Disappointing the Dutchess


The Duchess of Englewood was terrifying, formidable, elegant. She was a born leader, always imitated.  Her parties were lavish affairs, her place settings perfect.  Her every word was followed and no one wished to displease her, ever.  

This Dutchess was Alice Vivian Wilson Searcy Perry, my Nana.

Because of her, I had no idea green bean casserole existed until I was almost forty years old. I can’t imagine hosting a Thanksgiving dinner without cloth napkins and I still remember her admonition to mind my table manners and to remember that I am a Searcy.

One Thanksgiving, my grandmother frenched green beans. Five pounds. By hand. Frenching requires one to slice the green bean in half lengthwise once the ends are trimmed. If the beans are awkward sizes, drenching makes them a uniform size, which helps the cook in the same length of time. Today, one could french beans with a gadget or use the slicing blade in a food processor .

Frenching five pounds of green beans by hand is truly a labor of love.

Nana prepared the green beans and yeast rolls for dinner. My father and cousin picked her up to take her to dinner.  Once they arrived, she went ahead, leaving my father and cousin to transfer the food upstairs.

As soon as they got off of the elevator, the pot of frenched green beans tumbled down the corridor.  My father and cousin found some cardboard, scraped the green beans back into the pot and proceed as if nothing happened.

If Cousin Wilbur hadn’t confessed, we would have eaten those green beans. 

The Dutchess was displeased.