As a special Mother’s Day treat, I’d like to share the first chapter of my book, The Mother’s Day Letter, with you! I hope you enjoy it, and remember to . . . “take a leap, let someone help you, share your heart, and sing your song . . .”
The Mother’s Day Letter
By Martha Fouts
Place cards? Yep, all tent-folded and precisely placed above the empty gold charger plates. Natalie touched the screen of her tablet computer with the stylus pen, checking place cards off the list.
Guest gifts? Check, right where they’re supposed to be, the pyramid of shimmering crystal jewelry boxes reflecting the light of the chandelier as planned on the cherry wood buffet against the back wall of the large banquet room.
Centerpieces on each round table? Check, Natalie should know she came in twenty minutes early just to water the clusters of white roses and hydrangeas perfectly arranged with Queen Anne’s lace and maidenhair fern in white ceramic French country pots.
Decorations on gift table? Yep, the spotless white wrinkle-free tablecloth (starched straight after forty-five minutes of Natalie steam-ironing it last night in her living room while she watched the evening news), huge centerpiece arrangement of more white roses and hydrangeas, and gold satin table runner were all perfectly in place. Check.
She checked the rest of her responsibilities off her list: gold organza chair shashes tied to every chair, pewter candleholders of various heights with white candles grouped in the center of the drinks table, the bride’s portrait prominently displayed on a wrought iron easel next to the French doors that separated this rented banquet room from the hotel lobby, and finally, the thorn in Natalie’s side of this whole bridal shower, a surprise gift to the bride from her future mother-in-law, the rich, connected oil-money wife who’s throwing this lavish shower, the blasted ice sculpture in the center of the room, a frosty likeness of the bride’s beloved Bichon Frise puppy, Lucy. Natalie rolled her eyes and touched the screen of her tablet with the pen. Dog ice sculpture. Check.
“Do you think she’ll bring the dog today?” Elizabeth wheeled in the appetizer cart overflowing with grapes, sliced melon, raw vegetables, humus, crackers, cranberry relish, and an assortment of cheeses.
“I hope not. That’s why I sent you that email, though. Did you get it?” Natalie asked with a raised eyebrow. Elizabeth is the best chef and caterer in Oklahoma City, and is an honest and pleasant business partner, but a few things about her drove Natalie crazy. One of those things is that she doesn’t check her email regularly. Natalie made it a rule to check her email at least four times a day.
“Not since last night. I’ve been so busy this morning with all of the last minute details.” Elizabeth explained as she sliced mushrooms at the omelet station. “What was your email about?”
Natalie swallowed the urge to tell her that she should always check her email the day of an event. She casually tucked a strand of her long brown hair behind her ear, hoping her irritation didn’t show.
“We have a Dog Emergency Plan.” Natalie found the plan she typed this morning on her tablet and handed it to Elizabeth.
Elizabeth giggled. “Aw, I was kind of looking forward to another doggie emergency. You’ve got to admit, Lucy made the photo shoot very exciting.”
Natalie shook her head as she recalled the day she and Elizabeth ran up and down the winding pathways of Myriad Botanical Gardens and the Crystal Bridge trying to keep Lucy from getting dirty, because the bride wanted her puppy in some of her bridal portraits, and Lucy had been groomed that very day for the pictures.
“Looks good.” Elizabeth handed Natalie’s tablet back to her and pulled a pack of disinfectant wipes out of her pocket and rubbed a towelette on her hands before she resumed filling the garnishings bowls on the omelet station. “The park across the street will be perfect if Lucy gets out of hand. Who’s Jackson though?”
Natalie nodded toward the concierge’s desk at the front of the hotel. “See the bellboy standing next to the concierge?”
Elizabeth’s clear blue eyes found the African-American teenager standing in the lobby in his clean and crisp hotel uniform.
“That’s Jackson. If we have any trouble, we get Jackson, and he’ll take Lucy to the park across the street. Of course, we’ll have to convince the doggie mama to let us take her furbaby away from her.”
Elizabeth laughed at Natalie’s nicknames for the bride and her dog. “I’ll let you do that. I think that responsibility falls squarely on the wedding planner’s shoulders.”
Ten minutes before the bride and her guests arrived for the bridal shower brunch, Natalie and Elizabeth stood at the French doors and admired their handiwork.
“I hope Mrs. Murphy likes it,” Elizabeth referred to the bride’s future mother-in-law, a social butterfly in all the right circles in Oklahoma City, who annually hosted some of the most coveted parties in the city. “Can you imagine if we got the opportunity to do her Jingle Bell Dinner?” Elizabeth grabbed Natalie’s hand and pumped it up and down. “That’s exciting, Natalie! Come on, you planning the most exclusive Christmas event of the season, and me catering it? Haven’t you thought about that?”
Natalie had done more than think about it. She had already started planning the Jingle Bell Dinner. She already had a portfolio full of sketches of room layouts, tablescapes, and color schemes ready for Mrs. Murphy to look at.
But Natalie didn’t say that to Elizabeth. All she would admit to was, “Let’s make this wedding shower brunch perfect, and then we can start thinking about future projects.”
After the omelets, speeches, and toasts, the gift table was laden with dozens of beautifully wrapped presents, and Mrs. Murphy approached Natalie. “Natalie dear, you did a beautiful job today. Everything was lovely.”
“Thank you Mrs. Murphy.” Natalie thought about Mrs. Murphy’s Jingle Bell dinner. The Jingle Bell Dinner would promote Natalie to an entirely new level of clientele – no more kids’ birthday parties with clowns in backyards.
“You certainly exceeded my expectations. When Shelby suggested I use you for the shower because you were planning her wedding, I was apprehensive. I have a party planner I’ve used for years who I wanted to use, but I thought I’d give you the chance.” The elderly woman patted Natalie’s hand, like she was a five-year-old. “I’m glad I did. You’re a sweet girl.”
Mrs. Murphy patted her hand one last time and returned to her seat next to her future daughter-in-law.
A sweet girl? Natalie fumed. A sweet girl? Planning an event like this had nothing to do with being sweet. It took hard work, attention to detail, organization, and –
Shelby’s sharp scolding interrupted Natalie’s thoughts, and Natalie looked to where it came from.
In the center of the room, next to her icy twin, Lucy stood, leg lifted, threatening to tinkle on her would-be rival.
Without hesitation, the always-prepared Natalie grabbed a tablecloth from her stock of extras folded and stacked underneath the gift table, swooped to the center of the room, enveloped the dog in it, looked to Elizabeth and said through clenched teeth, “Jackson.”
Elizabeth jumped from her position behind the omelet station, ran to the lobby and summoned the teenage bellboy.
In milliseconds, Natalie met them in the hallway, delivered the dog to Jackson’s arms, and the young man had the dog out the door and on the way to relieve herself in the park before anyone in the wedding shower even figured out what was happening.
Two hours later, the guests started to leave, and more than one person commented that they hated to go from such a perfect party. After most of the guests left, a few male members of the hotel staff loaded the gifts on a cart and wheeled them outside to the bride’s awaiting car, Elizabeth began clearing away food and dishes, and Natalie began the task of packing away the decorations. When she saw the bride pick up her doggie carrier, Natalie went to the lobby to look for Jackson and the naughty pooch. She found them standing on the sidewalk in front of the entrance to the swanky hotel.
“Jackson, thank you so much for taking care of Lucy.” Natalie was truly grateful to the young man for taking care of her doggie crisis.
“No problem.” Jackson transferred the leash to her hand. “It was kind of fun. I’ve never owned a dog before. I think she just wanted to play.” He reached down and rubbed behind Lucy’s ear, and the dog looked up at him and wagged her tail appreciatively.
“Well, thank you. Here’s a little something for your trouble today.” She handed him a few folded bills.
He took the bills and stuck them in his pocket. “Thanks ma’am. Do you need any help with anything else?”
“Sure, can you help us load some boxes into our cars?”
“Yes ma’am,” the teen said again.
“How old are you, Jackson?” The normally non-personal Natalie couldn’t help but ask. The gaunt boy looked young enough to be in high school.
He laughed. “I’m eighteen, senior in high school. Been working here for three years.”
“Really? You’ve worked here since you were fifteen?”
He nodded as they entered the lobby together. “Yes ma’am. Started helping my cousin with odd jobs around here, moved up to dish washer, now I’m a bellboy – moving on up in the world,” He said with a grin. “Gotta pay the bills.”
Natalie stopped at the French doors that led to the banquet room and looked at the boy. “Bills? Don’t you live with your parents?”
Jackson shrugged. “Nah, foster kid. Got out of the system a few months ago. Now I’ve gotta make it on my own, you know?”
Natalie did know. She knew exactly what, Gotta make it on your own meant.
“Natalie,” Mrs. Murphy called to her from the center of the room, where she stood admiring the ice sculpture she purchased for the occasion.
“Yes ma’am?” Natalie noticed that she sounded like Jackson.
“Come here, dear, let me talk to you.” Mrs. Murphy waved Natalie to her like a grand empress.
Natalie thanked Jackson again and crossed the room, leash in hand, to Mrs. Murphy. She kept an eye on the puppy, though, ready to stop another potential ice sculpture defacing threat.
Mrs. Murphy put her hand on Natalie’s shoulder. “I saw how you handled the incident with Lucy,” she said with an ornery smile playing on her lips. “That could’ve been disastrous, but you saved the day, didn’t you?”
Natalie tilted her head and said with her most professional-event-organizer-can-handle-anything-but-still-humble tone of voice, “Just part of the job, ma’am.”
“Well, I was quite impressed. It didn’t interrupt the shower at all.” Mrs. Murphy reached into her designer handbag, pulled out a pair of designer sunglasses and propped them on her nose. “Give me a call next week. Let’s discuss my Jingle Bell dinner. If you can handle Lucy, then you might be able to handle my banquet.”
“Yes ma’am,” Natalie said again. “I’d love the opportunity to work with you again.”
Mrs. Murphy gave Natalie a knowing look through her dark glasses, said goodbye to Shelby and exited the room with the flair of a movie star.
Let’s discuss my Jingle Bell dinner. Exactly what Natalie had hoped for. She closed her eyes and prayed a silent thank you to God.
When she opened her eyes she saw that Jackson the bellboy was helping Elizabeth load dishes into a plastic tub. She wondered if the hard-working young man would want another job to supplement his income. She suspected he would . . . she remembered exactly what it was like to be eighteen and fresh out of the system – no parents to rely on, working to exhaustion, scraping together every penny to make the rent and buy mac and cheese. The boy would be an excellent addition to their staff, and, if this Jingle Bell dinner played out the way she hoped it would, and she impressed all the right people, they would soon need additional staff to help with social events that were sure to fill their calendar.
“Hey Natalie,” Elizabeth caught her attention, “Shelby and her bridesmaids wanted to know if we can go with them to the nail salon for pedicures this afternoon. Let’s go. It’ll be fun!”
Natalie didn’t even bother to respond. She just smiled at her business partner and started folding tablecloths. Elizabeth knew better than to ask Natalie to socialize with a client. She knew Natalie had a rule about that.