Sue is a gifted hostess. Her luncheon or dinner tables are set to say welcome – let’s enjoy our moments together.
This holiday season, in the midst of the added burden of my treatments, Sue once again turned her sites outward – this time to entertain the ladies of the neighborhood with a special Christmas luncheon. Handmade invitations accented with buttons were sent to the eighteen households and the prompt R.S.V.P.s foretold a memory in the making.
In the days leading up to to the luncheon Sue kept busy in the kitchen trying recipes, refining the table settings, and planning each detail of the final menu. But a successful luncheon is marked by more than the table and the tastes . . . there are other ingredients of hospitality including the flow of the conversation and the deliberate inclusion of each guest. The holiday alone affords a festive tone and Sue adds to expectations for the holiday soiree by requesting each lady bring a favorite Christmas ornament and prepare to share the story of its special meaning. The details are complete and Sue becomes a lady in waiting.
Murphy, our cairn terrier, sits with me in the upstairs sitting room – out of sight but not out of earshot. My task for the day is to keep the social Murph apart from the guests so that the focus of the day will be on them. For the moment, I’m mostly thinking leftovers and Murphy leans forward in his stance figuring with this many people some food is bound to drop to the floor and a rare treat in store.
It’s 11:50 and the first guest rings the front doorbell. Soon, close neighbors will knock at the side door. One by one the ladies arrive donned in their Christmas colors. They have stepped it up a notch in their wardrobe this morning – they’ve dressed with anticipation. There’s even a bit more jewelry but not over the top.
I had hoped to keep the upstairs door open to listen in on Sue’s mastery of hosting but Murphy needs to be kept at bay so I am privy to only the tones and tenor of the conversations. At each opening of the front door there is a patterned pulse with each greeting – a higher pitched welcome and response followed by repeated comments regarding Sue’s thoughtfulness in hosting.
The doorbell rings again and raised pitches welcome another guest. There are polite introductions of the newest neighbor while long tenured residents catch up on kids and grandkids. There’s a sudden shift with the next introduction as two ladies who have lived side by side for four years meet each other for the first time. Laughter and hugs follow.
Murphy can’t stand it. His nose is at the seam in the door jamb as the perfume wafting up the staircase signals something big is happening. From the kitchen just below my room I can hear the niceties of gathered women – a compliment here, an “I wish I could do that” there – a wall hanging is admired to keep the conversation moving. A third of the women want to co-host out of habit, half are asking if they can move things to the table, and the remainder enjoy being pampered.
As the gathering shifts to the next room the words become less distinct to my ears but there is a cadence to a ladies’ luncheon that affords familiarity. A momentary lull in the conversation indicates its time to move from the kitchen to the formal dining room and the women anxiously yet politely search for the seating arrangements. Sue’s handiwork again pays off as her handcrafted name tags are noticed. “Darling” is a word that when spoken by females can easily pass through two sheets of drywall. It’s clear on the second floor they love her Christmas stocking name tags with names already written indicating each one’s place at the table.
An unexpected guest arrives – one who did not RSVP – and Sue masterfully takes it in stride by giving up her seat, clearing a corner spot for herself, pulling up a stool and quickly filling in the lone blank name tag left.
With introductions once again acknowledged for the newcomers there follows limited chatter to help each other identify the players. “It’s the house with the circle drive” or “They have the big elm tree out front” or “Her child is the one that sells the Girl Scout Cookies”.
Just ahead of the luncheon, Sue quiets all hearts with a brief devotional and scripture reading about taking time from our busy lives to enjoy the gifts around us. Her prayer for the meal includes a blessing for each home. And now it’s show time.
I’m several rooms away now – with the door closed. Murph has lost interest and assumes his afternoon nap position. I’m on the computer but can follow the muffled conversations not as to content but as to intent. There is a lilt to ladies’ laughter – it’s the tide of conversation in relaxed company. Someone makes a comment, not to their dining neighbor but to the whole table. Everyone politely listens and the quiet moment of address is followed by the universal lift in voices as they affirm a shared truth or laugh in unison at a humorous response. Pause, quiet statement, uniform response and a trailing comment. It’s the lilt of ladies’ laughter.
Toward the close of the meal Sue invites each one to share the story of their favorite Christmas ornament. They’re all over the board from a small photograph of a grandchild to a black rubber gorilla with a party hat – each one tells a story of moment of life they carry with joy.
The ebb and flow continues as they work around the table and in the process become more familiar, more knowledgeable, more comfortable with each other. Sue has done a wonderful work in bringing people together.
Then quietly, the dining denouement ensues as one by one yet without a timed pattern each one leaves for other responsibilities. A couple of women linger to help in the kitchen – one is a long time friend and the other a new friend who is relishing new companionship. Together the three savor the moment as the pleasant perfume of warm hospitality.
Christmas 2011 will be remembered in our neighborhood for Sue’s gracious hospitality and for the welcome lilt of ladies’ laughter.