When Senator Claude Pepper And His Mildred Gave Us A Buffet Dinner & Miscellaneous Shower

Mildred Pepper, whose husband Claude was Florida's senator, heard I was getting married -- we were close as pages in a book -- and then and there decided she'd give me a wedding "shower". She knew all her invitees and told them to bring presents.and in her hand-addressed invitations.

It was a cocktail buffet at their home on Alhambra Circle. Since I was paying for my own family wedding luncheon, Mildred could see hers was the only way to get presents. Mildred was a "down-home gal"; her sister Marie who lived in LaBelle (which they joked was pronounced La Bolay) was just as down-to-earth; she and her husband Tom had acres of tomato plants. Like farmers of that vintage told it, "they were squatin' in high cotton.

Jane Fisher, who had been married to Miami Beach founder Carl Fisher, was an early arrival. She was an enthusiastic gardener and gave me seeds to grow five pound tomatoes. Mary Jane Sertel, who published the Social Register and kept wanting me to take it over because her eyes were failing, arrived on the arm of her husband Lino, a millionaire insurance salesman. (I turned her down. I like to write and didn't want to trade my excitement for security.)

Mildred wanted to honor me (with presents) and made the most of the evening.She helped me unwrap a gift from John Jacob Astor, a crystal vase with gold embossing, as tall as an umbrella stand and too heavy to lift. Guests put their comments in a guest book,as Mildred fastidiously kept count of each person's present so she would give me a fully-detailed account of her hostessing a Bouffet,(as she pronounced) and Miscellaneous Shower at 501 Alhambra Circle in Coral Gables.
Carl and Nadine Hoskins signed in first; their house abutted Coral Gables Country Club's popular golf course. Nadine loved painting , was self-taught and in demand. Carl ran his gas station near Anthony Abraham's huge Chevrolet dealership on Lejeune Road, two blocks facing SW 8th Street. (Tamiami Trail as it was known to old timers.) He 'took care' of my Chevy.

Carl recommended me to their national ad agency in St. Louis; they sent a photographer who spent a whole morning shooting stills. We clowned around and they okayed me to drive my car across Rickenbacker Causeway following their camera truck and to stare straight ahead and not look nervous. I wasn't to look at my speedometer either and if they slowed down I was sure I'd hit the Clicker-man who was filming and we did it in one take. I got residual fees for nearly a year.

I had grown close to them because Mary Jane's eyesight was failing and I'd tell her who was coming up to the table. She wanted me to take over the blue book - said I'd never have a money worry in my life, but I turned her down. They tried to get the impresario of the Surf Club but Alfred Barton declined attending; he had his reasons. He sidled up to me and said he avoided parties off his own turf at the Surf Club. "People can do anything they want to me, just DON'T BORE ME!"

Palm Beach society columnist Helen Rich arrived; likewise Phoebe Morse, head of the Humane Society and Maude Massengale of the Florida Sun newspaper. I called my future in-laws Peggy and Ed McHale the "outlaws" which got a laugh out of Hope Stokes, my attendant Margaret Acer, Judy Hornady, and other members of the Miami News staff.

Elsa and Bill Stubblefield made a grand entrance. She confided in me that they never had children because she didn't want to ruin her figure. They made a handsome couple. The Clarence Hands were on hand, my foster sister Ruth Andersen, who took over my bedroom at my parent's home; Ivah and Neil Miller. Ivah loved heavily beaded ball gowns. She lifted the skirt of one which weighed 45 pounds. Did it slow her down? Not much.When Neil died, Ivah kept their Sunset Island II home. After the ball was over, she'd drive to the second bridge and ask the bridge tender to unzip the back of her gown.

It was rumored that she ran a bookie joint in back of her beauty salon but I didn't write gossip. Now that guests at that party are no longer among us, it's safe to write about their diversions. Better to obsess alone than confess flights of fancy.