Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Woman of the Year

The other night we had a mini dinner party with a dear friend and my beloved's Number 2 son and daughter-in-law. I cooked a casual supper, we drank beer and wine, we ate cupcakes for dessert, and had a generally delightful and sociable time. And I realized I was channeling my mother while we were doing it.

When I was little, I'd eavesdrop from down the hall as my mom and dad hosted dinner parties in our living and dining rooms. I'd hear the sounds of matches being struck as cigarettes were lit, and of ice cubes clinking in glasses, and loud peals of laughter as my dad told funny Hollywood stories in his skillful raconteur style.

All the time, my mom would be working away in the kitchen putting final touches on the dinner (I remember the Chicken Veronique, with green grapes tucked among the chicken breasts), chatting with female guests who'd slip in to see how she was doing or to offer help (I'd guess Mom rarely took it), and generally making the whole event look smooth and effortless.

She ran the whole house that way.

In no way was it effortless raising six children—four of them born so close together that she had four children under the age of 5 in the 1950s and four teenagers in the 1960s. Or moving the family from city to city when my dad's job as a Time-Life correspondent took him across the country and to England and back. Or getting her master's in her late 40s and her Ph.D. at 60. But we never saw her sweat. (That's a trick I haven't learned.)

The night of our dinner party was my mom's 84th birthday. While I seriously doubt I made the whole thing look effortless, and though my mother was in Los Angeles while I was scrambling around our New York kitchen, I felt her spirit with me as I chopped and simmered and tried to make conversation at the same time.

I'm a lot like my dad in some obvious ways. I went into journalism straight out of college, just like he did—for Time-Life, even. We express ourselves best in writing. We have similar senses of humor, looking at the world from an oblique angle and inserting a sharp verbal blade.

But my mom is the unassuming role model who has demonstrated—not preached, but shown by gentle, loving example—the art of living a generous life. I have a long way to go, but I hope to get there someday.

Happy Birthday, Mom. Thank you.


So Lovely said...

How lovely! Your post brings back such wonderful memories for me to. My parents (before their nightmare divorce) entertained almost every weekend. I was allowed to stay up and serve "nibbles" to the guests as long as I quietly disappeared upstairs straight after.
What they didn't know was I had an amazing view of them through the banister at the top of the stairs and would sit there for hours and listen to their conversations.
Many nights my mother would find me curled up on the floor sound asleep. I was in bliss.

Michele Hush said...

What a swell birthday gift to your mom. She sounds a lot like mine, who was a generation older but also attained hostess perfection with the appearance of almost no effort. How'd they do that? Your piece got me thinking about the cocktail parties that were a frequent occurrence in our household in the 1950s. My sister and I used to collect the glasses at the end and -- unbeknownst to my parents -- sample the contents to see what this or that tasted like!

Susan Champlin said...

I love both of your memories—I think we all probably got quite an education from our parents' parties. I remember once hiding in the hallway to listen in, just knowing that grown-up conversation was more exciting than ours, and being rewarded with the shocking use of the word "nipple" (in reference to a department store mannequin, but still!). Thrilling!

Lesley said...

What a wonderful piece you wrote that catches your mother's amazing serenity and strength - by way of a child's view of overheard dinner parties! A lovely gift for the real heroine in our midst.