“Nana,” George, the Secret Service man, called across the yard to me, “I’m going to plant a couple of poplar trees up near the entrance to the estate. Do you want to bring the children and let them play there?” George was one of the men assigned to protect the grandchildren of the President of the United States, Franklin D. Roosevelt. It was 1942, our country was at war, and George often used gardening as a cover for his guard duties at the family home on Mercer Island near Seattle.
I was the nurse and companion for the children of Anna Roosevelt and John Boettiger, her husband. Tree planting sounded like an interesting activity, so Sistie, Buzzy, little Johnny, and I walked up the long graveled drive. We never went near the entrance without a guard.
The children and I set to work dragging vines and uprooted bushes. It didn’t take us long to become a very grungy group of helpers.
George looked up as a long black limousine pulled slowly into the drive and stopped. “Nana, stay here with the children,” he cautioned, then walked over to intercept it. In a few moments he returned with eyebrows raised in surprise. “It’s Governor Langlie! He and his wife are coming to dinner. We’ve got to go down to the house. The cook and butler didn’t tell me anything about this.”
“We didn’t expect company,” I explained to Mrs. Langlie a little later. “Mr. and Mrs. Boettiger are at the office. I’ll have to get the children cleaned up first.”
“That’s perfectly all right,” she answered with a bright smile. “I know it’s awkward. Let me help you. I have children of my own.”
So, sending Sis and Buzzy to their rooms to get cleaned, I showered Johnny and left Mrs. Langlie to dress him, while I got myself properly dressed.
George met me in the hall when I went to see how Sis and Buzz were managing. “Nana, the cook and butler want nothing to do with unexpected company. They’re up in their rooms and won’t come down. What are we going to do?”
I turned to Sistie. “It’s up to you and Buzzy to entertain the guests until your parents get home. Keep Johnny with you. George and I will be in the kitchen, getting dinner started.”
“Nana, we’ve never done anything like that. What will we say?” she asked.
“I know how you feel. Just be pleasant and talk. Mention the things that interest you. They know about children. I have to find something for dinner. The cook won’t help.” I watched the children move reluctantly toward the family room where the company had assembled.
In the kitchen George and I could find nothing planned for a meal. “I’ll get some things from the garden,” he said. “I’ll get salad vegetables and peas.”
“Will we have time to shell peas?” I asked. “It’ll take a lot of them. If you bring in some leaves of Swiss chard, I can prepare it more quickly.”
While he was gone, I searched for meat in all the cupboards, cooler, and refrigerator but found none. I went through the canned goods—but no meat; some cans had no labels. George opened one; it held potato and meat hash. “Can we do something with this?” he asked.
“I think so. Hash will be fine,” I answered. “I know how to fix it up.”
So George opened more cans, and I spread the hash in a large baking pan. We added chopped onions, dotted it with butter, and browned it in the oven. I cut the stems from the chard and cooked them as if they were cut celery. I cooked and chopped the green leaves like spinach. By the time the Boettigers returned, we even had a large pan of biscuits ready for the oven.
Mrs. Boettiger came to the kitchen and was relieved to see how things had progressed. “It all looks fine,” she said. “But how will the meal be served?”
“Don’t let that bother you,” I said. “The maid set the table before she left, and I’ve had training as a waitress. I know how to serve.”
Things went off quite well. The governor and his wife stayed all night, and since the cook also refused to make breakfast, George and I had to cope again. He made pancakes, and I served them. Then, while the family took their guests on the yacht on Lake Washington, the cook and butler finally came down and cleaned up.
The butler prepared to feed the dogs, and after looking around, he grumbled, “What happened to the dog food? Somebody stole it.”
After the company had left, the children and their mother sat on the back porch steps with me, and we went over the events of the previous evening.
“John really enjoyed that spinach,” Mrs. Boettiger commented.
“Spinach!” I remarked. “That was chard. So was the cooked celery.”
“What! ” she exclaimed. “John won’t touch chard!”
Then I told her the rest.
Mrs. Boettiger started to laugh. “I think that’s hilarious. You know, both the governor and John remarked how much they enjoyed that hash. They said they hadn’t had any for such a long time. Don’t anybody tell John. I don’t want to make him worry. Imagine! Dog food for the governor!”