Posted 3/15/22

WOODWORKING Party throwing at its finest A few weeks ago, as the B.W. and I sat on our lanai in Sarasota, she brought up the unthinkable: “To hell with Covid,” said she. “Let’s have a party …

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Party throwing at its finest

A few weeks ago, as the B.W. and I sat on our lanai in Sarasota, she brought up the unthinkable: “To hell with Covid,” said she. “Let’s have a party on this very lanai! We’ll invite only people who are fully vaccinated . . .”

“Certainly,” said I. “That won’t include Governor DeSantis.”

“No, my dearest, only people who recognize reality.”

“How many people do you think it’s safe to invite?”

“Oh, not more than a dozen.” A dozen! Considering the fact that we haven’t hosted a party for two years, I wondered how we could handle a dozen.

“Too many!” said I. “Okay. Eight then.” Back and forth we went. Finally, we settled on Jean and Joe and Karen and Jerry. I breathed a sigh of relief. Six bodies will fit on our lanai while observing appropriate social distancing and not overtaxing our defunct hosting skills. Sigh.

In the days of yore Ruth and I never had a problem with expanding the roster of a party. We both had grown up in households of limited means and knew little about attending, let alone giving, parties. So, when we married over a half century ago, with upward-mobility degrees and good new jobs, we jumped into the social world with a vengeance. First, we purchased an old house in South Minneapolis that was perfectly laid out for giving parties. Wide open spaces, good traffic patterns, corners for the shy to retire into . . . AND, we had cash flow! Regular paychecks that made our post-grad eyeballs spin in wonderment.

Thus, our decision to invite 30 — wow! — 30 people to a party at Christmas time. The guests were faculty friends from the schools Ruth and I taught at, most of who like us were unaccustomed to in-home social gatherings. With few standards to uphold, we had a fabulous time and decided we were meant to host parties.

A few years later I found a new job as the book review editor for the Mpls Star-Tribune, and our circle of friends and thus party guests grew by leaps and bounds. A new draw to keep our old friends coming was the presence of such literary lights as Judith Guest and Jon Hassler and distinguished book reviewers like Dr. William Nolan, M.D. from Litchfield, who wrote “The Making of a Surgeon.”

A career path change for Ruth brought us acquaintances from the U of M, and then when she landed the job at UWRF, we had a bigger circle of friends and acquaintances than we could ever have imagined. How could we feed and water such a roster??

On the cheap! A device we learned in grad school at BGSU, Ohio—an ultra-social place socially- unsophisticated Ruth and I reveled in. Cream cheese spread and dips into which we added bacon bits, horseradish, and soy sauce; Braunschweiger mixed with mayo and onions and formed into a pale pink “Christmas tree.” Meatballs 400 at a crack and lefse; pickled pan fish from last summer’s fishing expedition. And — big splurge! — Romanoff caviar, manufactured in St. Louis Park, Minn. at 75 cents an ounce (be sure to rinse off the black ink it’s packed in).

Drinks? Ernest and Julio Gallo Hearty Burgundy and “Two-Buck Chuck.” That was back in the days when wine was cheap.

It was all great fun. Since most of our guests, like us, came from liberal arts or literary backgrounds, conversation was a bigger draw than the food. And the things we learned! One favorite bit came from Ralph Erdrich (Louise’s father!) who found out that Ruth was a “Pirsig from home,” and informed her that her great uncle Ascher Pirsig made the best moonshine in Elmore, Minn.

I got so confident of my ability to host a party that one year I dared to do it on my own, to surprise Ruth on her 40th birthday, a day when she had a date to attend a Vikings-Packer game with a group of family and friends. I invited the whole neighborhood to come at 5 p.m., when the game would be coming to an end; 5:30 and still no Ruth and friends. Turns out the impish Cheeseheads had held Ruth hostage and plied her with “Snowshoes” (a concoction of brandy and peppermint schnapps) Slightly off kilter, she was surprised, and not necessarily pleasantly when she realized she was being greeted by everyone in the neighborhood who had little idea that her wobbly presence was not her normal self. That was the last party I ever surprised her with.

But not the last surprise party. She retaliated a few years later by throwing me a surprise party for my 50th birthday. The headache I experienced on that 9 a.m. flight was motive enough for both of us to never try surprise parties again.

But we never gave up our love for throwing parties. So this evening in March in sunny, warm Sarasota will find us gathering with two couples we’ve known for several years in our annual visits here, where we’ll munch on Brie, crackers, a few other nibblies and a not-vast array of stuff from the liquor cabinet. And talk and talk and talk. And we have no doubt it will be a blast.