The Yancey’s were victorious for a third year. My mother placed the crown of roses on Mrs. Yancey’s hat and Mr. Yancey was given the silver mallet. It was his to keep until the following year’s tournament. I refrained from the competition because I felt more comfortable as a spectator. I also thought it would not be the mark of a gracious hostess to beat her guests at any game. Which is also why I never threw any money into the betting pool. No hostess should walk away from her own party with the winner’s purse. Twenty minutes prior to the race the guests were escorted into the tent where a large screen television and a sound system had been constructed. The waiters passed my mint juleps and an array of hors d’oeuvres. People mingled and watched as the odds changed on certain horses. I hung back in the tent trying to locate my mother. I knew that she would be feeling anxious about standing in front of the gathered revelers to lead them in “My Old Kentucky Home.” I spotted her encircled by five or so people. I knew that she was making explanations. I decided to rescue her from the social inquisition.
“Mom, are you ready to sing?”
“Oh, you’re right Hannah. I should probably excuse myself and ready my voice.” She turned to the disappointed throng, “You all understand, I’m sure. I just need a few minutes to compose myself.” She pivoted and headed toward the exit. I was trapped.
Mrs. McCullough spoke first. “I must say dear, your mother is holding up remarkably well, given the circumstances.”
I smiled, “What circumstances?”
She stammered a bit, “Um, well you know, … your father. How is he dear?”
“Oh, dad, you know my father. Always on the go.” I knew that they were digging for more information but I refused to cave. Dr. Ellison was next.
“I sure do miss seeing your father at the club in the morning. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I did see him there for his morning workout.” I smiled in an attempt to mask my frustration. All these people had heard the gossip. They knew that my father had commandeered a boat and was off doing God knows what. I really did not appreciate being put in this awkward position. How could I possibly explain or justify actions that I did not understand myself. Did they not see that my family was nothing more than the walking wounded? Was Dr. Ellison so daft that he did not recognize that we were just going through the motions? I stood silent for a moment and searched for a response, when out of the corner of my eye I saw my mother standing tall and looking beautiful. Of course they did not see, how could they when my mother was giving the performance of her life. I swallowed and turned back to face my interrogators.
“Dr. Ellison, my father is sailing. He is taking a well-deserved break. You, better than most, knows how hard he works. He just needs a little time to re-charge. My mother and I fully support that. I have no doubt that he is in here in spirit. There really is no need to be concerned. My mother and I are fine. Just look around. This party could not if my mother was in less than perfect shape. She is fine and I am fine. Personally, I am looking forward to all the stories my dad will be telling all of us upon his return.” I learned that day that I was a better liar than I had ever believed.
“Well that’s a relief,” sighed Mimi Van de Speck, “We’ve all been so worried.” Wow, she was unafraid. For as long as I could remember Mimi Van de Speck was interested in anything wearing pants and of legal age. I suspected that she had already bedded at least two of my cousins and I had wondered if she and my Uncle Bill had enjoyed each other’s company before he married my aunt. Aunt Sarah was pleasant but avoided being friendly with Mimi. Mimi Van de Speck had never made apologies about the fact that she had not forgiven my father for falling in love with my mother. If there were anyone who would celebrate the demise of my parent’s marriage, it would be Mimi; there she stood, feigning earnest concern.
“Oh, Mimi. The last thing person you should be worrying yourself about is my mother.” I retreated feeling some sense that I had done exactly what my mother would have wanted me to do. If all these people walked away from this party with the perception that all was well in the Hayes house, then maybe perception would become reality.