Claude insisted on breaking out the formal attire in anticipation of the Oscars Sunday night. I did not think Claude was much of a movie goer. We have suspected on occasion that he has watched a movie or two on Netflix while the rest of the house sleeps but generally he prefers to read. I have not seen him this animated for previous Academy Awards so I questioned him about his exuberance.
And now it all makes sense. He is cheering for “The Artist”, the much acclaimed silent movie. You see, Claude was a young man when silent movies were showing in theaters. (Remember he is enchanted.) He has some very fond memories of going on a date, or “stepping out” as he referred to it, to this new form of entertainment.
One particular date stands out in Claude’s mind. He was at the time courting a young Austrian immigrant named Elfrieda. She worked as a maid in the Plaza Hotel on Fifth Avenue. He worked farther south on Fifth at the posh Delmonico’s Restaurant. When the weather was nice he would often exit his bus early and enjoy the walk and sights along Fifth Avenue. It was one of those warm days in March of 1921 that had a hint of Spring in the air and a promise of daffodils and hyacinths, and that is when he saw her. She was stepping off the bus.
It took Claude several weeks to find the courage to speak with her. He would linger outside the Plaza hopeful he had not missed her. Finally, one rainy evening in April he saw her. She just missed the bus and she had no umbrella. This was his chance. He was the dashing young man with the umbrella to save her from this cold but well timed downpour.
They saw each other whenever possible. They would stroll through Central Park laughing and chatting and developing a bond and slowly it grew into love.
On a hot and humid day that summer, Elfrieda informed Claude that her elder sister Elsie, and her husband Kurt, wanted to meet him. They had a house in the suburbs which could be reached by a short train ride. She and Claude were expected for Sunday lunch.
Claude was excited by this development. He was a confidant fellow and knew he would make a good impression. After all, he had been working at Delmonico’s for several years now. His pay was good and he made more tips than any of the other waiters.
Elfrieda was particularly excited to be headed to this lovely little town of Pelham Manor because D.W. Griffith’s “Orphans of the Storm” was playing at the Picture House. She was a fan of Dorothy and Lillian Gish who had the starring roles in this French Revolution Epic. Claude happily indulged her though he was more of a Charlie Chaplin fan.
So they headed out together in Sunday best clothes happy to leave the grit and sweat of the city behind. They sat together quietly gazing out the train window welcoming the green vistas that beckoned from small quaint neighborhoods. Claude carried a small box of daintily decorated cakes that the pastry chef at Delmonico’s gave him. He hoped the icing would not melt before he could present them to his hosts.
Stepping off the train, the cool air revived them and they set off at a brisk pace to Elfrieda’s sister. It was a short walk and they enjoyed viewing the gardens they passed along the way. Claude could name all the flowers and spoke of how he might design his own garden in the future. While they walked, they devised a plan to excuse themselves shortly after lunch to go to the Picture House. They didn’t want to sacrifice their entire Sunday off to visiting with relatives.
Claude told me that day is still quite special to him. I can only surmise that lunch was a success and that they made their escape to the Pelham Picture House in time for the show. He did not elaborate. Instead, he commented on Silent Films. On how your imagination came into play and how you can make someone understand by your wordless emotions what you are trying to convey. How a look or a gesture is enough to capture your intentions.
Claude is still now. He has retreated back into himself. Even good memories can have a touch of sadness. I think I hear him sigh.
Yes, Claude, I think I understand. I hope “The Artist” wins for best picture because it says so much.