The Marinaras, Matthew and his dad and mom..., oh, and their cat, Claw, lived in Happy Valley, Pennsylvania. It was a small town and everyone seemed to know everyone else. And they seemed to know everyone else's business. So everyone was surprised when Mr. Splutter, the mail carrier, marched up to the Marinara’s door and announced that there was a letter for Matthew.
“Who is it from?” asked Matthew.
“Not my business,” said Mr. Splutter. “Besides, there’s no return address.”
Matthew studied the envelop. Sure enough, it didn’t have a return address, just a couple of marks in the left corner that looked like geese flying. “Hmm,” said Matthew, turning the envelop this way and that.
Claw rubbed against Matthew’s leg looking for attention. Matthew reached down with the letter and said, “Who do you think this is from, Claw?”
Claw sniffed the envelop, arched his back, and his fur stood straight up. He let out a yowl and dashed off upstairs.
“Silly cat,” said Matthew. He tore open the envelop and read the letter. It said,
Dear Mr. Matthew Marinara;
You are invited to a dinner to be held in your honor at the home of Baron Timothy Von Tinymann tomorrow evening at 1800 sharp. Guests may include very important people, such as the Mayor, the Chief of Police, the head of the school district, and members of the city council. You would be wise not to disappoint these VIPs.
RSVP, which, if you don’t know French, means, Are You Coming or Not, Please (and you better be coming).
Very Respectfully yours,
His Royal Hindend, Timothy Von Tinymann, III, Baron of Kugelkase
Gosh, I wonder why I’m being honored, Matthew thought. Maybe because I did my homework this week? No, that can’t be it. I didn’t do my homework.
Matthew scratched his head. Why am I being honored? he asked himself. Maybe it’s because I didn’t tease the cat, thought Matthew. No, Matthew said to himself, you don’t get rewarded for not doing bad things. You get rewarded for doing good things.
“Let’s see,” Matthew said to himself, “Did I help Papa take the garbage out? No. Did I help Mama wash the dinner dishes? No. Did I put away my toys? No.”
Matthew thought and thought, but he could not think of anything he did to deserve being honored, especially by “very important people,” like the Baron and his VIP guests.
He ran into the kitchen and showed his mother the letter. “Why do you think I’m being honored, Mama? he asked.
Mama Marinara looked at the note. “Who is Baron Von Tinymann?” she asked Matthew.
“He’s a very important person, and he is holding a dinner in my honor,” Matthew said, proudly.
“That’s nice, dear,” said Matthew’s mama, and then she turned back to the pasta sauce she was making.
Matthew ran into the living room where his papa was sitting reading the paper. “Papa, papa!” Matthew shouted. “Look at this note.”
Papa Marinara lowered his paper and glanced at the note. “Hmm,” he said.
“Why do you think I’m being honored, Papa?” Matthew said.
Matthew’s papa said, “Ask your mama, Matthew,” and went back to reading the paper again.
Matthew walked slowly back to his room and sat on his bed, staring at the letter. There must be a good reason, he thought. I’ll just have to go and find out. He went to his desk and wrote a note. It said:
Dear Baron Von Tinymann;
I am coming to dinner, but I don’t know why.
Matthew Marinara, Kid of Goodly Street, Happy Valley, PA
The next evening, Matthew put on his good slacks, shoes, and shirt, and pulled a warm sweater on. Then he put on his heavy coat, shoved the dinner invitation in his pocket, and went to the front door.
“Bye!” he shouted, and dashed out.
Matthew wasn’t sure how he found the Baron Timothy Von Tinymann home; somehow he knew it would be on the very top of the hill, and it was -- way up there playing hide and seek in the clouds.
Matthew came to a wall so high he could not see the top. In the middle of the wall were two tall flamingoes facing each other. Matthew stared at them.
“What are you staring ahtttt?” the flamingoes squawked.
“Uh...” Matthew stammered. “I’m here for the dinner.”
“What dinner?” the flamingo on the left asked.
“The dinner in my honor; I’m Matthew--”
Before Matthew could finish saying his name, the flamingo on the right said to his partner, “He’s the guest of honor, you bird brain.”
“Oh dear, then we should open,” the other flamingo said and the two flamingoes turned and opened like a giant bird gate, feathers flapping apart in welcome.
Matthew walked through the flamingo bird gate and headed towards the house. He walked and walked, up and up he went, until he was breathing hard and wondering if he’d ever get there. Finally he came to the front door. He saw a big door knocker shaped like a serpent and standing on his tip toes, grasped it and banged it on the door.
“Ouch! Ouch! Ouch!” the door knocker shouted. “Sissss-pose, I banged your head on the door,” the serpent said. “How would feel about that?”
“I’m sorry,” said Matthew. “I wanted to get in.”
“Well, ssssssilly, why don’t you open the door?”
Matthew turned the door handle and the big door swung open, its hinges squealing like Grandpa Marinara’s old wheel barrel.
Matthew walked into a cavernous entry hall filled with dusty statues. The walls were hung with dark paintings of castles, and mountains, and oceans. A giant chandelier hung overhead. Most of the lights in the chandelier were out and it gave off only a faint, ghostly light.
Matthew’s footsteps echoed on the cold floor tiles.
Matthew said a weak, “Hello?”
No one answered.
He said, “Hello” louder, and still no answer.
Then he shouted “Hello! and his voice echoed around the empty room, “Hello lo lo lo lo.”
Matthew decided he’d either got the date of the dinner wrong, or someone was playing a joke on him, and he turned and was about to leave when he heard, “Master Marinara, I presume.”
Matthew turned back and there was a man standing in the entry. He stood very straight, wore a black tuxedo, with a bow tie, and kept his hands clasped behind his back. He bowed slightly and Matthew saw that the man’s black hair was very shiny and not a single strand was out of place. “Yes,” said Matthew.
“Indeed,” said the man. “I am Butter, the butler. Follow me, please. The dining room is this way.”
Butter the butler led Matthew to a set of double doors. Matthew could hear loud voices, the clatter of dishes, and what sounded like a duck quacking, all coming from the room behind the doors. What a noisy dinner party, Matthew thought.
Butler Butter opened the door and bowed Matthew in. As Matthew passed by he noticed that the butler’s hair was painted on his bare scalp.
The dining room was a chattering, clattering, rattling, ruckus of a mess. A very fat man at the near end of the table was rocking violently in his chair hollering, “I’m stuck, I’m stuck, I’m stuck!”
The woman next to him had a giant, feathered hat on and was batting at it with a soup ladle. The hat was quacking.
The places around the table were filled with men and women of every size and shape and color and they were all talking at once, gesturing wildly, with food in their hands, and shouting to be heard over the general cacophony. The table was filled with covered platters. A large vase of flowers covered with caterpillars sat in the middle of the table.
Matthew was looking for his place at the table, when a piece of buttered bread and jelly came flying out of the air and hit him on the forehead. It stuck there on his forehead and Matthew was too stunned to do anything about it.
“I say there, young man, that’s my jellied bread. I’ll thank you to give it back!” said a very small woman seated near the head of the table. She jumped up on the table and came running towards Matthew to get her bread, but suddenly she was stopped in her tracks, and a deep voice shouted from the head of the table, “Silence!”
The room went as silent as church.
Matthew tried to see who shouted, but the woman on the table whose bread he had on his forehead was blocking his view.
The woman climbed off the table and back into her seat and Matthew saw a very elegantly dressed, very little man at the head of the table.
“This is the guest of honor, Master Matthew Marinara,” the man said in his deep, sonorous voice. “Allow me to introduce myself, Master Matthew. I am Baron Timothy von Tinymann. At your service. And this charming lady,” and the Baron gestured to the small woman at his right, “is Lady Lydia von Tinymann.”
“He has my bread on his head,” said Lady Lydia.
“Nonsense,” said the Baron. “It’s the latest fashion.”
And all the guests began slapping jellied bread on their foreheads.
“Now then Master Matthew,” said the Baron. “Let me introduce you to the menu.”
“The menu?” said Matthew, pulling the bread off his forehead. “Don’t you mean to say, introduce me to the other guests?” said Matthew.
“I say what I mean, and I mean what I said, I said, when I said what I meant,” said the Baron, throwing his head back so violently that the bread on his head went flying into the soup tureen.
There was a violent splashing in the tureen as several turtles fought over the bread.
“Now then, please pay attention,” the Baron said.
He climbed out of his chair and up onto the table. He lifted the lid off a platter and pointed to a frog sitting on a bed of lettuce. “Il primo,” the Baron announced, with a flourish. “We will start with a frog-leg salad. Say hello Hoppy.” The frog said, “Ribbid.”
The Baron replaced the lid and went to the next platter. Lifting the lid he gestured to a sparrow sitting on its nest. “We will then have a bird’s nest soup.” The sparrow gave a tiny chirp, before the Baron replaced the lid.
Matthew watched in fascination as the Baron went from platter to platter introducing their contents; a pink pig he called, “Span Ferkel,” a brown rabbit, he called “Hasen Pfeffer,” and then a platter with nothing in it.
The Baron looked around the table and spotted the duck on the woman’s hat. “Ah ha!” he said, grabbing the duck and putting it back in the platter. “This is our French delegate, Monsieur D’la Orange; the pièce de résistance.”
The duck said, “Je suis enchanté,” before the Baron slammed the platter’s lid down.
“Very nice,” said Matthew, wondering what was for dessert, but feeling it would be impolite to ask. “Where do I sit?” he asked.
“Why right here,” the Baron said, lifting the lid from a platter of spaghetti. “Pasta a la Matthew Marinara,” he announced to the diners, who stood in unison and clapped enthusiastically.
“I have to go to the bathroom,” Matthew said. And that’s when he woke up.
Matthew ran to the bathroom, washed up, and skipped down the stairs, hopping over Claw on his way. His mother was in the kitchen working at the stove.
“Momma, momma!” Matthew shouted, “What are we having for dinner?”
“Dinner?” His mother said. “We haven’t even had breakfast yet.”
Just then Matthew’s father came into the kitchen. “I think I’ll fix my famous Pasta Marinara for dinner,” said the father.
“Oh no!” said Matthew.
Mama and Papa Marinara looked askance at Matthew.
“That’s odd,” said Mama Marinara. “He usually loves your pasta, Papa.”
“Hmm?” said Matthew’s father. “I wonder what’s gotten into him.”
“Baron von Tinymann,” Matthew said, under his breath.
“What’s that dear?” asked his mother, feeling his forehead to see if he had a fever.
“Nothing, Mama,” Matthew said, and went out to get the morning paper.
“Does he have a fever?” Papa Marinara asked Mama Marinara.
“No, but he seems to have jelly on his forehead.”