Wednesday, February 29, 2012

New Beginnings - Hard Times - Old Memories

As I write about new beginnings on this Valentines day I can't help but think back to the first Valentine after Marc had died. I came home from work and found that my children had set the dining room table with all white dinnerware, red napkins and cut out red hearts all over the table. It was their way of wishing me a “Happy Valentine”; it was the best surprise ever. I can’t remember what was served for dinner but what ever it was I will never forget the love they all showed me with doing this surprise for me. Today all my children and their families are scattered all over the country and abroad. However they do remember me on this day.

There were many new beginnings after Marc died. Perhaps going back to 1976 is the right path to take.

The morning after Marc’s death I received a call from our Attorney. John called to offer me the job as general manager for the Graduate Club in New Haven Connecticut, a very prestigious dining club for members only.

I had to interrupt John in his offer by saying, “John, John, Marc died last evening.” Total silence followed my outburst. You see John was not just our Attorney; he also was a good friend of ours. John responded by saying, “I’ll talk to you later.”

At that point I was at loose ends. My Father was still with us and my friend, Marie, invited me to her home in Davenport, Iowa for a few days to get my bearings back. I decided to go and to this day I regret having done that. It was selfish. I did not think about how our children also were grieving the loss of their Father. I left the children in good faith with my Father, only to find out after two days that he went on a drinking binge. Yes my Father did that all his life once, sometimes twice a year. I was so devastated and took the first flight back to Connecticut.

Steven, my 13 year old son, took over taking care of his grandfather. Rodmond, always the domestic one, made sure that everyone had meals and got to school on time. Rodmond was 16 years old. Neal went along with everyone and Walter, the oldest, finally came back into the house. I had been told that he just became very aggressive and wanted all of his siblings to mind him.  He assumed the role of big brother, father, even “husband”.   He meant well but it became worrisome.

I can’t recall how Paul coped those first two weeks, sad but true. Here I was a new widow with seven children and I had a hard time holding it together. On the surface I did, but once I went to bed I fell apart. Heidi and Kurt just wanted their Father back.

 I had no job; however I did have two offers!!  Getting a job was priority.  I did receive social security for the children but not for me - according to the Government I was too young.

 I went and met with our Attorney John, and the board of governors for the Graduate Club.

The other offer was to become a working partner in a new restaurant in New Haven, Connecticut (I believe I wrote about it a blog or two back). It was very tempting but income would depend on the success of the restaurant. I was not in a position to take that chance. You guessed it, I took the GM at the Graduate Club and it was a very good decision. I could be home in the afternoon when the children came home from school. Some evenings I had to go back to work, but at least I was home when the kids all got home. I have always believed that the first ten minutes after children get home from school are the most important ones - after that they all start to do their own thing.

 The Graduate Club became another one of my career success stories. In the three years as GM at the club I raised membership by close to two hundred members. Yale Medical School/ Department became one of our monthly regular dinner or lunch functions, as well as Attorneys, and Judges who all had their dinner meetings or lunch meetings at the Club.

The majority of the Club membership was male. To become a member you had to have at least a bachelor degree, better yet be a lawyer or Dr. My staff and I worked very hard to promote the Club so that more woman would become members. The membership fee was not outrageous.

Sigrid & Vincent at the Graduate Club
Vincent, the Chef, was with the Club for 15 years and his wife almost as long. He wanted to be called Vinnie. After about ten days on the job I called Vinnie to my office. I really liked him and did not want to loose him but things had to change with his cooking – menus and food cost. As diplomatically as I could (I have always been known for being very blunt), I told Vinnie he cooked like a bored housewife. Oh boy, the words out of his mouth were all in Italian, which thankfully I did not understand! He then looked at me and said, “I am leaving.” Well, that kind of shook me up.

Now remember, I am a woman and somewhat a pioneer in the restaurant, kitchen and business. I just let him go. I was ready to get into my whites and go into the kitchen and cook with the sous chef. Lunch was just a couple of hours away. As I was changing, Vinnie came back to my office and said, “Mrs. Holland you know you are right.” I went with him into the kitchen and worked side by side. Vinnie was a quick learner and open to a new lighter cuisine. We developed new menus, and changed them every week. Needless to say the lighter menus and cooking became a great hit with the membership. You see, you can teach an old dog new tricks. Vinnie, his wife and I developed a great working relationship.

This change helped increase our membership as well as the frequency of events like weddings and bar-mitzvahs.

I recall one of the bar-mitzvahs which was sponsored by a member for his friend’s son; the client was not a member. I put a menu together in hopes it would be accepted and it was. We discussed which of three dining rooms would be used as well as flowers, traffic flow and table settings along with the set up for the buffet. The father of the client, Mr. Evans, was concerned and said to my client, his son, “Are you sure this German woman knows how to put a bar-mitzvah together?” My client Bob assured his father that I know how and I am the best of the best.

The bar-mitzvah was a beautiful and successful event. Vinnie outdid himself. The food was cooked to perfection and the buffet was so beautiful with whole fruit and vegetable decorations in baskets.

Later that evening I received a little package from Mr. Evans senior.  In it was a beautiful hand mirror and $500.00 in cash with a thank you note telling me how happy his grandson was with his bar-mitzvah. It brought tears to my eyes. I shared the money with my staff.

I could tell you a lot of stories about the events at the graduate Club but that would take   days, ha, ha. One story I like to share is when George H. W. Bush was in New Haven campaigning for President. He was traveling in an RV which was set up as an office. I used to get this ESP vision, sometimes I still do. I had this vision that Mr. Bush was sitting in the oval office which I told him when he came in for lunch that day. He responded by asking, “Will I be the President?” I had to say that I did not know but I know he will work in the White House. He said, “I hope you are right.”  He did become Vice President and President. It was humbling. I received a note after the election to thank me for the heads up. Of course it became a buzz in New Haven which is why I rarely mention to anyone when I do have a premonition.

On the home front things did not go so smoothly. At the dinner table the kids would forever squabble over everything and nothing, it was heartbreaking and infuriating. I finally called a friend who is a Physiologist to help with the kids’ grieving process. The one thing I remember most is he said, “The family is like a wheel with spokes and one spoke is missing and they want it filled no matter what or who will fill it. Grades fell and homework was skipped. At one point I pulled them all together and said, “Okay you do not want to learn and do your best, fine; it will hurt you more than me when you become an adult. With no education how will you support yourselves?”  Some of what I said sunk in but not all. The two youngest Kurt and Heidi were studious. Kurt was more into art than learning math. Learning was easy for Heidi, Neal and Steven. Heidi liked school. In the end, Walter and Neal got their GEDs at 17 and dropped out of the last year of High school. It was upsetting to me, but I will not go into their reasoning right now.

I recall Heidi being at odds sometimes and she had a very close friend, Andree. Heidi spent a lot of time with Andree and her family, it gave Heidi some security. Our home life was disjointed at the time so I have always been grateful for Andree’s family.

Paul decided that he wanted to live in LA with my brother and sister in law. Paul moved
to LA for one year.

Rodmond, the most dependable of the clan, took care that the house did not get trashed while I was at work. He also did his homework and enjoyed school. I learned many years later that their friends would show up on the days I had to go back to work. However, Rod made sure that they were all gone and the house was back in order. Steven, the loner, also made sure that all was well. One day I came home and smelled marijuana.  Boy did I fall into a rage! I went on the search and found a large bag of marijuana in one of the boy’s bedrooms. I took it and flushed it down the toilet and threatened to call the cops if I ever again suspected any one of them smoking pot. My children knew I would do it too.

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