TEA AT THE BILTMORE
by Maureen Mullis
There are many things in life that have changed since I was a girl. As a teenager my friends and I would grab a booth at Woolworth’s and over sodas and a shared plate of French fries we would discuss everything and anything that was going on in our lives. I remember my mother complaining that young women then had no refinements, no manners to speak of. I used to brush off her comments as my companions and I were living in the moment not seeing the need for the sophistication my mother longed to see in us.
But now, as I am well established in my golden years, I see what she was feeling. After an afternoon of shopping downtown I felt dismayed to find there was nowhere to relax and have some refreshment. Nowhere truly relaxing and gracious. It felt as if the center or our city wasn’t that different from the outskirts with its flashy fast food establishments or quick serve restaurants that specialized in sandwiches and booth service.
Although long dead, I could remember how my mother always preferred stopping at the tea room after an afternoon of shopping where she could relax and enjoy a cup of tea and some sandwiches and cake in an unhurried manner while she gathered her thoughts before heading home to her family. Today I found myself longing for the same thing.
But sadly, in today’s hustling and rushed lifestyle there seemed to be no such establishment. Making my way back to where I’d parked my car I passed by the old Biltmore Hotel. Mature and stately, the Biltmore had been around for as long as I could remember. It is the hotel of choice for elegant getaways, weddings and receptions and if one wanted to have a four star meal in their elegant dining room.
I looked up at it’s tall weathered structure remembering my own daughter’s lovely reception there and saw a sign advertising tea being served at four o’clock. Tea! Why that was just what I needed, and pushed open the doors to make my way inside.
It was everything I’d been longing for, and later as I sat sipping a final cup of tea and watching the patrons milling about something caught my eye. I turned and noticed the hand of a young woman strumming the table next to me, a large diamond ring on one finger winking at me as it caught the light.
“My goodness! What a lovely ring my dear,” I remarked to her.
Stopping her strumming she turned her hand so she could examine the ring and smiled.
“Thank you. I’m very fortunate to be getting married this evening,” she told me.
“Congratulations!” I cried. “And look at you, the afternoon before a wedding and so calm and relaxed having tea. You are a composed young woman. Are you being married here at the hotel?”
She shook her head. “Oh no. We’re being married at St. Matthew’s down the street. I’m here having one last rendezvous before we say our vows. You know,” she leaned over to look me in the eye, “you aren’t supposed to see the groom before the wedding. I came here so no one from the wedding or family would see us.”
I nodded my understanding. “Of course. Those old traditions must seem rather silly in this day and age.”
She shrugged. “Some of them. Although Gerald is rather a traditionalist. But I’m a very lucky girl.”
“I’m sure you are,” I smiled and began to gather my bags when a young man approached the table. The young woman rose and wrapped her arms around him and leaned in for a deep kiss.
“Are you ready for this?” he asked as she pulled away. She nodded and turned to retrieve her purse and glanced back at me.
“Here I go!” she said with a laugh.
“Good luck, my dear,” I said to her and turned to her young man. “Congratulations, Gerald. I hope you’ll be very happy.”
“Oh this isn’t Gerald!” the young woman said laughing at my confused expression. “Don’t you remember? Gerald is a traditionalist, and you aren’t supposed to see the bride before the wedding.”