Though my exterior was transformed, I felt like the same girl as I rang the doorbell at the Acardis’ home. Waiting for the door to open, I clasped my hands in front of me like a schoolgirl, then reminded myself to drop them to my side in a more relaxed pose.
The same girl – I remembered her name was Natalie – answered the door. She had to be one of the Acardis’ children; she looked surprisingly like her father, definitely more Italian than Polish. “Hello, Natalie,” I said. “Is your mother home?”
The girl raised an eyebrow and gave me the same appraising once-over her mother had given me. “Of course. You were invited, weren’t you?” She turned and walked down the long entryway toward the patio.
Feeling foolish, I followed her.
The house was just as dark as it had been on the day of the barbecue. Apparently, the luncheon was to be outside as well. I was glad I’d worn the sunglasses.
The patio appeared considerably changed from the last time I had seen it. The barbecue was covered and pushed against a far wall, the bar and the piano were nowhere in sight, and a rectangular table covered by an umbrella was just outside and to the left of the French doors that opened from the house. The table was already surrounded by four women; there were six chairs in total. I was apparently late.
“Ah,” said Mrs. Acardi, standing from her position at the head of the table, “Kathleen. So glad you were able to join us today.” She walked over and air-kissed me on both cheeks. She was wearing a pale pink chiffon dress that was very similar to the lavender one Jane had rejected the day before. As I glanced at the other women, a lump of cold misery congealed in my stomach. I was painfully overdressed for the occasion. I formed my lips into a smile and told myself not to bite them out of shape.
“Thank you for inviting me, Mrs. Acardi,” I managed as Grace pulled me forward and introduced me to the other women.
“Please, call me Grace. Kathleen DeLucia, I’d like you to meet Lucinda Briggs, Dinah Marquette, and Alice Ford.”
Somehow, I kept my jaw from dropping to the floor. I recognized all of these women’s names from the society pages of the newspaper; Jane and I used to read the articles found there with our best hoity-toity voices. These women were married to some of the richest men in the state. “Pleased to meet you,” I said.
“Kathleen is the wife of a shrewd young businessman my husband knows.” Not only did she know my given name, but she also had deftly covered the fact that my husband was just a club manager. “Natalie, honey, bring Mrs. DeLucia a drink, will you?” To me, she said, “A Bloody Mary is fine, right?”
I nodded and sat down. With the exception of Alice Ford, all of the women were wearing sunglasses, so I left mine on. It was a relief not to have to worry about the others seeing the fear I knew my eyes would betray. A moment later, Natalie set a tall glass of what looked like tomato juice with a stick of celery in it in front of me.
“Your dress is lovely, Kathleen,” said Dinah Marquette. “Very chic.”
“Thank you,” I answered. Like the others, she was dressed in a summery pastel frock. “Yours is beautiful.”
“Oh, this old thing? It’s going to the charity tomorrow. I just wanted to wear it one last time. Time to make room for the winter clothes, isn’t it?”
The others nodded in agreement. I couldn’t imagine throwing out clothes to make room for more. I owned a grand total of ten dresses, including this one.
Grace rescued me, either by design or by coincidence. “Well, ladies,” she said, “I don’t know if Agnes will be joining us or not. She telephoned to let me know that she had a prior engagement for earlier today and wasn’t sure she’d be able to attend our meeting.”
“That’s a shame,” Lucinda said. “Agnes always has the best ideas.”
I was beginning to suspect this wasn’t just a luncheon; I had no idea why I’d been invited.
“As you are all aware, last year’s fundraiser didn’t quite meet the projected budget. As a result, we were forced to cut a few of the social programs that had been planned. Tony was particularly sad about the elimination of the ethnic nights. For him, they were some of the most memorable events of his childhood.”
“Honestly, Grace. My husband says we shouldn’t be encouraging people to retain their allegiance to the country they came from. They are in America now. We should encourage their homogenization into American culture instead. Cutting that program was the wisest decision we made last year.” Alice Ford spoke these words, but, clearly, Lucinda supported her. Dinah seemed to be leaning that way as well.
I took a sip of my drink and it burned my throat, causing me to cough.
“You disagree?” Alice asked, raising an eyebrow at me. Everyone turned to look at me.
“Um…no,” I said glancing at Grace, who knocked her sunglasses down so that I could see her eyes. “What I mean is…” I wondered what Tommy would say about this – I’d trusted his opinion on the news of the day for years. Francis never really said anything about world affairs. “Well…I think that…just because people come to America for a better life, that doesn’t mean they should have to forget where they came from.” I remembered Francis saying something about root beer when he came home – he hadn’t been able to get any root beer in Europe. “Just imagine – you arrive in a new country. No one speaks your language – you have to learn theirs. No one serves the foods you grew up eating – if you want them, you’d better learn how to cook them yourself. Even though you know you made the right choice to move here, you’d be homesick, wouldn’t you?”
Lucinda clucked and sighed. “If you’re prone to homesickness, shouldn’t you just stay home?” Alice and Dinah laughed politely.
I looked down at my drink and took another cautious sip.
Grace answered for me. “So, Lucinda, are you saying that your ancestors brought nothing with them when they fled religious persecution is England?”
“Just the clothes on their backs,” she said proudly.
“And of course they adopted the culture that was already here, right?”
Lucinda stared at Grace for a moment before saying, “I see your point, but our culture is considerably different from the Indian culture my ancestors encountered.”
“Yes,” Grace chuckled, “we’re more prejudiced and less accepting.”
Alice stopped the argument: “Shouldn’t we raise the money before we fight about the programs?”
“Point taken, Alice. So, let’s get down to business, as my husband would say.”