January is an odd month for a party. It's cold and miserable or wet and slippery or sunny for the first time in ages ... you either don't want to go out to get there or you don't want to go inside to visit. There's an awful lot of cleaning up to do before a party, and December being December, with its endless tchotchke possibilities, with visitors and packages and wrapping and baking and comings and goings, well, December is just a messy memory by the time January rolls around. Hosting a party requires removing the flotsam and jetsam to less obvious locales and then repairing the damage to floors and windows and countertops. It's all a bit overwhelming to me even without the knowledge that hungry hordes will be descending on my home. I don't host parties in January.
But I have some friends who have made a tradition of New Year's Day events. One is celebrating his birthday with home made chili and every friend he's ever had. When children were born, the party took on less of an alcoholic continuation of the Eve before and became more of a food and football soiree. The beer shared ice bucket space with juice boxes.
Their's is a big old rambling many storied house on a wooded street in a university town. The driveway is long and slippery and the porch is wide and wrap-around and as welcoming as her smile when she'd see us traipsing up the broad stairs. We carried diaper bags and holiday gifts and wine and our coats and boots and hats and shoes and mittens and scarves and oh dear lord how did I ever deal with it all? We found the bedroom-cum-coat-rack and dumped our stuff in a corner, all wrapped up in Dad's humongous parka. The kids made a bee-line for the once-was-a-ball room-and-now-is-a-playroom on the top floor and the grownups headed for the kitchen or the living room or one of the many many televisions on which football and basketball were the only fare. TBG had a certain chair in front of a certain tv and after a few years the other guests became accustomed to stepping over his legs on their way to the couch. It was that kind of party - comfortable as an old shoe.
There were play group moms and lawyers and nurses and doctors and neighbors and relatives and no one was boring. It's true. There was always a fascinating conversation and something delicious to eat and something unusual to drink and it was the only party we ever attended where none of us wanted to go home early. Leaving Chicago for Marin was really really hard; being out of town for Jack's birthday party made me cry.
And now I'm in Tucson and The Hikers host a pot-luck gathering of similarly minded individuals and whatever stray family members or out of town guests they happen to have lying around. The same relatives show up year after year and they, too, become part of the extended family that The Hikers have created around themselves. It's a self-selected group of hale and hearty grown ups, most of whom had fascinating lives someplace else. Many of us lived in Chicago or California so there's lots of common ground. I haven't been able to talk about Michael Bilandic in a long long time, and there are enough gardeners in the crowd to keep me occupied for hours.
But, just like my mid-western friends, The Hikers are pretty special in and of themselves. He once snapped me out of a major funk by correctly depicting the person who was making me crazy as completely f***ed up. Then he blew his nose and continued on down the path. I stood there, laughing and agreeing with him, as the rest of our troupe passed me by. There's not a lot of artifice there, just good common sense. She's the one who plans and cares and arranges and considers and is much more thoughtful than she needs to be. The fact that she went to high school with Billy Crystal is only one of the interesting things on her resume. Her ability to dispense exactly the right amount of concern is matched only by her inability to accept a compliment. And people try to give her compliments. Often. She's just that good.
G'ma's on the guest list and she gets just as many holiday hugs as I do. These are people of a certain age, most of whom have experience with aging parents. G'ma's good cheer and complete acceptance of the fact that she can't remember anything brings joy and laughter to those who come to pay court. More than one person remarked that she was totally there (where did they think she was?) and I knew just what they meant. She is still a whiz at superficial social conversation. She's got a snarky remark and a twinkle in her eye for every occasion, and while she might not remember how the conversation started, at any given moment she's right there, following along. Just don't ask her what the topic is, or the name of her interlocutor. It doesn't really matter. She's always been a good listener and The Hikers invite a lot of talkers. It was a guest list made in heaven.
There was a table for 4 and we sat opposite one another, gorging on casseroles and salads and sweet treats that weren't all chocolate. They tell me that those were good, too. I can vouch for the lemon tart thingies and the gooey yellow cake with amazing crumble topping. We talked about independent living and assistance when all you need is help remembering "though having your laundry done and the cooking and cleaning taken care of is pretty good, too." Our friend's mother and brother were conspiring to make her feel guilty and G'ma did a great job of quashing that notion. "Let them take care of it, then" she instructed my girlfriend as her husband applauded. There was a smile and a nod of the head and the message was received.
I told you: in the moment she's my real mother, the one with good advice and a kind smile. I basked for a while and then it was time to take G'ma home for the pod-castle's New Year's Dinner of turkey and mashed potatoes and stuffing and gravy and it's a good thing that she has no short term memory because there wasn't more than 30 minutes between leaving The Hikers' and sitting down with her lady friends. "Oh, they're eating dinner!" she said with a smile.
I hope your new year started off as nicely as mine did.