November 18, 2006


'if I were invited to a dinner party with my characters, I wouldn't show up.' (Dr. Seuss)

Nintety-some of our friends. An unseasonably warm Northern California November afternoon. A handful of tried--and-true recipes, and a couple that turned out to be instant-favorite must-repeats. An annual event in my adult life that has roots in my childhood.

For as long as I can remember, my father held and "open house" party the day after Christmas.

He invited everyone he knew. Co-workers. Neighbors. Friends from church. Dog show judges (one of his many hobbies was showing his beloved cocker spaniels). Disney collectors (Disney figurines was another).

The guests often didn't know each other, but no one stayed strangers for long. A neighbor whose son befriended my brother discovered he shared a love of astronomy with an English teacher. And thus new friendships were born.

The menu included lasagna or ravioli, a roast turkey with stuffing or a beef roast with yorksire puddings or a huge ham wrapped in puff pastry -- or all of the above. The sumptuous feast displayed buffet style in the dining room inviting guests to partake.

To drink a handful of popular sodas, a jug or two of Dago Red and a fully stocked bar with a full bottle of Mo's favorite: Bombay Sapphire served on the rocks with 3 skewered olives on the side.

Mo's open house was legendary among his friends -- a bigger production in our household than any of the traditional holidays.

My father's birthday was the day after Christmas, but less than a dozen people knew that. Most thought he'd chosen the date to avoid conflicting with other obligations during the busy holiday season. Others figured he was just a bit eccentric. Late in life he shared the secret with me: his gift to himself was to surround himself with his friends and watch them enjoy one another's company.

So when I moved to my first REAL home five years ago and it was time to start thinking about a housewarming, I knew *exactly* how I was going to structure the celebration. John wasn't sure at first. How would it work when our guests didn't know each other? I wasn't sure how it would work, but I'd lived it long enough to know it would. And the first time one of our square dance friends connected with one of my co-workers and spent 45 minutes shared their passion for performing Shakespeare in a musical format, I understood why Mo considered the whole thing an indulgent gift. It's an opportunity to see our friends outside of whatever original activity brought us together -- to get to know them in an entirely different setting.

Six years later, the format's changed a bit from what I remember. Rather than a full meal on Chinette, John and I go with the finger-food approach which is much more our style. (And feels like a bit of rebellion, since Mo and I often butted heads over whether my beloved appetizers spoiled people's appetites for the "real food".) Wine has replaced the classic cocktail as the beverage of choice among our friends (though at this year's party, we went through a record 7 pots of coffee as well).

But more than once across the week or so we spend focused on the open house... when shopping for groceries, molding the hundredth meatball, schlepping the vacuum up the stairs, greeting the first guest or saying good-bye to the last, I thank Mo for showing me the joy of celebrating friendship.

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