A gift of May flowers hanging from a doorknob
It was ironic, thought Sophie Martin, that the eve of her first anniversary—the anniversary of her first year without alcohol—should coincide with the hazard of a possible slip from abstinence. Usually, garden club meetings occurred on Saturday mornings and the refreshments were coffee and cake.
However, this Sunday brunch at the end of April was also the annual fundraiser, and there would be champagne. Had it been just champagne, Sophie would not have worried, but this champagne would be mixed with orange juice, and she was afraid—very afraid—that she would accidentally sip a mimosa without realizing it contained more than orange juice. In her mind’s ear she could hear one of the axioms of AA: “A sip can lead to a slip.”
“Sophie!” She turned to see Irene, her hostess, hailing her. “Welcome! Are you ready for the competition today?”
Under the guidance of a senior member, the others would create a bouquet. The winner would receive a gift certificate from Merrivale Nurseries.
“Yes, thanks, Irene. Thanks for hostessing the brunch! Everything looks lovely.”
Not only did the terrace, set up with umbrella-shaded tables, look festive, but the floppy straw hats and flowered dresses of the ladies created a light-hearted ambiance.
Mimi grabbed her arm. “Sophie! Come sit by me!”
Sophie followed her to a table.
“Look!” Mimi said. “There’s a mimosa right by your plate.”
Oh, no! What was she going to do? “Ah…you know, darling, there’s no telling who might have already sipped from this glass. I’ll get a fresh one.”
Sophie went to the long table covered with a white cloth, champagne flutes, bottles of champagne reposing in ice buckets, and pitchers of orange juice. The bartender was a tall woman, dressed in a white uniform jacket and a toque that covered her hair.
“Ah, do you have a fake mimosa?” Sophie asked. “You know, sparkling water and orange juice, no alcohol?”
The bartender’s intelligent gray eyes looked into hers. “Of course. One moment.”
She took a bottle of sparkling water from under the table, poured it into a flute, added orange juice. “Here you are.”
“Thank you.” Sophie gave her a grateful smile.
Five minutes later Irene looked a little flustered. “Ladies, I’m afraid the caterers are delayed, so please just chat among yourselves until they arrive.”
“Good,” Mimi said. “More mimosas!”
The bartender moved among the four tables, pouring drinks for the ladies. By the time the caterers arrived with the scrambled eggs, warm croissants, apricot pastries, and strawberry tarts, the ladies were quite far gone.
“Over here,” Mimi called to her, holding up her flute for a refill. “We need more at this table, pleash!”
She grabbed a couple of flutes off the tray, set one down in front of Sophie.
“Oh, no, have this one, it’s fresher,” the bartender said. “I made it especially for you.”
She smiled at Sophie, who immediately felt relieved.
After the plates were cleared away and the tables brushed down, Felicity Payne-Townsend, her British accent still evident despite 30 years’ residence in Virginia, stood up. “Ladies, today I’m going to show you how to make May baskets,” she said. “May baskets were a charming custom that has now been subsumed by the Easter tradition of baskets full of sweets for children. However, a century ago people would rise before dawn to hang May baskets on their neighbors’ front doorknobs. The baskets were filled with flowers in the May colors of green, blue, and white.”
“Thash nice,” Mimi said.
Felicity distributed squares of thick white paper and rolls of cellotape. “I’ll show you how to roll these squares into cones,” she said.
“Why a cone? Why not a basket?” Gillian asked.
“Most people already have too much stuff,” Felicity said. “With a paper cone, you can throw the whole thing away after the flowers die.”
She proceeded to create a May basket with blue satin ribbons, green ferns, and blue and white flowers spilling over the sides. “Now, how are you all doing?”
She walked around to inspect the ladies’ efforts. All except Sophie were so drunk, or at least tipsy, that their attempts at rolling the paper into cones and taping them were a failure. Some couldn’t even punch holes at the top of the cones to thread the ribbon through. Those who did thread the ribbon mashed the ferns and blue flowers flat. Sophie was the only member to create a May bouquet that looked like Felicity’s.
“I guessh I had too many mimoshahs,” Mimi confided. “I jush love them.”
“The prize goes to Sophie,” Felicity announced. “Congratulations!”
Sophie heaved a sigh of relief. The bronze chip she would receive tomorrow to mark her one-year anniversary was safe. That was the real win, although the gift certificate would be very welcome.
She rose to collect the envelope from Felicity, thanked her, then walked to the bar. “Thank you…” she leaned forward to read the name tag on the bartender’s jacket, “…Flora. Oh, like the Goddess Flora!”
The bartender smiled. “Exactly like the Goddess Flora,” she said. And vanished into shimmering air.