The family dines out

A driveway in Nashville. Autumn 1960.

“Well, isn’t this a nice sunny day for us all to go out for dinner together?” St. Phil smiles at his parents and brother. His father returns the smile.

“Okay,” St. Phil continues, twirling his keys on his right forefinger, “Who wants to drive? Would you like to drive, Daddy?”

“No,” Ike responds. “I don’t care to fight that heavy traffic you get on a Sunday afternoon. I will just let myself be carried.”

“Well, that’s just fine, Daddy, so long as it suits you. Mama, would—”

St. Phil stops speaking as Devil Don snatches the ring of keys from his brother’s extended finger and proceeds toward the driver’s door. “You have until I can start the engine to figure out whether Mama or Daddy is riding up front with me AND to plant your sorry ass somewhere in the back seat.”

“Okay, I think I understand, Donald. Daddy, would you—”

“I’m riding in front,” Margaret interrupts. Devil Don detours to the front passenger’s door to open it for his mother.

“Well, Daddy, do you want to ride behind Donald or behind Mama?”

“It doesn’t really matter to me, son,” Ike beams at St. Phil.

Devil Don walks between the car and the sidewalk where Ike and St. Phil stand, holding the keys at chest level and making them jingle. He counts rhythmically, carefully enunciating every syllable, “Ten, nine, eight . . .”

St. Phil opens a door for his father, pushes Ike inside, and closes the door before dashing to the other side of the vehicle. Meanwhile, a redheaded Handmaiden behind the wheel of a Ford that is parked thirty yards from the house starts her automobile’s engine.

A split second after St. Phil closes his door, Devil Don starts St. Phil’s Caddy, backs the car up ten feet, applies the brake, and puts the car in “park,” turning off its motor. Immediately thereafter, he slumps over the steering wheel in tears. Two pedestrian Handmaidens spring from the hedges on either side of the driveway and begin running for the car, but Margaret jumps out of the car and stares them down.

“You are not needed here,” she states flatly. She seats herself again, closes the car door, and queries her elder son. “What is it now?”

“Oh, I did it again. Phil was just being his usual Mr. Congeniality, and I got impatient and hurt his feelings.”

“Your brother’s feelings are not hurt. He has not even noticed that you stopped the car. He and your father are discussing guitar strings, a topic which is apparently significantly more important than the upcoming Presidential election, fallout shelters, space aliens, and Sputniks 1, 2, and 3 all put together.”

Margaret glances over her shoulder into the back seat. “Not to mention that it is probably the only topic that will be discussed at our upcoming meal, should we ever get to it. Our reservation is for dinner, not breakfast, so I suggest you start the car again. Do it now.”

Devil Don starts the engine and executes two quick reverse turns to get the vehicle facing outward toward the street. He pulls forward another ten feet and abruptly stops, turning the motor off again.

Devil Don sits upright, but he emits a snuffling sound. “We’re trying to get along, Mama, really we are. Do you think I should apologize?”

“I think you should stop blubbering. He would not begin to know why you were apologizing. Just start the car and drive us to the restaurant. When we get there, and he starts working out the seating arrangements, concentrate on holding your tongue.” Margaret pauses a few seconds to ponder the many obstacles inherent to enjoying a family meal at a restaurant. “And when we’re done eating, remember to give him a few minutes to insist that he wants to pay before you actually hand the waiter your Diner’s Club card.”

Once again Devil Don turns the ignition key. This time the family gets to the restaurant, and he manages a friendly smile as he hands the keys to the parking valet and gives instructions for keeping the car and the Ford behind them in close proximity. “We will want to leave together later,” he explains.

Inside the restaurant, the hostess blinks in surprise at the four very attractive Handmaidens. “And here I thought,” she whispers to Devil Don, “that the reservation arrangements signified a children’s table.”

“No. Just some fans that we are treating,” Devil Don assures her, dispensing another smile, a smile that freezes on his face as he tunes into his brother’s idiosyncratic voice. The family is led to a tiny round table covered by a classic red-and-white checkered tablecloth. A rather small but striking floral arrangement rests in the center of the table, and Devil Don focuses on its color and spatial composition in an attempt to ignore his brother’s familiar pre-meal speech.

“You know, Daddy, I was just thinking you might like to sit across from Mama, and that way Donald and I will each get to sit next to both of our parents.” St. Phil and the waiter pull chairs from the table to seat Margaret and Ike accordingly.

Devil Don holds his tongue and keeps smiling. Oh, goody. That means that each of us will have the opportunity to knock elbows with one of our parents. If nothing else, the discomfort will be evenly distributed. Devil Don is beginning to feel the stress in his facial muscles as he reaches for the vacant chair in front of him and mentally prepares to arm wrestle his father throughout the upcoming meal.

But St. Phil begins laughing heartily. “Wait a minute! Oh, my gosh, what am I thinking?”

Here it comes. Watch me, Mama, I am not taking the bait. Devil Don forces a look of recognition from Margaret.

“Oh, how many times have I made that mistake?” St. Phil begins, searching the faces around the table for a reaction.

A couple hundred times, Devil Don thinks, although he says nothing.

Realizing that Devil Don is not opting into the conversation, St. Phil turns to address the diners at surrounding tables, all of whom appear delighted to have the attention of one of the famous brothers.

“I swear I do it every time!” St. Phil begins.

Yes, you do. Absolutely you do. But nonetheless, Devil Don holds his smile, as well as the back of the chair in front of him, and looks first at their audience and at then his brother. You cannot out-grin me, Baby Boy Phil.

“You see,” St. Phil continues, speaking to the room at large. “Donald and I are lefthanders, but Daddy and Mama are righties, and when I try to work out how we should sit, I forget all about those important facts. Now, let’s see. It will probably be better if Mama and Daddy sit next to each other.”

Devil Don pulls out the chair he has been grasping as Margaret stands and moves to it, seating herself to Ike’s right. Simultaneously, St. Phil seats himself at Ike’s left.

Devil Don then pulls out the remaining chair and, still smiling, points to the chair’s vacant seat cushion. St. Phil gets up and moves to the spot his brother has indicated.

St. Phil accepts a menu from the waiter while Devil Don seats himself to Ike’s left and St. Phil’s right. “Why is it always so difficult to get settled at the table?”

“Could be because you always take it upon yourself to play social director,” offers the still-grinning Devil Don.

“Sorta like the way you always have to drive, Donald,” St. Phil observes, grinning back at his brother and flourishing his menu, elbowing his mother’s shoulder in the process.

Margaret rubs her shoulder and executes a stage whisper between pursed lips. “Boys!”

Conversation ceases as each member of the family studies a menu and places an order. As the waiter departs with their orders, Ike attempts to start a conversation. “Tell me, which is stronger? One stick alone or two sticks together?”

St. Phil answers immediately, “Two sticks together!”

Devil Don looks at his father. “Does that explain what happened to the original Everly Brothers? Were you one stick alone, Daddy, while Uncle Charlie and Uncle Leonard were two sticks together? Or were the two of them separated while you were being a lonely ol‘ stick yourself?”

“Donald, I think Daddy’s stick story is supposed to refer to us.” St. Phil manages to widen his smile.

“I’m sure it does, brother dear” Devil Don says, “But aren’t you at least a little bit curious about why three Everly Brothers went to Chicago together, and one ended up in Iowa?” Exerting maximum effort, he pulls his lips farther apart, increasing the expanse of visible teeth.

Margaret takes control. “I think we should change the subject.”

Ike does not take the hint. “Well, I suppose Donnie deserves an answer to his question.”

“I don’t think so,” Margaret says firmly, looking directly at Ike.

“Well, maybe not.” Ike pivots smoothly to another topic. “I understand you boys are trying to get along better. Your mother says you have made some rules for yourselves. Why don’t you fill me in on what they are?”

“Well,” St. Phil begins, “We are trying to spend more time apart, because the less we see of each other, the less we can argue.”

Ike looks from son to son. “Have you two thought about anything a little more positive?”

“Certainly.” Devil Don continues, “In fact, we are planning to get two apartments, one in Hollywood and one in New York City, so when we are not working, we can stay on different coasts. It will mean that we will have to forgo these cheerful family dinners together, but I guess progress demands sacrifice.”

“Okay, okay, Donald,” St. Phil addresses his brother. “From now on, I will not try to suggest a seating arrangement when we eat out together.” St. Phil pauses, then finishes in triumph, “And you will not insist on driving.”

“Oh, that’s a good idea. Daddy is a terrible driver, Mama’s almost as bad, and you are a speed demon, so any one of you driving leaves me a nervous wreck.”

“As you always are anyway. Tell me, have you slept any this month?”

Margret intervenes. “Stop it, both of you. And apologize.”



“Don’t whine, either of you. Apologize to your parents and then to each other. NOW!”

Apologies are made. Dinner is consumed. Facial muscles are relaxed. Eventually, Devil Don pays the tab while St. Phil shakes hands with virtually everyone in the dining room—skipping only the Handmaidens.

Margaret drives herself, her husband, and her sulking older son home. When they arrive, St. Phil is sitting on the roof, smoking.