by Jonathan Ferrini
It was a weekly treat for me to attend an elegant afternoon, “High Tea” at the beautiful “Mark Hopkins Hotel” after church services across the street. The “Mark” held a commanding view of San Francisco from its location atop Nob Hill, and it provided a beautiful view of the iconic bridge, bay, and city below.
I was always welcomed by my waiter, Franco, a fifty year employee, who reserved my favorite, long, green, supple, silk covered, chaise lounge, which included two long arms and a matching foot rest. With charm and grace, Franco would gently roll up a brass serving table with a glass top, displaying my assortment of English teas, finger sandwiches, and exquisite pastries. Franco always included a glass of sherry which often times induced an afternoon nap and dreams of our exotic travels as a family.
Across from my chaise lounge, was its “sister”--a beautiful, vintage, velvet, bright red sofa with gold leaf accents. It looked as if it had previously held a prominent place within the palace of Czar Alexander. The red sofa was so elegant that it appeared to be a museum piece and, only on occasion, would people sit upon it with reverence. Both furniture pieces were handcrafted at least one hundred years earlier. I always admired people with an appreciation for fine furniture who would photograph and admire the beautiful red sofa.
We were situated in a quiet corner of the magnificent hotel lounge where I could sit alone with my memories, nap, or watch the hotel guests come and go. My heart was always warmed by watching a young mother introduce her daughter to High Tea, reminding me of my precious moments with my daughter, now grown with a lovely daughter of her own, attending Stanford.
Franco wore his spotless, white waiter’s jacket, white shirt, black bow tie, pressed black trousers, and shoes shining like mirrors. Franco put two children through college working at “The Mark” and was the last of a dying breed of professional waiters. He felt like family and treated me like royalty, greeting me as “Madame,” and always nearby at my beck and call. He remembered the many private dinners my husband and I shared, our anniversary celebrations, birthdays, and lavish New Year’s parties we hosted. He was careful to remind me of these precious memories because it always brought me tears of joy, albeit, bittersweet, now that I’m elderly and alone.
The chaise lounge and I became friends because I believed it had a soul. Its arm rests were like the embracing arms of a loved one, comforting me as I reflected upon my long life as a depression-era teenager, soldier’s wife, mother to a beautiful grown daughter with an equally beautiful granddaughter, and a handsome son killed in Vietnam, whose untimely, and unnecessary death, left an open “wound” within my heart. We had a comfortable life in San Francisco and managed quite a bit of international travel as my husband was transferred around the world in the course of his business. We fell in love with San Francisco and decided to make it our home when we retired.
I often fell into a deep sleep within my chaise lounge, and awoke to find a blanket carefully placed over me by Franco, and a plush pillow beneath my head. I had a dream that my departed husband was calling for me from the opposite side of our home, as was his custom. I hadn’t dreamed of my husband for decades, and surmised, I was being called to “join” him shortly. I welcomed the day when we might be reunited in the afterlife. I missed him, dearly.
I was ninety years old and watched my friends die over the years. Except for church and periodic visits from my daughter and granddaughter, I lived a reclusive life but was content.
I returned one Sunday afternoon for High Tea to find the entire hotel lounge had been remodeled. I walked about, hurriedly looking for my chaste lounge and it’s “sister,” the red sofa. I believed that I might have entered the wrong hotel until I was met by Franco.
“Franco, what happened to the lounge? Where are my chaise lounge and the red sofa?”
“The hotel management remodeled the lounge last week to attract younger guests. I miss the old décor, as well, Madame.”
“Where did the chaise lounge and red sofa go? Perhaps, they’re in storage? I would like to purchase both immediately!”
“The work was completed during the overnight hours so as to minimize our guest’s inconvenience, but I will inquire on your behalf, Madame.”
The General Manager, a young Swiss hotelier, soon thereafter approached me, apologizing,
“I’m sorry Madame but the previous furnishings were taken away by a moving company to an undisclosed location at the behest of our interior designers, who don’t have any further information on their whereabouts.”
The General Manager and Franco knew I was heartbroken by the loss of my favorite chaise lounge and its “sister” sofa. They provided me with a beautiful Queen Anne chair adjacent to the fireplace, and graciously provided my “High Tea” at no charge.
I considered my favorite furniture as friends, and was thankful for the privilege of knowing them. I prayed both the chaise lounge and red sofa met a beautiful fate, perhaps displayed with honor in a vintage furniture shop, soon to be purchased, hopefully together, and appreciated by new owners for decades to come? If I knew which store, I’d immediately purchase them both and move them into my Pacific Heights home.
At ninety, I had grown accustomed to losing friends and loved ones, but the loss of two inanimate, beautiful, vintage, furniture pieces, providing only comfort, never the pain and sorrow humans mete out, devastated me. I dreaded the thought they may be sitting in a landfill, slowly decaying, like an elderly woman. I prayed they did in fact, have souls, and would fondly remember the many guests they comforted, including me.