This was also published on Lindy’s personal blog “Books, Coffee, and Pizza.”
Last weekend, I was invited at the last minute to a fancy-schmancy, alumni-hosted dinner party at a forest lodge that is a getaway for the rich and famous.
I said yes. Obviously. It felt like a last-minute Cinderella story.
After panicking about what to wear, borrowing a shirt from a friend, and using safety pins to keep everything in place (honestly, bra straps are hard to hide,) I headed off with three of my fellow students. We drove five miles into the middle of nowhere, made a right, and drove three more miles before arriving at the front gates. (Yes, that’s right. This place had front gates.) They swung open slowly and creepily, rendered so by the fading light and too many movies and TV shows.
We drove at least another mile through snow-covered woods and found
ourselves at what can only be compared to a scene from a Brothers Grimm story: thickly-grown pine trees, a meandering brook, a main house surrounded by cottages, their lights glowing in the pitch dark. Stepping carefully so we didn’t slip, we made our way up a path to the main house.
After hanging our coats, we met our host, George, and his wife. He wore black pants, black shoes, and a black shirt and held a glass of red wine, taking a sip from it every once in a while as he made small talk with his guests, ten students who stood against the walls, trying to stay out of the way and laughing nervously every few moments in an attempt to alleviate the silence. Finally, he asked us to sit down and gave a before-dinner speech.
He was from a depressed coal town and didn’t have a whole lot of education. After a rough start to his college career, he graduated with a degree in business management. He worked his way up the ladder, beginning with odd jobs in nursing homes. He eventually ended up managing a few, and now co-owns a healthcare group that owns over sixty nursing homes in the US.
He sat down and the dinner started coming: five courses of succulent, tantalizing food. First was the one inch slice of buffalo (yes, buffalo), cooked perfectly on the outside and still pink on the inside. Then the soup. I don’t remember what kind it was, but it was creamy, and a perfect compliment for the bite-sized something or other that nestled inside. Next came the veal. Although I can’t 100% get behind the idea of veal, it was the best-cooked meat I’ve ever had: who knew meat could actually melt in your mouth?
I was seated across from George and made a little small talk with him throughout the meal. (I am terrible at small talk.) As it turned out, one of his first jobs out of college was at a nursing home in Harrisburg, PA, the city closest to my own small hometown. We swapped stories and experiences of the state capital. He told us about his tattoo and his car; he was still a small-town guy in many ways. He even told us a few of his own ghost stories. (Later, when I went to the bathroom, there was a tapping and I almost freaked out.)
Then came the entree. We had the option of either king salmon, filet mignon, or guinea hen. I decided to try something entirely new. Since I’ve had salmon before and am not a fan of steak, I decided to go for the guinea hen. It was salty, and sweet, and oh-so yummy served with asparagus and mushrooms.
As we ate our dessert (gingerbread souffle in an adorable espresso cup, the perfect combination of spicy and sweet and moist and crunchy) and I sipped my cappuccino, I thought about George and getting to know him a little bit throughout the evening.
Hearing his American-dream story was really inspiring, especially since I come from a similar background as him. The fact that he came from a small town and can now treat ten poor college students to a fancy dinner is awesome. I’m sure when he first stepped foot on our campus, he didn’t dream he would end up where he is now.
It makes me think of where I might end up some day.