`The Engineers' Club? Gracious!'

KEN COLEMAN, who does the Red Sox play-by-play for us, was meditating aloud between innings lately about the origin of Ladies' Day. He was relating it to baseball, as he should, and asked if listeners could help establish its beginning. I can't, but I'm guessing Ladies' Day came before Abner Doubleday, and then I wondered whatever became of Straw Hat Day. At least in the Boston and New England precinct, Straw Hat Day was a recognized spring occasion, when the men put aside their felts and everyody appeared in skimmers.

The day was well announced in the newspapers and the afternoon editions carried traditional pictures of that morning's crowd emerging from the Park Street subway station on the Common, flat straw hats prominent. Haven't heard anything about Straw Hat Day in many years now, and perhaps we should add it to Ladies' Day as something to know about.

On one of my treasured Edison phonograph records, the cylinders, there are selections from a Victor Herbert operetta, and one is the song ``Every Day Is Ladies' Day With Me.'' I could find the thing in a week or so, tucked into one of 15 boxes, and I could oil up a machine and play it for Ken Coleman. Instead, I will tell about a notable Ladies' Day I encountered once in Montreal.

We, two couples, came to Montreal on holiday, and I telephoned a friend who lived there to suggest we socialize. He seemed delighted, and he said, ``We're lucky -- this is Ladies' Day at the club, and we'll meet you there at 7:30 for supper.'' It was the Engineers' Club, a gentlemen's private and exclusive institution of Anglican complexion, far more British than anything in London. My friend gave me directions for finding the place and we looked forward to a pleasant evening.

When we mentioned to somebody in our hotel (this was before motels were invented) that we would sup at the Engineers' Club, hands were raised and we got a gasp of amazement. ``The Engineers' Club?'' -- rising inflection in disbelief. Then, ``Gracious!''

Thus we learned that not everybody gets invited, that we were honored and privileged, and that we should approach this with decorum and respect. Which we did. Doing the best we could with vacation-trip clothes, we preened, and I recall I went to Ogilvie's to buy a new necktie. And instead of arriving in our travel-dusted vehicle, we called for a taxicab. Our ladies wore corsages, and we carried a third for our hostess -- that is, the wife of my friend, the member.

When we asked the taxicab driver to conduct us to the Engineers' Club, he turned in his seat to look us over as if to approve or disapprove our readiness for such lavish living, and after a moment seemed to approve. He told us that in many years of driving a Montreal cab, he had carried fares to the Engineers' Club only twice -- this was the third time -- and many of the city's cabbies had never been so favored. At all. Both previous times, he said, his fares said they expected to have the buffalo steak s. ``Place to have them,'' he said.

We descended in dignified manner before the stately Engineers' Club, but not until the cab-driver came around to open our door for us. He stood back and bowed slightly as we straightened up and approached the big front door of the club. There might be people watching to see the arrival of the fortunate! At our summons, the door opened and a Jeeves who outdid Wodehouse inquired our purpose. He seemed to indicate that whatever we had in mind was already disapproved. ``We are to meet Mr. and Mrs. So-and-so

for supper,'' I said.

``Oh-h-h-h-h-h?'' He looked us over as if hoping to find lint on our lapels, seemed to struggle at the necessity of accepting this improbability, and then he said, ``Very well. You will please use the side entrance.''

We did use the side entrance, because we were accompanied by females. Without them, we two men would have passed through Jeeves's needle eye. As I said, things may have changed since then, but that was Ladies' Day. Only time I ever ate a buffalo steak.

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