I am not sure who invited the guests to our table that night.  It was probably Susan.  She loved to play hostess and bring out her china and silver.

Susan, Gayle and I were all employed thirty-somethings who shared a rental house in the Ingleside District of San Francisco.  Directly across the street from us lived Harriet Reinhart, an eighty-year-old widow.  Five doors down from her lived Sam Howard, an eighty-three-year-old widower.  Perhaps if Susan knew before dinner what she knew after the meal, she would not have invited them over on the same night. But if hindsight is 20/20, foresight is blind!

Both of our guests arrived elegantly dressed.  Mrs Reinhart wore a powder-blue cotton tea dress with a lightweight powder-blue cardigan perched on her shoulders.  Mr Howard wore a black old-fashioned suit with a black bow tie.  Mrs Reinhart brought a box of chocolates.  Mr Howard brought flowers.

Susan, who liked to do things properly, launched the meal with an appetiser — buttered garlic shrimp on a bed of baby spinach.  And that’s when the fun began.

Mrs Reinhart:  (with a deep intake of breath)  Oh.  Shrimp.  I don’t eat shellfish.  And is that garlic I smell?  Nasty stuff — garlic!

Mr Howard:  (smiling at Mrs Reinhart and then at Susan)  I do enjoy shrimp.  Isn’t it wonderful to live so close to the sea?  We get so many different types of fish for sale, and all fresh!

Mrs Reinhart: (picking at her shrimp) You can keep your fish, Mr Howard.  I have never smelled anything so foul.

Mr Howard: (gently) Really fresh fish doesn’t have much odor at all.  My brother Matthew and I used to go fishing down at China Basin.  Oh, but that was so many years ago, before the projects were built.

Mrs Reinhart: (actually eating some of her appetiser)  Ugh!  Don’t get me started on those projects.  What an eyesore!  And the crime!  Those people just do not appreciate what they’ve got.   They take it for granted and treat it with contempt.  The government should flatten those homes and build something really useful, like a bowling alley.  But this government, all it does is give out free things.  And it is my tax money going to pay for those houses!

Mr Howard:  (as Susan cleared the small plates)  Thank you, my dear.  That was quite delicious!

Susan:  (enthusiastically) Just wait for the next course, Mr Howard!

Mr Howard: (smiling) If it tastes as good as it smells we are in for a real treat.

Susan brought in plates ladened with beef lasagna, cooked carrots and peas and garlic bread.

Mrs Reinhart:  (gasping at the plate set before her) Oh no!  This is far too much food. I will never be able to manage it.

Susan:  Don’t worry, Mrs Reinhart.  Whatever you can’t finish, we will wrap it up and send it home with you.

Mrs Rinehart:  (looking unimpressed) Hmph.  This would feed me for days.  People are real gluttons these days.  You know, we lived through the depression.  You had to know how to get the most for your money.  Nowadays people just throw their money away.  Every year they buy new things.  We had to make our things last.  I still have my refrigerator from 1936!  Take those Brunnel people who live next door to you (addressing Susan).  They bought a brand new car just last week.  Their old car was only two years old!  Imagine that!  A new car every other year.  How decadent! 

Mr Howard:  (with a huge happy sigh)  Susan, this pasta dish is delicious!  What did you call it again?

Susan: (grateful for the compliment and the change in conversation)  Thank you, Mr Howard.  It’s lasagne.  Really quite easy to make.

Mrs Reinhart:  (with a sneer)  Too much tomato for my liking.  I am afraid it shall give me terrible heartburn.

Gayle:  (trying to change the topic)  Mrs Reinhart, how long have you lived on Idora Street?

Mrs Reinhart:  (pleased to have been addressed directly)  Oh, this is my forty-second year.  Robert and I were newlyweds when we moved in.  They were brand new homes then.  The neighborhood looked nothing like it does now.  Back then people valued their properties and took care of them.  There were beautiful lawns and flower beds.  

Mr Howard:  (to Mrs Reinhart)  Ah, Harriet!  I remember when we moved on to the block.  You baked Gladys and I an apple pie.  Best pie I ever tasted!  You made us feel so welcome.

Mrs Reinhart: (a slight self-satisfied smile, and then a sudden frown)  Well, that doesn’t happen anymore, does it!?  People come and go so quickly these days!  Everybody rents, no one buys and settles down.  No one cares about anyone else in their community anymore.  I could die in my sleep and it would be a week before anyone noticed I was gone.   I went into hospital last month.  Do you think anyone came to visit me or enquire about my health?  No, times they’ve changed for the worse, I’m telling you.

Mr Howard:  (glazing around the table)  Well, I think we have the exceptions here, Harriet!  Aren’t these young ladies special, to have invited two old codgers like you and I to dinner in their home!  (to the three of us) Thank you so much for having us over.  It really is a special treat to get out.

Susan:  It is a such a pleasure to have you!  We really should do this more often.  I am afraid we are all so busy working  just trying to make ends meet, that we often just come home and collapse in the evenings.  

Gayle:  (speaking quickly before Mrs Reinhart, who’d opened her mouth to say something)  And what a blessing to be able to share the evening with two such remarkable people.  There are so many questions I’d love to ask you — what it was like growing up in the City, what you did for entertainment!  Shall we retire to the living room for coffee, chocolates and conversation?

Needless-to-say the rest of the evening was pretty much like the first half.  Mr Howard would talk about his first date, his first car, his first real job, and Mrs Reinhart would counter with some criticism that vaguely related to the topic.  After our guests had gone we agreed that it had been a good, but exhausting experience.  Two such different personalities!  One so bitter and the other so sweet.

Over the course of the next few years we grew close to both Mr Howard and Mrs Reinhart.  We had them over to dinner at least once a month.  Despite her sharp tongue and bitter disparagement, Mrs Reinhart had a kind heart.  She would often leave flowers on our stoop and she began baking apple pies again (which were every bit as delicious as Mr Howard remembered).

One cold autumn night Mrs Reinhart retired never to rise again.  And contrary to her continually pronouncement, we realized that morning that something was wrong when the curtains weren’t drawn and no grumbly morning greeting was raised as we rushed off to work.

Our monthly dinners were never the same again.

 

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Today’s assignment:  write a post based on the contrast between two things — whether people, objects, emotions, places, or something else.  Today’s twist: write your post in the form of a dialogue.

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