When I got up at 6:30 on Sunday morning, there were two candles still burning. Now, that, my friends, is a good candle!
It was a beautiful day. We drank a cup of tea leisurely … and then we started to clear off the tables, fold up the (rented) tablecloths, and break down the chairs and tables. We rearranged the deck to its everyday configuration. Everything else was in good shape. Just about the time we finished this task, the guys from Murfreesboro Tent and Table showed up, and in half an hour the tent was down, the tables and chairs were loaded, and the backyard was clear. (The night before we’d put up the little bit of food that was left. And Jenny had been keeping a very sharp eye on trash and anything else that needed to be straightened up, so the yard was remarkably clear.)
You would have never known there’d been a party here. (Aside from that line of jars in the flower bed. They were there for about a week. Ha.)
I grew up in California, graduated from high school there—and I have a group of friends from that time. We were all in the same class from fifth grade on (I came later, when we moved to town, and due to family relocation we even gained another new member of the group in high school). Lots of people form lifelong bonds in college, but I gotta tell ya, the friends of my youth are very, very special to me. I would say, in fact, that one of the rewards of growing older is having these friends, and having had them my entire life. (More than fifty years.)
When I see these women—and I do, every five years or so, since I moved “out east” when I was twenty—I see beautiful young girls. They will forever be about seventeen in my eyes. And I know that when they see me, that’s the Jamie they see too.
Four of the group (there’s nine of us, I think) came out for the party.
I virtually ignored them on the night—because we’d already planned to spend Sunday together, hanging out on the deck. And there were so many people to greet. (But late in the evening we did manage to get behind the picture frame together.)
The Day After
So the yard was clear, we’d had tea, and the day was fine. And now my friends were going to come hang out on the deck. With spouses and partners. This was going to be a wonderful moment.
We made sure to take a photograph, first. Because I was tired and not thinking all that clearly. (Indeed, the better part of the day got away from me undocumented.)
And we just sat around and chatted. Heaven! There’s not a one of us who hasn’t had some heartbreak, who hasn’t seen some hard times. But we are happy people; we find a way to be happy every day.
One of the husbands (Tom?) engaged my son in conversation, and asked him to play for us. (Jesse’s a professional tubist and music educator.) Was that asking too much? Maybe he didn’t have his music with him, Tom said. Maybe he didn’t have his tuba. No—as it turns out, Jesse is preparing for a competition. He had the tuba, and he played.
Thus the day slipped by. I’d worried that it would rain all day, but it was grand.
At some point Maggie and Tom ran out and got a couple pizzas, we threw together a salad, and gathered in the dining room. Which was just the right size. Gerry and I have many times been glad we have this dining room, and never more than on this night. 🙂
The night wore on, and when I was afraid that I was going to do a face plant at the table (I was so, so tired), I told them I was going to have to kick them out. They laughed, and left. 🙂
The Day After the Day After: Gifts
Monday. Still exhausted. Still gradually picking things up and putting them back where they were supposed to be. Still cleaning the kitchen, trying to get back to normal. Slicing up the remaining strawberries for the freezer. Jesse and Katie had gone back across the Cumberland Plateau on Sunday afternoon, and the rest of our crew were heading off to Memphis for a couple days.
We were back in the middle of blackberry winter, so it was too chilly to sit outside. While we lingered over a cup of tea, Tom and Maggie called to thank us for a lovely time. They were on their way to Kentucky to see some of Tom’s family. “You were right to kick us out,” Maggie laughed. “Otherwise we might still be there!”
Over the second cup of tea, one by one, slowly, we opened all those beautiful, thoughtful gifts. (They’d been sitting in the dining room. More than one person in the house had looked at us, cocked an eyebrow, and said, “Aren’t you going to open those?” Yes, we were—but when we had time to savor it, to experience it. We were too busy enjoying our friends on Sunday.) So … we opened. Sometimes we laughed. Sometimes we cried. These were such personal things. So many people took the time to write special notes in blank cards. They decorated the envelopes. They decorated the boxes and bags. We were touched and … humbled … by how well our friends know us, know who we are. It is good to be *known* like this.
Later that afternoon, my sister and her husband came by to say good-bye. They were loaded up, ready to drive back across the country to the West Coast. (No, they don’t mind flying; but they enjoy seeing what they see along the way.) We managed a quick photo, and they were off.
Yes, yes, I did forget to post my professional blog on Saturday. Um, and Monday. (I post on Mondays, Thursdays, and Saturdays.) They were loaded and ready to go but … party. I was so exhausted.
A nice exhaustion.
Postmortem for a Backyard Party
There were things we did right, and things we might have done better. This is the biggest party I’ve ever thrown, and with the most moving parts. Here are some thoughts:
- Hire a caterer. I love to cook, and I enjoy putting a nice table together. But that was out of the question here.
- Keep the menu simple—and make sure the caterer is a good cook. No institutional food. A month later, people would still be telling me how good the food was.
- Buy less booze. We had plenty and people just didn’t drink it. Many stuck to water and sodas, even people who would normally have an adult beverage. We were surprised.
- Have a rain plan. The tent was brilliant. Money well-spent. And the rain kept everybody under the tent long enough for strangers to become friends.
- Use social media to keep people interested in the party—so they show up. Otherwise, a little bit of rain scares ’em off. We had a great turnout—and I posted on the Facebook event every day.
- Some people want to come but just can’t. A dear, dear friend of mine sent me a long note about all the crazy logistics they were trying to pull together to come from two states away. And it ended with, “I finally just said, what if we don’t go? And I chewed on it for a while. Now I think this is best and I am so sad. But this summer, we will come down for more than a day, and we will invite ourselves over and have you all to ourselves.” I know this was the right thing for them, and I look forward to seeing them later.
- Hire someone to take photos. You won’t be able to take all the photos yourself, and it will take up a lot of your party time if you do try to do it yourself.
- Live music is really nice. It’s a festive touch. People are still talking about it. This was a splurge for us, but it really made the night.
- Good friends and a good network make a good party. There was no odd-man/woman-out, because everyone who came knew someone … or had interacted on Facebook, so they knew names. I’m at that age, I think, that I know really great people, the sort of folks who can walk into a party knowing no one and still have a good time talking with anyone and everyone.
- Don’t clean the house before—clean it after. However, a sparkling bathroom is a nice welcome and makes a good impression. 🙂
- Plan something graceful to say when you want someone to stop doing what he is doing. We invited our neighbors, and one of them relives his glory days by telling everyone he plays piano (and leaping to the keyboard if anyone so much as says “Oh, that’s nice”). At one point I noticed our back door was wide open and this fellow was in there pounding away on my piano … while the musicians we’d paid to play were doing so about fifty feet away. I was mortified and angry, and I wish I’d asked him, quietly, to stop immediately. Instead I glared and slammed the door shut. It (eventually) had the desired effect, but I’m still steamed. How rude!
- Eat before the guests arrive. Otherwise you’ll be furtively sneaking food and talking with your mouth full.