There was a British sitcom on the Public Broadcasting Network which I got hooked on a few years ago called “Keeping Up Appearances.” Remember it?
The show featured an insufferable social climbing woman named Hyacinth who was always throwing “candlelight dinners” which no one wanted to attend, but she thought were the social events of the season.
Well. I have become Hyacinth. For years now, I have been preparing for my “candlelight Christmas dinners” with the misguided enthusiasm of Hyacinth. The words “stuffy” and “pompous” come to mind.
I spent days polishing the family silver which was dog-eared from being churned up in the garbage disposal too many times. I made place cards so I could control where everyone sat. I put out matching, but useless salt and pepper shakers, which never would shake out a grain no matter how hard you shook.
It took days to get the centerpiece just right – never mind that no one could see the person seated across the table. My table cloth was always white and I would watch the guests like a hawk to see who dribbled the gravy.
Then, suddenly, everything changed because of Brenda. She invited me to have Thanksgiving dinner at her house last month. She already had at least 25 members of her own family and I couldn’t imagine where I would sit! Plus she invited at least six other “strays” like myself.
It turned out to be one of my most memorable holiday meals. Maybe it was because her guest list was so … inclusive. I’ve always limited myself to how many people I can squeeze around my dining room table – 12 at the most. (Heaven help anyone who has a baby or marries a new woman. Sorry, no room in the inn.)
I don’t allow anyone in my kitchen and insist on cranking out the dishes like a martyr about to be put to death. (Do I secretly want all the credit? Hyacinth, get thee behind me.)
There were never fewer than six cooks in Brenda’s kitchen, which is no larger than mine! She didn’t care, and was cool as a cucumber. I, on the other hand, usually get overwhelmed, burn the bread, and join my guests with a bad case of the hives and a twitching eyelid.
When it was time to eat, Brenda threw out some unbreakable plates, some plastic cups and a basket of forks. Everyone served themselves right out of the pots still bubbling on the stove. What a novel idea!
Of course, it was traditional Southern fare – ham, turkey, corn on the cob, peas she put up last summer, and the best sweet potatoes this side of heaven. She cooks Vardaman sweet potatoes (they HAVE to be from Vardaman) right on the stove top, adding butter, sugar and vanilla when they are tender. They were so delicious I had some more for dessert.
There was a huge green bean casserole – wonder why I stopped making that years ago? There were cakes, pies and three or four salads brought by some of the guests.
Once everyone got their plates filled, they grabbed a seat wherever they could. The men gravitated to one area (near the TV), the women to another. (I typically cut off the television and watch the men grimace.)
We had so much fun, it was almost dark when I finally trudged back across the street to my place. I had a warm, happy feeling we all hope for during the Holidays.
For my Christmas dinner this week, I’m dumping all the accoutrements and taking a page out of Brenda’s play book. After all, she WAS Mississippi’s Miss Hospitality and she’s a good teacher.
Emily Jones is a retired journalist who lives in Starkville. She edits a website for bouncing baby boomers facing retirement. She welcomes comments at www.deludeddiva.com .