Sadie’s Dinner Party
by Ali Berlow
Mr. and Mrs. Hermen weren’t so sure why they’d been invited over to Sadie Ettenheim’s house for dinner. Mrs. Hermen had spied Sadie a few times talking (flirting is more like it) with the butcher at the market, but they’d only officially met the widow Ettenheim once, at a cocktail party, and that was right after the Hermens had moved to Milwaukee in the spring of 1964.
The Hermens were surprised and a bit put off to discover that they were the last ones to arrive at Sadie’s house. Where they came from, 7:30 meant 7:30—not any earlier and not any later. The other guests already had their highballs in hand as the next round of How-do-you-dos and Nice-to-meet-yous were made by Sadie, the consummate hostess. “These are the Lehrmans, the Shermans, and the North Shore Bermans.” Everyone snickered but it suddenly got quiet when Mr. Hermen, the newcomer, said, “Our name is spelled with an ‘e’ not an ‘a.’ It’s pronounced Her-MEN.’” And after a brief pause, he added, “We’re from Connecticut.”
An awkward hush hung in the air like a bad odor. Mrs. North Shore Berman cleared her throat, signaling her husband to light the cigarette that dangled now damply between her lips. But naturally, Sadie was unfazed by it all. She waved a hand over in the direction of the scotch and soda, gin and tonic, announcing that “Dinner will be served in fifteen minutes,” and that “everyone gathered here tonight has something else in common besides the rhyme of your names.” She winked at Mr. Hermen, humming a Glenn Miller tune as she passed through the swinging doors that led into the kitchen, and left her guests alone.
Sadie checked the oven to see how the twice-baked potatoes were doing, poked the steaks to ensure their medium-rawness, and gave the iceberg lettuce salad one last toss with Good Seasons Italian Dressing. Then she put the finishing touches on the first course, Shrimp de Jonghe. She’d torn the recipe from Gourmet years ago and kept it taped to the inside of her cupboard. Shrimp de Jonghe had been her dead husband Lal’s (may his memory be a blessing) favorite dish. Though it was considered risqué for its call of one clove of garlic, she cooked it for him every year on their wedding anniversary. She missed Lal tremendously while dotting the shrimp with a dense paste made from a whole stick of butter, sherry, the garlic, a touch of cayenne and breadcrumbs. Then she sprinkled dried parsley over it and set it in a hot oven until the shellfish was pink—just cooked through—and the topping was browned ever so evenly.
From the kitchen she could hear the chatter of people getting to know one another as she placed the shrimp on a serving platter. She was singing ‘In the Mood’ and didn’t miss a beat as she passed through the swinging doors, turning over Lal’s memory to the wake of garlic, and went out to call her guests to the table.
It didn’t surprise Sadie at all when she walked into the living room to find Mr. Lehrman with his shirt pulled up and Mrs. North Shore Berman peering closely at his naked torso. Or that Mrs. Sherman and Mrs. Hermen were both hovering over Mr. North Shore Berman’s bare belly as he lay stretched out on Sadie’s yellow rose upholstered sofa. She’d known that her guests would get along famously once they figured out that just about all of them had had their gall bladders removed. Even the uptight ‘Mr. Hermen with an ‘e’’ had relaxed, and appeared to be enjoying himself, showing off his scar. Sadie had to tell him to keep his pants on and that he and the Mrs. could host the hernia themed-dinner party next time, if they really wanted to.