I was talking with a friend at dinner last night and she told me that another friend of ours hosts a family reunion at her place in the mountains that is so huge, she has to rent port-a-potties. Suddenly my 20 person gig seems tiny. When everyone was here though, from Thursday to Sunday, it sure didn’t feel tiny. And in the days preceding when I was filling tiki torches and repainting my Adirondack chairs and grocery shopping, grocery shopping, grocery shopping, it sure didn’t feel like a tiny thing. And when I went upstairs just before they arrived and realized that my son’s version of making his room ready for guests looked rather different from mine (which narrowly includes a path to the bed and the sheets that aren’t torn), and I had to remake his bed and throw scads of stuff in the closet, it didn’t seem tiny. But as I told my aunt, who was sympathizing with all the work it required of the host, it’s a labor of love and besides, I’d much rather host it than travel to it. I’m a homegirl in the more boring sense of the word; I do hate traveling. So you spend your money and time on getting here, and I’ll spend mine on making something worth coming too. And I’ll do it again over winter holiday and next summer too and as long as people keep coming. I’m looking forward to grandbabies joining the mix at some point.
I’m getting better at hosting these gatherings; it’s a bit of science and bit of art, really. I did organize it to within an inch of its life so I did not in fact spend gobs of time in the kitchen away from the fam, which was my primary goal. I spent a bunch of time outside, talking over 3 hours of coffee (half-caff) each morning and looking at magazines and sweating a lot but swimming a lot too. And I did manage to feed everyone well and plentifully. My sister tells me I’m a hard one to help in the kitchen but of course I don’t see it that way—if you let me be the boss, I tell her, and just do everything exactly the way I like it, then I’m a dream to help in the kitchen. You may be surprised to hear that the time I do spend in the kitchen—anytime of year—is usually spent solo. What can I say, the details matter to me.
Our family is matriarchal. The women pretty much run everything and the men go along with it. I’m never quite sure if they do so willingly or not but I guess can live with either. I enjoyed the sweet fragrance of estrogen in the air for several days, and miss it now. My coffee Monday morning before work was neither 3 hours long (nor 2 nor 1 even), nor was it graced with the voices of my mother and my aunts and it felt a little sad. I am typing this on my laptop in my backyard and except for the chirp of cardinals (which my mother swears is the sound of big fat kiss) and the doleful song of the mourning dove on my roof, the atmosphere is conspicuously silent and empty. Normally I love this, but today it feels melancholy. I miss the women. Even if that means my aunt won’t be up before anyone else in the morning, sweeping the floor and knocking the broom against the table legs resulting in her not being the only one up for long. And I miss the deep laughter of my other aunt and her interest in what my son reads. And I miss my mother’s and my sisters’ fondness for turning even the most dour moments into comedic ones. So I mediate the melancholy by beginning to plan our winter holiday gathering in December. Here’s the plan. A low-stress, low-activity Christmas Day. No cooking. No dressing up. In fact, no getting ready at all—we’re all gathering in our pajamas. And we’re all cooking dinner for our own families on Christmas Eve and bringing leftovers to our gathering the next day. Leftovers and PJs. Now that’s a plan.