I enjoy planning big dinner parties for family and friends. I like to deck out my home and use the many designs of china and crockery that I have purchased and inherited over the years. I have my mother’s silver flatware along with a set of handcrafted pewter utensils designed by our best friend’s Norwegian uncle, as well as two sets of stainless that I use everyday. All of the things that I use to entertain have special memories attached to them and it makes me happy to share them with the people that I love.
I’m not the world’s best cook. I have a few dishes that I use over and over again that seem to please my guests. I long to be like my friend, Linda, who has a thousand and one recipes that are always scrumptious. She seems born to be a master chef, whereas I have to really work at bringing all of the luscious flavors of a meal together. Admittedly I get somewhat anxious about getting all of the moving parts to run in unison, and so tend to be much more like the Biblical Mary than Martha. I’ve never quite learned how to make the whole presentation appear easy and flawless. Something inevitably goes wrong, but my guests don’t seem to mind, so I need to learn how to relax and enjoy the moment.
I work for weeks designing a menu and gathering the ingredients. I open the table that came from my dear friend, Pat, who passed from this world far too soon. When I learned that her husband was selling it, I had to purchase it because I knew how much she had loved that piece of furniture. I had been with her when she ordered it from an Amish furniture store. I still think of her each time I open it to its full length and set eight chairs around its perimeter. It is a work of art with its gears that slide like silk and its leaves stored so discreetly. It’s finish is perfection and I am so proud to be able to use it in her memory. It has a long history of love, starting with her. She was an exceptional entertainer who seemed to know exactly how to host a flawless extravaganza and still be attentive to every single guest. I learned from her and still find myself being inspired by her.
I choose my tableware according to the final menu I have chosen or the time of year when the party will take place. I have the china that my father purchased for my mother, a set of Willow Ware from my husband’s Aunt Elsie, delicate blue flowered china that my brother’s gave me as a wedding present, assorted sets from my mother-in-law, some lovely Italian tureens and bowls that my husband gave me for Christmas, and fun pieces that I purchased just because I liked them. My daughter jokes that none of my grandchildren ever need to register for china or everyday dishes because I can supply the lot of them with a lovely set of dinnerware.
Whenever I plan such an event I think of my grandmother Minnie who cooked for large groups of people at a moment’s notice and never appeared to give such an undertaking a second thought. She was in full command of her kitchen and because she was illiterate she never worked from a cookbook. She new how to quickly change proportions of ingredients to serve two or twenty, and everything came out exactly right.
My mother was the same way. She loved it when people just dropped by the house and agreed to stay for dinner. She’d go into the kitchen and create miracles with whatever she had. In fact she seemed to revel in the challenge of making memorable meals out of seemingly nothing. She had an almost magical touch when it came to food, and it was only when she grew older that she seemed to struggle to create a feast.
I have missed my dinner parties. Only two of my grandchildren have come to eat at my home since the pandemic roared its ugly head in the winter of 2020. Otherwise it is only my husband and I who eat together. We try to make dinner time fun and interesting, but more often than not we use paper plates rather than dirtying dishes. We eat on trays while watching some show or movie or instructional video. I find myself longing for those large groups of people laughing around my table and gobbling down my food, but most people that I know are reluctant to break bread together with people outside of their own households. They politely decline invitations, suggesting that we wait until the virus is better controlled, whenever that may be.
I don’t worry about losing any of my freedoms by getting vaccinated or wearing a mask or even getting tested or being quarantined so that I can have those social contacts again. For a brief time in May and June and July it seemed as though my normal ways of enjoying life had returned. The surge of the delta variant changed all of that and now I wonder how much longer it will be before the people that I know and love will once more feel comfortable attending one of my parties.
I am ever hopeful that we will learn how to live with Covid 19 and that one day my home will once again be filled with the excited chatter and laughter of people congregating around my table. I won’t fret over all the fancy fanfare if they come. I’d be perfectly willing to toss together some grilled cheese and tomato soup served on my everyday dishes just to get them here again. I won’t require lists or weeks of preparation. I just need to have them in my home again. My dream dinner party no longer revolves around anything but people and I look forward to the time when they come again.