The year was 2002. The month was December. You may ask yourself, “Why is this so important?”
I assume that you, like myself, count the days, hours and minutes until Christmas vacation arrives. And why was this vacation different from all other vacations? The reason this vacation was significant is that winter, my parents decided I should visit my relatives. However, instead of going to see my grandmother in Florida and getting to go to Cape Canaveral and Disney World, or visiting my Uncle Prescott, who would take me to midnight movies; my parents, with a little pressure from my grandmother, sent me to my cousin Lila’s sweet sixteen party in Philadelphia.
You see, my cousins Lila and Elizabeth live in that blueblood bastion called the Philadelphia Mainline. My East Coast family are so far off from anything I can relate to, the only thing we have in common is our last name. My cousins come from a family that is very upper-class, very preppy and polite and very, very well-behaved. If social climbing were an Olympic sport, they would win the gold medal. They don’t keep up with the Joneses, they leave them in the dust. And they would be really upset if this ever got out, so keep this under wraps, ok?
I bet my Mainline cousins have never had their mom raid their piggy bank for gas money, never had their credit cards maxed out, never had their cable TV turned off because the bill wasn’t paid and never had to bring their own snacks into a movie theater.
They don’t sit on the furniture, they use the correct forks. They live in a world of country clubs and seventy thousand-dollar home equity loan sweet sixteen parties at the botanical gardens; a world of trophy wives and plastic surgery beauty. They are “nice.” They are boring.
On the other hand, I come from a middle-class, decently spoiled, rude and obnoxious family. So, a culture clash was inevitable, even though my grandmother did her best to spiff up the (relatively) poor West-Coast cousins so they would fit in. Grandma took us to a kid’s designer clothing shop. Aunt Nadine wondered why my mom had neglected to send us properly attired. I assume Aunt Nadine has never had her credit card declined. A designer winter wardrobe for two California kids was not exactly one of our spending priorities.
The owner served us attentively, as the Mainliner relatives were good paying customers. They picked out matching suits and shoes for my brother and me. At Uncle Roland’s suggestion, grandma took us to Pierre’s Styling Salon and Uncle Roland put in a call to make sure Pierre took care of us himself. I think he did my dad too. Pierre had us put on the suit jackets to make sure our haircuts fit with the line of the collar. This wasn’t Supercuts.
With a look of disgust, Uncle Roland took my dad’s off-the-rack suit to get it pressed. According to my dad, his brother and sister-in-law didn’t want to be embarrassed in front of “350 of their closest friends.”
My brother’s shoes were too small, but the store owner said they fit fine since he didn’t have a bigger size and grandma wanted us to match. My brother cried all the way over to the party that the shoes hurt, and he promptly ditched them under the table once we got there.
It was hot and stuffy at the party, and the perfume and cigarette smoke gave me a headache, so I went outside without any jacket. I had never played in real snow before, so I had a blast. Some of my cousin’s classmates from her Ivy-feeder prep school (by the way, Cousin Lila was valedictorian and has been accepted to Harvard) told me I was crazy. Do you think I cared?
Later, my dad took us to see the Liberty Bell and we heard a gang shooting. That was pretty exciting. But, I am never going back. Would you?