Saturday, August 02, 2014

Lessons from Mrs. Goodfellow

When I was in college, I spent summers waitressing in a perfect, perfectly charming historic inn in Maine.

One of the delights was to be assigned to a table of summer "residents" -- guests who came to stay at the hotel for a month or so, who had been coming to the inn for decades.  One of these was Mrs. Goodfellow.

True to her name, she was a delight to be around.  Just taking her order for breakfast or dinner was a lesson in grace, old-school courtesy, and a pinch of old-girl mischief.  A spry octagenarian, she was my lifetime role model.

Her birthday was August 3, and somehow, I always remembered it.  The dining room in those days was low-key and tables were covered in ancient white damask, and the atmosphere was genteel and calm, with the most beautiful view of Somes Sound and Acadia National Park. Men in jacket and tie, ladies in dresses. Mrs. Goodfellow shared her table with another widow and a spinster, all from Philadelphia.  They were a jolly trio.  If you could look forward to serving breakfast (and I did) it was for those three ladies.

On my morning walk to work, I strolled past all the most beautiful Maine wildflowers.  So, for Mrs. Goodfellow's 83rd birthday, I picked her a bunch of lupine and Queen Anne's lace, black-eyed susans, added to a mass of of fragrant phlox and roses from our family's garden.  I arranged them artfully in a vase and set it at her place before she arrived for breakfast.

She exclaimed over the thoughtful gesture even more than was necessary, her luminous blue eyes shining, lighting up my day.

Sometimes being the giver of a gift is happier than being the on the receiving end.  That's certainly how I felt giving that simple bouquet to Mrs. Goodfellow.

The next week, after the flowers had faded, she returned the vase to me.  With a box of chocolates inside.  "Mother always said to repay a kindness with a kindness."

That was lesson #1.  A life lesson, and I have never forgotten it.

A few weeks later, I was about to depart Maine for France to begin my junior year abroad.  At tea time on the porch, as we sat chatting, Mrs. Goodfellow quietly slipped an envelope into my waitress pocket. Patting my arm, she said, with a twinkle in her eyes,  "Mother always said, 'When travelling abroad, take twice the funds and half the clothes that you think you'll need.'"

The wisest travel advice ever.

Thank you again, Mrs. Goodfellow.  And Happy Birthday.

4 comments:

Jay Livingston said...

This reminded me of Robert Klein's account of working at a Catskills hotel in the summer, except that after "hotel" and "summer," all similarity ends.

Anonymous said...

What a lovely example of how to live Mrs. Goodfellow was! Thank you for sharing this memory. Elisabeth

Anonymous said...


What an absolutely charming post, Mme. Polly.

Thank you so much.

Anonymous said...

She reminds me of one of my mom's friends. Just before I left for Paris at age nineteen, two things I learned from her, who was a most elegant, older woman with all silver hair, impeccably dressed in a subdued brown suit. First, she told me a story of being at a dinner, seated at a table of Frenchmen. One turned to her and told he how beautiful she was but she would be even more so if she dyed her hair. She looked at him and replied, "I would never dye my hair. Do you know why? Because each silver hair represents a good night." The table of Italians next to her overheard, cheered and pulled her to their table. She also told me never to do anything she would not do. After my mother left the room, she told me she'd done everything. May we all live so well. (I have an almost full head of silver myself, now.)

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