Spoiler Alert: Last Sunday’s Downton Abbey Bombshell


I cry at Hallmark commercials. I’m not proud of this fact especially because I hate melodrama. But nonetheless I am a sucker for sap.

Sunday night, I anxiously awaited the latest episode of Downton Abbey. I am an unabashed fan, having watched the first two seasons on my iPad so I could catch up and watch the current season on TV.

But Sunday night, oh Sunday night, two-thirds into the episode I was happy I happened to have the house to myself. I couldn’t stop crying. It was so embarrassing.

If you are a fan you know by now that Sybil, the youngest of the sisters, died after delivering a baby. We got a sense something horrible was going to happen because she kept complaining about not feeling well. The family doctor wanted her in the hospital, but some prestigious blowhard physician with Sir in his name, convinced her father, the Earl of Grantham, that she was fine.

Obviously, she wasn’t.

Everyone loved Lady Sybil: her family, the servants, and most of all, her husband, who had been her chauffeur. When World War I broke out, Sybil went against her parents’ wishes and became a nurse. She also secretly helped one of the Abbey’s servants go to school She was kind, never aloof. Really, I could pick a couple of other characters we would have barely missed. But Sybil?

The more I learn to adjust to the news, and following similar thinkers on Twitter has helped, I’ve begun to admire the courage it took to kill off a loveable character. Downton Abbey was in danger of becoming boring what with Bates still in prison, and Thomas still a heel and middle sister Lady Edith still struggling with finding something to do.

But apparently the real reason for deleting Lady Sybil from the cast is neither creative nor complex.

Series creator Julian Fellowes says it wasn’t his wish to kill Sybil. So why did he? Actress Jessica Brown Findlay wanted off. She is scheduled to appear in the movie “Winter’s Tale” with Russell Crowe as well as “Lullaby” with Garrett Hedlund and Amy Adams.

In the end, it was just Hollywood.






Those Stouffer Girls


Every so often I find myself reminiscing rather wistfully about a restaurant that figured prominently in my growing up. If “sweet rolls,” themed dining rooms (one on the Main Line appropriately called the Tack Room) and “Stouffer Girls” mean anything to you then you know what I’m referring to.

Today must of us know Stouffers only as the frozen food subsidiary of Nestle, a fact which does little to illuminate its origins. In fact, Stouffers began as a creamery business in 1922 in Medina, Ohio by Abraham and Mahala Stouffer, who quickly expanded it to a dairy stand in Cleveland.  Within a couple of years their two twenty-something sons, including one who graduated from Wharton, joined the company, growing the business into a full scale restaurant. After finding retail success in Cleveland, they began opening restaurants in Detroit, Pittsburgh, New York, Philadelphia and other cities. There were no waitresses, only “Stouffer Girls,” all impeccably well groomed and trained.

One of those Stouffer Girls happened to have been Dorothy Fisher, my late mother-in-law. Long before I joined the Fisher family, Dorothy had proudly lined up with other “Girls,” all of whom were dressed in uniforms as tidy and pressed as a Marine’s, and who held out their hands to display meticulous, manicured fingernails. Only then could the restaurant open for business. Ultimately, Dorothy became a manager, AKA a drill sergeant with a pleasant disposition, who supervised the dress rehearsal.

I was well aware of the restaurant chain as a child, having eaten at the Wynnewood, Pennsylvania locale with my family at least weekly for as many years as it remained in business.  There were three dining rooms, each with its own theme and décor. The menu changed daily but one reassuring constant was the offer of “hard roll or sweet.” We’d always ask for one of each, and smiling, the “Stouffer Girl” would place one sourdough and one sweet onto our bread plates. The sweet roll was always saved for dessert. It was lunchtime at the Wynnewood Stouffers where I first observed clusters of silver-haired widows sipping martinis.

When I graduated from college and moved to Philadelphia to become a news reporter, I used to meet my grandfather, Robert Schultz, and sometimes my sister, Susie Schultz (who coincidentally married a man with the same last name as our mom), at one of the Center City locations.

Local celebrities could be found dining at Stouffers during lunch or dinner. And my grandfather, who used to sell men’s clothing at Lit Brothers’ Department Store, knew all of them. Our meals were frequently interrupted by politicians, often ones I had tried unsuccessfully to reach for a news story, who stopped by our table to acknowledge Bob Schultz.

Short of this blog sounding like an advertisement, I need to explain that I own no stock in the company. I can’t even say I can remember the last time I ate Stouffers frozen foods. I can only say this: An old restaurant chain – a level between a diner and high end gourmet establishment – brings a smile to my face every time I think of it.

That, and it makes me crave cheesy macaroni and spinach soufflé.


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