A few months ago I had entered my name into the College of DuPage "speakers bureau." I had really expected nothing to come of it but, lo, just last week I received an invitation to speak to the Home and Garden Society of Wheaton on the subject of nanotechnology. Shocked and intrigued at the notion of a garden club wanting to know about nanotechnology, I eagerly accepted. They had given me sparse notice because I received the invitation on Tuesday to give the talk on Friday. This left me little time to fashion a talk focusing on the importance of this new scientific field on gardening, so I went with the one I had used at Christmas for the local fifth grade class. This turned out to be a good move because it transpired that (to borrow the imagery from the melancholy Jacques in As You Like It) the Home and Garden Society was a group entering its second childhood.
Dulcie and I duly arrived at our hosts' house full of curiosity about this club. It quickly became apparent that the Home and Garden Society is not a club with any particular interests in either home decor or gardening, but an exclusive, by-invitation-only, social group. I felt as if I had entered a time capsule and landed on the set of an A.R. Gurney play. For starters, no one was under the age of seventy except us. Clearly, no invitations had been proffered in recent years - perhaps the last two decades. Like the Cathars centuries ago, the society is facing inevitable extinction because of its reluctance to reproduce. When that happens, a particular slice of Wheaton society will be forever extinguished. Everyone was very formally dressed, with the exception of the SSCP and his companion. This was a group from old Wheaton money, and they were understated with it. The home was comfortable but not ostentatious to any degree; not a whisper of vulgarity was evident anywhere. Contrast that with the modern fascination for excess. There were actual portraits of family members on the walls as would have been the custom generally decades ago.
We sat down at the dining table to a rather formal meal that was prepared by a hired servant. The best dinner service was placed in service. I made the appalling faux pas of grabbing a chair at the head of the table. Fortunately my blunder was excused and we were able to continue with the meal. Wine was served in perhaps (echoing Lucky Jim) the smallest wine glasses I have been seriously offered. The wine was well chosen, though frequent refills were required.
Over the course of the evening I learned that, although my Home and Garden Society hosts may be entering the evenings of their lives, they all had a keen wit and intelligence, were very well informed about issues, were to a man world travelers and were ardent patrons of the arts.
They digested while I prattled on about nanotechnology in the living room, my laptop precariously balanced on a card table. I think only one of them dozed off, which, under the circumstances, replete with wine and food was very acceptable. They seemed to enjoy it and asked some interesting questions. We enjoyed ourselves. As we left the time capsule, I wondered if I would ever enter it again.