Le Beau Monde

Tonight Ron and Debbie H (my mission president) hosted an open house to celebrate their youngest son Matt’s recent marriage.  I went and had a great time.  It is always good to see the H family, and there were a few other former missionaries there, as well, so we were able to catch up.  I didn’t know anyone else, though, so I spent most of the evening wandering around the house and chatting with some of the other guests.  Here are some highlights:

First of all, the house was AMAZING!  I knew the H’s had built a new house last year and that Debbie was particularly delighted with it:  Said she when we had coffee last fall “I never thought of myself as a materialistic person, but I love my new house so much that I just want to stay home all day wrapped up in the curtains!”  Now I know why.  It’s an elegant estate in the French provincial style out in Potomac, Maryland (rivals Beverly Hills for the wealthiest zip code in the country).  There was valet parking for the guests and a pretty tree-lined allee leading up to the house.  The house opened into a two-story entryway with a curving staircase on the right, with an all-glass sun-room extending out to the back of the house.  From there the other rooms opened up one after another:  the living room, the formal dining room, the family room, the kitchen and breakfast room, and the library.  Oh, the library!  Richly paneled in wood, with a luxurious Turkish carpet on the floor, the bookcases rose two storeys.  The second storey was accessed by a narrow spiral staircase hidden in the wall.  There were bedrooms upstairs that were bigger than my entire apartment and a playroom that no doubt will secure the H’s a position as “favorite grandparents” for any grandchildren who come along.  My favorite elements upstairs were the window seats in the dormer windows:  full of cushions and pillows; perfect for reading.  Downstairs, there was an entire antique soda fountain, along with a movie theater (where JWM, of M hotels, was watching the Kentucky Derby), and a full-length indoor swimming pool with adjoining gym.  The poolroom, I thought, was particularly pretty, all in blue and white tile, with white columns and lots of ferns and other green plants.  It was the sort of house that you would expect to see in magazines — very beautiful and comfortable; a place you would want to come home to.  Exactly what you would expect from a family whose business is hospitality.

As for the people, the majority clearly moved in a sphere above my own.  These were high-powered businessmen and women; the moneyed class.  My little manual transmission Kia stood out among the Lexuses, Mercedes, and BMWs at the valet stand.  And everyone was very elegantly dressed.  Also very engaging.  One of the things that I love about this “beau monde” is the way people know how to behave at these sorts of parties.  For the most part, the people one meets are smart and interesting and generally interested in the other people they’re meeting.  And they have the manners and social skills to make it all work.  They graciously greet new arrivals, introduce them to the others in the conversation circle, and then move on to the next conversation so seemlessly that you hardly know it’s happened.  It’s fun, and it’s a skill that I wish I was better at (probably would have been, had I stayed at the Kennedy Center; the law firm isn’t so strong in the social skills department).

Two encounters in particular were enormously entertaining:

Scene 1:  I met Kourtney (Matt’s new bride) in the receiving line and discovered that she hopes to go to law school; I mentioned that I was a lawyer.  Kourtney then introduced me to her mother, saying that I had just finished law school and moved to the city.  I clarified that I’d been practicing for almost three years now. 

Kourtney:  Wait, how old are you?

Me:  31

Mother:  No way!  You look great!!  You look so young!

Kourtney:  You really do!  I would have guessed 25 at the most!!

Matt:   Yeah, Jason looks way younger than he really is.

I hadn’t realized that I’d already reached the age where “my you’re looking well” is the proper response.  But I’m not going to argue.  I’m proud to be a well-preserved 31-yr-old.

Scene 2:  I was walking through a corridor at the back of the house when two women in their late 50s or early 60s came through the other end.  I smiled and nodded as we passed but did not engage further.  One of the women, though, just kept looking at me, slowed and turned back toward me.

Woman 1:  What’s your name?

Me:  Jason [mentally racing — should I know her? does she think I’m someone else?]

Woman 1:  I’m Mrs. X.  Are you married?

Me:  No [whew! I’m not supposed to know her]

Woman 1:  Well, you’re very cute.  Did you know that my husband is the bishop of our church, and the only people who come are singles between the ages of 18 and 30?

Me:  I did not know that.  Which ward is it?

Woman 1:  You know it’s a ward!  [to the other woman, delightedly]  He’s already a member! [back to me] How old are you?

Me:  31.  So you see, it’s too late for me — I’ve already been kicked out of the singles ward.

Woman 1:  [dreamily] My daughter’s 31, too, . . . .

Woman 2:  [to woman 1] Now, now, you can’t go stopping strange young men and asking them if they’re married and how old they are.

Woman 1:  [to her companion] Of course I can.  [to me] You are very cute.  Tell me your name again?

And she walked off as if memorizing it.

* * *

It was a fun evening, but it also made me think.  It was a good reminder that there are whole worlds out there beyond the little circle of my daily experience.  This happened to be a particularly nice sort of world; one that I wouldn’t mind frequenting more often.  I don’t know how I’d get into it, although I suppose I’ve positioned myself pretty well to make a go of it if I decided that’s what I wanted.

It’s good to get perspective like this.  When I’m in the midst of the daily grind at work, it’s so easy to be caught up in, well, the grind, and to lose sight either of the things that I want in life right now (which might require a change in what I’m doing) or of the things that I want later in life (and which might require sticking it out for a while longer).  I don’t think I have it figured out yet — with “it” being what I want and how to get it.  But hopefully if I keep trying, I’ll figure it out someday.

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