Well, the tea was a tremendous success! There were a few snafus but no major disasters, thanks in large part to the back hall nazi.

You have to kind of get a mental picture of this. St. Paul’s has a small kitchen separated from a large social hall by a narrow hallway. There is a strict rule that the servers are not allowed in the kitchen and the kitchen crew cannot breach the sanctity of the social hall where the tea is held. There’s really no room.  So someone must keep order. That is the role of the back hall nazi.

Her name is Leslie Fraser and she is the daughter of Wanda Woolen, the tea chairman. This creates some tension all its own because Wanda is the worst offender of violating the rule. Ten minutes before the first seating yesterday, Wanda crossed the line into the kitchen. “Wanda!” Leslie commanded. “Get out!” Niceties go out the window during tea service.

Leslie commands her narrow space. In the kitchen, we are frantically putting together 250 individual phyllo cups filled with curried chicken salad. Gerald Hancock, the lone man allowed in the food preparation area, is in charge of the actual tea (he’s also in charge of bringing the wine, which he points out makes him the only indispensable member of the tea team.

On the other side of the hall is chaos, as the servers line up to receive the tiers of savories and sweets and the pots of tea. The servers all wear white lace aprons. Don’t they look stressed out here? It’s because they know we’re slugging down the Chardonnay in the kitchen and there’s none for them until after service ends. You can’t see it, but Leslie is just on the other side of the line of servers. They are scared of her. You can see it in their faces, can’t you?

Well, it just goes like clockwork because of the back hall nazi. The tiers are precisely lined up by table number. They go out like good soldiers along with the tea. Everyone is happy because there are no mistakes and no uncalled for drama.

The tea is probably the highlight of the holiday season for me. It is a grand gesture of historic Southern gentility. It brings together people who bond for a few hours in a unique way. It is all about the pleasure of our guests, the precision of our skills, and catching each other if we happen to stumble along the way.  And a few Dixie cups of Chardonnay. The hall nazi partook once she’d commanded her troops. She deserved every sip.

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