For the past week, I have been “coaxing” Christmas songs to pop up on my iTunes. And finally here they are! Perfect timing, after the best of the 8 Christmas parties I have thrown. The food was a hit all around. I’m very pleased. Salad was killed, no one left a bite of dessert, and I have only half a lasagne left. Mrs. Desmond’s cheeseball was even better this year because I didn’t have Worcester sauce and replaced it with soy sauce and sriracha. Wonder if ol’ Mildred, from Richmond, Virginia, would approve. Well, my friends did. It was really good.
We didn’t eat dinner until nearly 10. Not because it wasn’t ready, but we were too busy chatting and opening gifts and telling stories and drinking champagne. Most people left at 12:30 which is impressive. I moved the party from Sunday night to Saturday, and it made a difference. I began this party the first year I lived alone, which was my last year at USF. There were six girls, and it was a white elephant. We had a silver madonna boob purse, a scary wooden cat with real human hair, lottery tickets, and giant underpants. I didn’t have the cheeseball. I had a store-bought cheeseball. Until I didn’t.
The story of the cheeseball is that the year before Gram died, I interviewed her about her recipes because I wanted to write a cookbook for all of us. It’s actually a beautiful book, filled with awesome pictures of my grandmother in the 50s and 60s and beyond, in her kitchen, in her apron. I asked her about family recipes that we grew up eating, most of which I already knew how to make by heart. Each recipe in the book comes with a story, of the reason behind the recipe.
We sat for hours in her small assisted living studio, only furnished with a microwave. She told me who her cooking partner was in 7th grade. She recited her recipe for Hermits from when she was five. This was the woman who at nearly 90, was slowly losing her mind. The stories I heard that day from a woman who had always been my hero, always been my best friend, amazed me. How she could remember that if your fruitcake was too moist, stick half an apple in the tin and put it in a dark cupboard? And that you always press down ginger cookies with a glass dipped in sugar?
Mildred Desmond, or Mrs. Desmond as I had always known her, was Gram’s next door neighbor when they moved down from Canada. She was a lovely woman. We always had cheeseballs at Christmas. So the year I made the cookbook, I made the cheeseball. Gram mentioned in when we talked that day about her recipes, and there it was in her handwriting, yellowed and aged and food-stained. It made Gram smile, and so it stuck. It’s on page 11 of the cookbook. It was four Christmases ago, and I wouldn’t dream of forgetting it at my party.
I had been looking for a holiday tablecloth for the past few weeks, and oddly enough, yesterday in a small vintage shop down the street, I found one. I was looking for a gift, and there it was, one that Gram owned from the 50s or 60s. I told the owner of the store that Gram had one just like it, and I was having a Christmas party that night. The girl next to me in the store burst into tears, and the owner told me it was meant to be.
It feels awfully familiar to me, this tablecloth. Maybe it’s not it exactly, but it choked me up, and made my party just a smidge more festive. It’s funny, the routines and habits we find ourselves in, hoping to keep those who are no longer with us, with us. It really was a great night.
So today, as I clean up the remainders of last night, I am reminded of good friends, great food, and irreplaceable memories. And just so you know, lasagne was my breakfast, and I am okay with that. And I definitely had some cheeseball as a late night snack.
I follow in the footsteps of the many generations of women on my Mom’s side of the family that were and are amazing hosts. We don’t half-ass things. We pride ourselves on small touches, like not only making things from scratch, but sitting with our guests and having fun. My heroes, my Mom and Grandma, and even Mrs. Desmond, have instilled this in me.
I am so fortunate. And so is that old tablecloth that I saved yesterday, which will be loved for a long time.
The Nearness of You–Norah Jones
Winter Wonderland–Lena Horne
Jingle Bells–Bing Crosby
I’m Not Sleeping–Counting Crows
Once You’ve Loved Somebody–Dixie Chicks