The Kitchen Briefing
Edith had just put the kettle on when she heard the knock.
"Coming," she sang out as she got up and moved to the door. She opened it and her smile broadened. "Millie, my dear, good of you to come on such short notice." Edith was a stout woman in her late fifties. Her blonde hair had gone grey making her look older than she was but her eyes sparkled and most of the wrinkles in her face were the result of her perpetual smile. That was her personality, happy, even when her husband had died a few years after they were married. Of course she grieved but she could always smile. She used to say that with all the happiness he had given her that she couldn't stay sad. Just thinking of him brought a smile to her face. Within a year she had met her present husband.
"Well, why wouldn't I? Not everyday one get a call from the real 'ead of Brightwood." To her face, the lady of the house was the boss, but everyone knew that the real 'head of the house' was Mrs. Greeves, known affectionately as Mrs. G. Millie was a year younger than Edith but built, physically, along the same lines. The two had grown up together, attended the same schools and then went their separate ways when Edith was hired at Brightwood Manor, southeast of London and Millie went north as a housekeeper in the home of one of England's politicians.
"Give me your coat, the kettle won't be but a minute. 'Ave a seat." She moved off the hang the heavy coat on the rack then returned to sit with her friend. "So, 'ow is she? Will she be all right? I 'eard she moved up north, away from the bombs."
"Yes, it was frightful," Millie said, her face grim, "scared me out a years growth, but she's a strong one," she said with admiration. "Once it was over and 'imself was in 'ospital she took right over supervisin' the movin' of all the things that could be salvaged. It's goin' ta take a lot to repair it, the roof was blown completely off but at least they're safe for now."
"That's good to 'ear. At least out 'ere we only 'ear the sounds and see the glow from the fires." The kettle whistled and as Edith got up to make the tea talk turned to more pleasant thing.
"So 'oo ya lookin' after with the family up in Scotland? From the guard at the gate, it's obvious that either yer under arrest or the Army's moved in."
Edith grinned. Millie was always looking on the bright side and could be counted on to bring a smile. "No to the first and yes to the second. Some of the Yanks are billeted 'ere."
"What, some generals and the like?" she asked eagerly. "That would be something' to see. Do they wear all their shiny medals even to breakfast?"
"That's what 'is Lordship was probably expectin', but no, they aren't all Officers."
"You mean they 'ave enlisted men livin' 'ere in the manor 'ouse? "Bet 'is Lordship 'ad a bloomin' fit about that," she said laughing.
"Well, they aren't all Yanks an' I'm not sure they're enlisted men either. They don't wear uniforms and salute and all that, but they take their orders from the Leftenant." Millie looked puzzled. "When I asked," and Edith leaned in closer and whispered, " ever so slyly," then leaned back and resumed, "they said they work for the Army. Strange situation but we know better than to ask."
"So, tell me about them. Are they like they say, these Yanks?"
"Well, they're quite the characters." She took another sip of her tea knowing she had Millie eagerly waiting. "The Leftenant, oh your Florrie would love 'im," she said with a knowing grin. It was eagerly returned. "Now 'e's young an' very 'andsome especially when 'e's in uniform. 'E's tall, 'as sandy blonde 'air
and a no nonsense attitude. Do you remember the teacher we had, Mr. Kennedy? Well 'e's like 'im," and she leaned in closer and said quietly, "only much better lookin'." Millie laughed. Yes she obviously remembered. "'e's quiet like 'im too but when he speaks, the others, they do listen. They know better than to push 'im."
"What 'is name? I can't go callin' 'im Joe."
Edith smiled. "'Is name is Leftenant Garrison but his nick name is Warden."
"Warden? Like in the Church Warden? Is 'e a God fearing man?"
"I don't think so. I never 'eard 'im mention religion so I don't know. But like Mr Edwards, 'e always keeps 'im room neat as a pin. A little dustin' and change the sheets is all we need to do there."
"Is 'e in 'is lordship's room?"
"No. He took young Master Robbie's room. When they moved in I think 'e took it cause it was close to the upper salon where the other men were originally billeted. They've since moved to individual rooms but the Master Bedroom is vacant, closed up to keep it clean. Good thing too. That bed was so hard to put the sheets on.
"Then, there's a man who reminds me of his lordship 'imself. 'E's tall, very tall, 'ave to be well over six feet, with dark hair and dark eyes." She smiled at Millie's puzzled look. They both knew the owner of the Brightwood was only about five foot ten, balding and what was left was a sandy brown. "But what they 'ave in common is their airs. They both got more class than anyone I know. In fact, this gentleman is right at 'ome at Brightwood. When I served the meals, 'e always says please and thank you. And when 'e's done he compliments me too." She snickered as she added, "Even 'is Lordship doesn't do that. An' 'e 'as a smile that could make you forget all your troubles. Picture Errol Flynn with an Italian accent," she said dreamily. She paused as one remembered and the other imagined. "An' like Errol Flynn, they call 'im Actor.
"Now you can't mistake 'is room. There's always a book on the night stand and the room smells of pipe tobacco. Such a manly scent. An' 'e puts 'is laundry on the back of the chair." Then she snickered and said, "E's so bloomin' neat, 'e doesn't want his laundry to get wrinkled. Mind you it means we don't 'ave to bend over to pick it up off the floor like the others." Millie joined in with a laugh.
"Then there's a local lad, they called Goniff, grew up right there in London. 'E's sweet, always smiling', such an 'appy lad just like me Jerald," her smile saddened as she remembered her first husband, "quick with a smile, always wantin' to make you laugh." She brightened, "'eed be a good one for your Annie," and watched her friend smile. "'E's built like a dancer too. I can just see the two of 'em …," she said as she looked off into the distance. From the corner of her eye she could see her friend doing the same.
"One time when they were away for a bit, when 'e came back 'e brought me a shiny broach. 'E said 'e thought it might look good on me good coat. 'E said when 'e saw it, it reminded 'im of me so 'e picked up for me. Such a good boy, I bet 'is Mom is proud of 'im." Her face fell with the remembered pain. "I wish we'd 'ad a son, a boy like that. I'd a been real proud of 'im too."
To change the sadness Millie prompted her friend. "So they call 'im Goniff cause 'e stole your 'eart?"
That got a smile from Edith. "Yes, 'e did. My sunshine. Anyway, 'is room is beside Actors. Just be careful when yer dustin' in there. He seems to collect little trinkets an' knick knacks. I 'eard 'im say 'e was sendin' some of 'um to 'is Mom. Maybe she collects 'um. Still, it's very sweet of 'im. Now, 'is laundry is usually on the floor. The odd thing is that all the men except the Leftenant strip their beds every two weeks."
"That's unusual," mused Millie.
"I know, but it makes our job a little easier."
"So, there was just the one Yank?"
"Oh no, the other two are Yanks like the Leftenant. The next one is all American, Casino is what they called 'im. 'e's not as tall but 'e's strong in a character way. 'E knows what 'e thinks and 'e lets ya know it. 'E and the Leftenant 'ave 'ad words more than a few times."
"Ya mean like George's Margaret?" she suggested. Everyone knew that Margaret wore the pants in that family. Poor George would just stand there and take it. Some said that was why he worked such long hours out in his Lordship's gardens, to get away from his nagging wife.
Edith laughed. "Yeah. And like Margaret he's fiercely protective. The English lad got, .., 'urt one time an' it was 'im who took 'im 'is meals. It's like they're brothers, fightin' but lookin' after each other."
"'E's also the one does a lot of the cookin' on me days off. I always leave food for 'em but sometimes other stuff is gone. I asked the Leftenant and he said not to worry about it that they could cook."
"Did 'e ever come in the kitchen?"
"oo, the Leftenant? No. I always serve them in the dining room. They eat in the kitchen on me days off. I can always tell." They both smiled. A housekeeper worth her salt knew everything that went on in the house, even when she was not there.
"So that's the Yankey soldier Leftenant Garrison, the Italian Errol Flynn, Actor, Goniff, the local boy and the Yankey male Margaret, named Casino. That's it, in this big place?."
"No, the last one was real quiet at the start. They called 'im Chief. He didn't 'ave much to say. I think 'e was shy. 'E did 'ave a nice smile. After a while he would come into the kitchen and just for a lark I told 'im if 'e wasn't busy to get me some carrots from the garden. And 'e did, picked 'm, broke the tops off and washed 'm. I asked 'im if 'e grew up on a farm an' 'e said 'not exactly'.
"Now 'is bed is different. I started tuckin' the sheets in as usual but every time 'e pulled them out. I finally asked 'im and 'e admitted that he likes to stick 'is feet out so now I just put them on and leave it.
"Chief, eh? They call 'im that bein' sarcastic? Or is 'e the boss."
"No, Casino called 'im an Indian a few times. I think that was the reason, like in Indian Chief."
"Oh, so they all got nick names?"
"They give you one too?"
Edith laughed. "Come to think of it, they did laugh when I told them to call me Mrs G."
Millie laughed too then asked, "So you didn't mind workin' for the Allies and their soldiers?"
"Oh no. They're no worse than the family," she leaned in closer and whispered, "sometimes better." They both smiled. "'Ow be I show you around, let ya know what you'll be doin, then we can 'ave another cup before you go," said Edith as she led the way. It was not that the work was hard but it would be so much easier with two of them sharing the duties. When the family was here she had the help of a young girl who came in five days a week but the family had asked her to go with them, knowing that with a husband here Edith was unlikely to leave the country. Now she would have her friend to help. Life was looking up.