Entertaining is such a joy.
It was easy when I lived in Red Lodge, Montana, to announce a potluck dinner on a Monday for that Friday. Small town proximity made it simple to work with friends’ schedules, even with everyone busy. In Pittsburgh … well, I have a friend from the opposite side of town whom I haven’t seen for ten months.
Getting together depends on where you work, where you live, what your commute is, the activities you’re involved in, what your spouse or kids are into, and if there are sporting events. Driving around Pittsburgh is a twenty minute venture—off peak times. During rush hour it can take a hard hour to go ten miles.
Getting my varied friends together is difficult one-on-one or even for a couple of us to have coffee. But a party every month the way I’d prefer? Get real.
So, I’m pretending.
Since pulling my friends together is problematic, let’s pretend I’m having a dinner party for a half dozen of my favorite famous (no longer in this world) people.
Watch me rubbing my hands together in delight at the mere notion. Who will I invite? Will my invitations be formally scripted or sent via e-mail? What will the menu involve? Should I opt for a potluck or formal dinner? Try for a lingering Saturday evening or a casual brunch on a Sunday afternoon?
There are so many options to pick from.
Appetizers: The guest list.
The notebook beside the computer shows the first six people who pop to mind. Wouldn’t it be delightful to sit around the table having aperitifs and appetizers with Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, Humphrey Bogart, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Isak Dinesen, and Beryl Markham?
I think Kate would be comfortable sitting in my living room—shoes kicked off, legs tucked under her, sipping a fine single malt on ice. Cary and Bogie would be good with that. We would discuss classic film stars versus the flamboyant nonsense we see too much of today. Cary would regale me with his resonant voice, Bogart would tell me about the films he had scheduled to make, and Katharine? Oh gosh, the stories she would recite as I sprawl at her feet!
Hmmm, what about Anne, Isak, and Beryl?
Springtime and a glass of white wine on the porch for Anne, a soft symphony playing in the background. At our elbows is a pastel flowered bowl overflowing with fresh grapes from Chile. She shyly regales us with the chronicles of her numerous world-crossing explorations.
Isak and Beryl, more outwardly adventurous, prefer sitting under the maple tree on checked flannel blankets. Our picnic includes red wine, sharp cheeses, rich salamis, and hard breads. They intrigue me with rambling words of their lives in Africa. The hot summer day demands languid, rambling discussions as they encourage me to keep traveling. Always.
I forgot one!
Raymond Chandler I want all to myself. Skip the party. How did he write those wonderful mysteries? So few words conveying such great descriptions.
What could Mr. Chandler teach me over dinner? Enough to help get my Pittsburgh mystery published?
Soup and salad: Additions.
It’s easy to move beyond the six guests I thought I could limit myself to. Especially when you think what setting who belongs in and which personality might mix with another. Turns out my fictitious dinner party is as tricky to plan as any real one I’ve put together.
I adore Pennsylvania home-town boy Jimmy Stewart and his country drawl turned lovely when he croons. Did you know he sang well? Or that he wrote delightful poetry?
What woman wouldn’t want to sit across the dinner table from Gregory Peck? Swoon. We could discuss the social stories behind To Kill a Mockingbird, A Gentleman’s Agreement, and The Boys from Brazil. These movies ranging from 1947 to 1978 cover serious topics … not always done in the early days of film.
Then there’s Mark Twain. Can you imagine your enthrallment sitting with the master storyteller? How hard would you laugh! What lessons would we grasp?
Louisa Mae Alcott or the Bronte sisters would inspire any writer to keep going forward, to never stop trying. Maya Angelou and Toni Morrison would give me glimpses into lives lived large and conquering.
Desert becomes our take away.
We mere mortals enjoy passing actors and writers for who they were in the art they produced and from what we glimpse about their lives. How gratifying to converse and absorb the essences of these folks throughout the courses of a lingering meal.
My fantasy dinner shows what I yearn for from those casually constructed and mirth-filled parties I hosted.
The sweetest part of any dinner is what I discover each time I spend an evening with friends. People bring their life-affirming laughter and insight into my world. Friends enrich my life by peeling back their daytime masks, opening their hearts, and sharing more each visit.
And so it is those deep conversations I love and long to experience, to repeat. It doesn’t matter whether we’re sitting around a dinner table or lounging on a blanket tossed upon a summer lawn. Friendships, relationships, make life interesting and worth living. The people we welcome into our worlds create movies and scripts of our journeys—how pleasant to have friends take the trips with us.