Gram and the chef
Thursday July 02nd 2009, 9:06 pm
Filed under: Family,History,Life

I was talking to someone tonight, and she wrote me that she’d laughed at my “Oh honey. You betcha,” telling me my roots were showing–that nobody native to the West Coast talks like that.

Oh honey. You betcha I’m from Maryland.

I mentioned to her the story of a few years back of some uptight Yankee twit who’d charged the sweet old black lady in the U.S. Senate’s lunchroom with sexual harassment: she was always saying, Thank you, honey, or, See you later, sugar.  He thought she was coming on to him.

As if.

What I didn’t mention was the reason that news story had stuck in my craw so, aside from the obvious cultural disconnect and self-centeredness of the man. It was a little more personal than that.

And so after puttering around with the strawberries in the kitchen for awhile, I thought I’d come back to the computer and explain exactly why that was so.  I want the grandkids, whom I grew up with, of the man I’m about to write about, and then their future grandkids to know what he did. I imagine it’s a story they haven’t heard.

My grandmother was the wife of a US Senator who served for 24 years.  When she arrived in DC, as she later wrote in her autobiography, “Here we were told in no uncertain terms what was required of all wives of new members of Congress.  Calling requirements had been modified, it was true; but we were expected, once a year, to leave cards at the White House, and at the homes of the Vice President, The Speaker of the House, members of the Cabinet and Supreme Court, the chairmen of our husband’s committees, and all members of our state delegations whose husbands outranked our husbands. Still quite a list!” as compared to the days when new House wives had to visit every ranking House member’s home.  There were still strict requirements as to how many cards to leave vs. how many women were in the household, how and under what circumstances to carefully fold the edge of the card down properly…  Arriving by horse and buggy was no longer required, at least, but it was a near thing.

Living in a place where segregation was the law of the land and casually expected was a shock to my western-born grandmother.

As Grampa grew in seniority and rank over the years (and defied ranking members of his party and voted for the Civil Rights Voting Act–hard to believe now how fiercely he was blasted for it, but he was very proud of that vote), Gram eventually became president of the Congressional Wives Club.

And then came the day this story is about.  There was a big to-do held in the Senate lunchroom honoring various people, and when it was over, Gram (protocol, shmotocol) went back into the kitchen to thank the chef for pulling out all the stops.  The food, the presentation–everything had been just exquisite.

While they were chatting, somehow Gram happened to mention that J. Willard Marriott had been there.  The founder of the chain that bears his last name.

The chef was upset.  “Why didn’t anybody tell me J. Willard was here!?” she exclaimed indignantly.  “These congressmen. They all think they’re such hotshots.  J. Willard!  If only I’d known!  I would REALLY have put on a show!”

Then she proceeded to tell my grandmother that as a young woman she’d been suddenly deserted by her husband, left with a small child and no income and no skills and basically thrown out on the street.  (How literally, I’m not sure.)  J. Willard Marriott had randomly encountered her one day and hadn’t cared what color or accent she came with; moved by her plight, he offered her both a job and the training for it.   He had personally taken great care of her, just a random woman out there on a random day, and had helped her back on her feet and had gotten her established in her new career–and look where she was now!

“Oh, Mrs. Bennett, if only I’d known!”

And if only he’d known it was her, he would have been back there too, throwing his arms around her and rejoicing in her hard work and success.

12 Comments so far
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Beautiful story! If only we all wore our hearts outside our bodies, everyone could see we are all human.

Comment by Cathy (catsandyarn on ravelry) 07.02.09 @ 10:24 pm

Thank you for the link to your grandmother’s autobiography. I have a little Amazon gift card balance, so it was easy in these wee hours (when I can’t sleep) to order.

Comment by Barbara-Kay 07.02.09 @ 11:43 pm

wonderful story!!!

Comment by grace 07.03.09 @ 3:22 am

cool story. I would have made a terrible wife 50 or so years ago – I’m way too outspoken. (Actually, I think my MIL thinks I’m not such a great wife now, what with the owrking and the expectation that I’m equal to men. I love her dearly, but she’s a touch old fashioned for my taste…)

Comment by Sandra 07.03.09 @ 5:25 am

My eyes are moist. Thanks for sharing that story. You are a class act, but clearly, you had some remarkable role models. Thank God for your grands and people like Mr. Marriott.

Comment by Channon 07.03.09 @ 6:08 am

I’ve been busy, and pretty quiet here lately. . .still reading. . .still loving that you share when you (and friends) touch lives so lovingly! (BTW, met PB, and love her. . .she lives a bit far for frequent meetings, but Hope we will knit together on some sort of regular basis once she gets settled in!)

Comment by Pam 07.03.09 @ 7:51 am

What a wonderful post! That’s why I check your blog each day. It is a big part of my morning :-}
Simple acts of kindness with huge repercussions have been here all along without any need for fancy terms like “paying it forward”. Good people just did (and do) what feels right in their hearts.
I don’t always live up to those standards (and sometimes an opportunity is only recognized when it’s too late to do something) but my hope is what I can do, I will do to help.

Comment by Diana Troldahl 07.03.09 @ 12:04 pm

Hi AlisonH,

Found your link at and thank you for your candor! I’m 70 years old, and have found that the passing of my birthday on 5/31/2009 kind of “reset my head.” I got off some medications that were causing side effects. I picked up the pace of my walking and swimming. Have to admit that my sex life is now mostly memory and fantasy! Aside from that, my 75-year-old husband and I have a wonderful life. We’re timeshare owners with 36 years of married life under our belts. This is my third husband. I’ve worked harder on this marriage than any others.

Hubby lived in Silver Spring, Md. with his first wife who died of cancer in 1971. Our stepfamily has been prone to estrangements despite our efforts to heal old wounds.

I’m going to sit back and enjoy your blogging. With your permission, I put up a link to this blog from mine.

Have a wonderful July 4th celebration! We’re joining a parade in Royal Woodlands section of suburban Portland. It’s an annual tradition with our daughter, doctor son-in-law and two adorable grandkids ages 11 and 8.

Look forward to getting to know you better.


Ellen Kimball and the DigiPix_Man
Portland, OR

Comment by Ellen Kimball 07.03.09 @ 3:42 pm

Hi, Alison –
It’s late afternoon on Friday, and I just got around to reading your blog. That is a most heart-warming story! And little wonder that you are the kind of person you are — you have remarkable forebears.

A bit of fun:


A guy is driving around and he sees a sign in front of a house: “Talking Dog For Sale.” He rings the bell, and the owner tells him the dog is in the backyard. The guy goes into the backyard and sees a Labrador Retriever sitting

“You talk?” he asks.

“Yep,” the Lab replies.

“So, what’s your story?”

The Lab looks up and says, “Well, I discovered that I could talk when I was pretty young, and I wanted to help the government; so I told the CIA about my gift, and in no time at all they had me jetting from country to country, sitting in rooms with spies and world leaders, because no one figured a dog would be eavesdropping.

I was one of their most valuable spies for eight years running. But the jetting around really tired me out, and I knew I wasn’t getting any younger so I wanted to settle down. I signed up for a job at the airport to do some undercover security work mostly wandering near suspicious characters and listening in. I uncovered some incredible dealings and was awarded a batch of medals. I got married, had a mess of puppies, and now I’m just retired.”

The guy is amazed. He goes back in and asks the owner what he wants for the dog.

“Ten dollars.”

The guy says, “This dog is amazing. Why on earth are you selling him so cheap?”

“Because he’s a liar. He didn’t do any of that stuff.”

Comment by Don Meyer 07.03.09 @ 3:50 pm

Good story! Bennett, eh? A name not unfamiliar to westerners. Have a great 4th of July. We are going to watch our granddaughter carry the flag to lead the parade on her horse in Inkom, Idaho. She is so proud to be asked to do this since she lost her husband in Iraq in 2003.

Comment by sherry in idaho 07.03.09 @ 6:35 pm

I’ve read allusions to J. Willard’s having done that sort of thing. I’m so pleased to read of one definite story of his kindness! Thanks.

Comment by RobinM 07.04.09 @ 6:49 am

Just goes to show you. Do right and it will carry on,up and over everything and everyone.

Comment by Carol 07.04.09 @ 9:09 am

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