Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Dinner for... 24?

Old friends are the best. My husband has worked at Northwest U for 24 years. With our young kids underfoot, we had a big group of faculty come around that first Christmas for turkey dinner and began an annual tradition.

The kids have grown up, and none were around last night. But about half of the guests at dinner have met over the past 24 years to celebrate Christmas. Some have retired or lost a spouse, and others have moved away. Each year, new friends join the circle: once attending, they become part of the guest list. Our rule of thumb is to issue three invitations. Miss three times and another person is invited in your place. Occasionally someone doesn't RSVP in time, and their spot is taken as we go down the list of people we'd love to have join us.

We laugh and talk about our memories at the university and people we used to know. We always read Christmas scriptures and sing carols. Last year we were snowed out so we met at Valentines. (Nope, no carols that year.) One year we skipped the party because we were building a house and life was simply too chaotic.

We served appetizers for the first time yesterday, goblets dangling from cutouts in our square bamboo plates as we circulated to chat and catch up. A good thing: traffic was so horrific that one carload's commute took 1:40 from the neighboring suburb. The dedicated foursome were exhausted when they arrived, but we were all so happy to see them!

Our turkey, stuffing, and gravy are accompanied by foods that have become traditions by repetition and request. One couple brings their special potato recipe. Others bring home-baked rolls, olives and cranberries, or punch fixings. We always enjoy Ernestine's Pea Salad, made by a member of our education faculty in honor of E, an outstanding teacher who passed away a few years ago. By dessert, we are all groaning over the abundance of the feast. We wrap a few meals for guests with seniority to enjoy the next day.

After everyone leaves, my husband and I put away the leftovers, wash dishes, wipe down the counters and sinks, toss tablecloths and napkins into the washing machine, and fold up the tables.

This morning, though dishes are done, linens are hanging to dry, and furniture is moved back into place, the warm feeling of having friends in the house remains. We are grateful for the laughter and tears we have shared over the years. Thanks, old friends! We love you.

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