me that we would take a first class trip to Europe aboard the RMS Queen Mary One. So much for us all to learn!
“Of course, we were excited and, once on board, we had our own agendas. The by-gone beauty of the enormous ship impressed us all. Dad spent endless hours examining the ship’s marine hardware: bolts, rivets, screws, locks. Mother read on the deck chair, her legs covered with a wool lap rug she had bought in the gift shop. Myrna, at fifteen, enjoyed flirting with the young English stewards. At ten, I loved exploring the ship.”
Max took a sip of champagne. “She was old world and wondrous for a boy to investigate. I never tired of discovering new places.
“The swimming pool below deck in its own eerie, vast, dim salon was particularly fascinating. It was creepy swimming in the murky light, the ocean beating against the sides of the ship, but it was wild and thrilling, too. I spent a lot of time there.”
“Spooky!” I said, leaning back and taking the last canapé, “When was she built?”
Max had a dreamy look as he continued. “She made her maiden voyage in 1936 and reflected the upper class décor of the times, tasteful and regal: deep wine colored carpets; underwater scenes of shells, fish, seaweed on elegant frosted glass panels; polished brass fixtures; shiny wood paneling from materials gathered from different parts of the British Empire.
The main dining room had columns climbing three stories. But we preferred dining in the Verandah Grill with its casual rattan furniture and large ocean view windows.” He chuckled. “Once we even saw whales!”
I put my head back. “What was the food like?”
“On one of my safaris into the ship, I discovered the enormous kitchens. Of course, passengers were not allowed, but the chefs were friendly once they realized how interested I was. I watched real professionals slice, wedge, chop, julienne, pare, peel. It was more fascinating than a movie. The magical moment came when a chef took an ordinary tomato and with a few twists of his knife turned it into a rose. I fell in love with garnishing then.”
I filled Max’s glass, wanting to keep him talking. “Tell me about the meals.”
“Oh, do I remember! No buffets then, you ordered from the menu. The waiters were friendly and attentive.
“For breakfast: potato, egg, and bacon bake, buttered toast with jam, treacle tarts, hot chocolate. But I saved myself for the other meals.
“Lunch and dinner might be fish mousse, green turtle soup or consommé Garibaldi, grilled fish, grilled lamb chops, roast beef, beef bourguignon, poached salmon, lobster, prawns, roasted potatoes, potato dauphinoise, Yorkshire pudding, spinach timbales, cauliflower soufflé.
“Desserts included raspberry meringue pudding, Crepes Suzettes, Bird’s custard, Shrewsbury cake, ice cream.
“One special moment stands out. I had ordered Banbury cake, my favorite, and the waiter brought me a huge piece. “Wow!” I said. He broke formality, leaned down and whispered in my ear, “Enjoy, mate! Tuck in.”
“Tea time was my favorite: dainty crust-less finger sandwiches, asparagus tarts, scones with clotted cream, crumpets, lemon curd, biscuits, petits fours.
“I can’t remember everything – so much food! And, of course, digestive biscuits!”
“You’d need them!”
“After the meals, Father insisted we all ‘take a turn’ together around the deck to smell ‘bracing sea air.’ “ Max patted his tummy and inhaled.
“While Father and Mother walked ahead, Myrna pulled me aside, “Don’t you dare tell Father and Mother! Or else!” I knew she was sneaking to a rendezvous with some handsome steward and sooner or later she’d wind up in trouble with Father.
I leaned forward, “Did she?”
He nodded. “Dad caught her smooching in a dark hallway.” He giggled. “She was grounded for the rest of the voyage.”
“You tattled on me, Maxie!” She hissed, when she got me alone.
“I did not!” I insisted.
“But she never believed me. Sad thing. We never got along. And she always made fun of my love for garnishing.” He sighed. “Any more champagne, dear? I’m feeling a bit spent.”
I reached over and patted his hand. “Of course. Remember, we can’t get along with everyone we love. But you still have your memories of that wonderful trip!”
“Yes,” he said. “I got along better with Queen Mary than Myrna.” He chuckled. “And we still have Mother’s lap rug – a little moth eaten but I it means a lot to me.”
”Maybe we could have it made into a pillow? “I raised my glass. “To memories!”