Sunday, 30 September 2018

The Michaelmas Party

Last night we hosted our first dinner party in St. Benedict over the Apple Tree. It was our first dinner party since, in early February, a faulty fire retardant system changed our lives forever. Dinner parties are our favourite social events, but unfortunately B.A.'s illness has curtailed them greatly for the past year and a half.  (We made an effort for Polish Pretend Son's visits home.) The fact that we can have them again is a sign of hope.

This dinner party took an unusual amount of preparation because of all the boxes lying around.  I  stuffed them into cupboards and closets between cooking tasks. Originally I meant the party to celebrate the end of our move, as well as St. Michael, B.A's anniversary, and our anniversary, but we haven't finished moving. Moving out of a working museum when both halves of a couple work full-time and one is a cancer patient turns out to be a very long, drawn out affair. However, I managed to clear a good space in our new dining-room/guest room/office, and go to Michaelmas Mass, AND cook dinner, so all's well that ends well.

A guest who is increasingly visually impaired got lost on the way, and there were several expeditions to find her. The Schola Bass brought her in, and after I had handed her a restorative glass of hot buttered apple cider with rum, we had the flat blessed by our priest. It was really quite a short ritual beginning with Latin prayers and ending with Father sprinkling holy water in all the corners of the room, where demons might lurk. He sprinkled the hall cupboards, too, so if there are any demons in the flat, they are limited to the bedroom closet.

Then I brought out the soup, vastly grateful that B.A. had set the table. This had not been an easy task because he had to find the wineglasses in their boxes and to remember to bring the silverware and the electric candles from the Historical House.  Now that we no longer live in a museum, we can have real candles, but there were no beeswax candles at either Real Foods or Tesco, so I decided it would be more eco-trad to stick to our rechargeables.

Dinner consisted of "Autumn Vegetable" soup (my family's traditional Thanksgiving and Christmas soup); two fat, roasted free-ranged chickens;sage, apple and onion stuffing; gravy; curried carrots; green beans with almonds and red pepper; and szarlotka, Polish deep-dish apple pie, with whipped cream. There were also cheese, apple slices, and oatcakes afterwards, but nobody was interested in the cheese this time. The truffles I got on sale at Waitrose a few weeks ago were more popular.  And of course there were many bottles of wine, beginning with the fancy Cava my parents sent for B.A.'s birthday in August.

I think one day I will put everything on the table à la Russe so that I don't spend that party jumping up and rushing to the kitchen for the next course, etc. The routine was easier when the kitchen was directly across the hall from the dining-room. This time I missed out on most of the conversations although I do have an amusing anecdote for, having noticed a massive volume on my desk in the corner, an Oxford man, well-primed with wine, asked me why I had a book about polish.

"It's Polish," I explained---and he will never hear the end of it.

I think there was also a conversation touching on modernism, for we were entertained by an anecdote about a Catholic countryman telling a Catholic lady that "It's time somebody put a bung in Kung."

But I must say it was very odd, after nine-and-a-half years of dinner parties in the old dining room in the Historical House (built approximately 1683), to be in a high-ceilinged square room with a rectangular window instead of a long, low-ceiled room with a fireplace and an ox-eye window and the "Polish corridor" (a sleeping nook for visitors or suddenly homeless Polish students) behind B.A. at the head of the table. This time Father was at the head of the table and B.A. was at the foot beside me, and the lighting was different, and the room felt crowded and strange.

It will be more like home, I think, when we get in the last of the furniture, empty the last of the boxes, and get the pictures on the walls.

I wish I had an account of all Historical House dinner parties since late September (or early October) 2008, when B.A. threw a dinner party for me, the recently arrived Canadian guest. but we had so many of them, the basic formula is tattooed deep inside my brain. The most similar part this timewas the Great Dishwash. Looking down into the sink, it was easy to imagine myself in my old kitchen  and forget that the dining-room wasn't just across the hall but through the new sitting-room and then across the hall. Of course, I may have been slightly delirious at that point.

Our guests said nice things about our new flat, and the Bass said the sitting-room reminded him of our sitting-room in the Historical House, which pleased me very much. When the others went away the Master of the Men's Schola, the Bass and B.A. settled into armchairs for a good chat. Shortly after B.A. went to bed, I announced that there would be a new tradition. Thus, the MMS and the B moved their chatting-and-drinking operations into the kitchen while I continued the Great Dishwash.

It's funny about second winds--or third winds. I was probably on my third wind by then. At 1 AM I was on my hands and knees scrubbing the kitchen floor with Dr. Bonner's soap and a sponge--as happy as a robin in spring. I don't think it was the rum-laced apple cider either. It was joy at dinner parties returning to our lives.


  1. Yay for dinner parties!! That’s so wonderful!!

    I’ve been enjoying your new blog and so glad to hear about all of your projects (especially the chickens! Do get chickens!! It’s a such a fun experience!!)

    I don’t know if you are still interested in blogging about Auntie Seraphic questions, but if you are, I have one for you. :)

    Do you have any advice for single/married but childless women on how to deal with the loneliness/maintain friendships with other women when it seems like you’re the only one in the room without children? (Sometimes even the only one who isn’t pregnant.)

    When I get together with a group of other women it seems like the talk almost always comes around to their children. I try to participate in their conversations as much as I can, but honestly, there’s only so much I have to say about most topics involving small children.

    And not only is talking about their children a bonding experience for women, but the ones in my community spend a lot of their socializing time together at playdates at the park, etc. . . . opportunities for socializing that I can’t participate in.

    The vast majority of the women in the Catholic community where we live marry and start families very young, so unless I want to hang out with college or high school students (I’m in my 30’s) seeking friendships with younger women isn’t helpful.

    And all of the older women I know have full lives with lots of friends already.

    I’ve tried non-Catholic circles and found lovely women who don’t have children and are interested in talking about other things, but I’ve found it hard to pursue any kind of deeper friendship with them because our core values are so very different.

    I do try hard to be interested in and get to know my friends’ children, but in social settings this often ends up with me playing with the children while the moms chat with each other . . . not great for my emotional state, that’s for sure.

    (And before any moms jump in to answer-I KNOW mothers are consumed by the very difficult task of raising their young children and it’s healthy and reasonable and good for them to talk about the issues they face and most of them involve their children. I’m not suggesting that it should be otherwise or that anyone needs to modify their conversation when I’m around. Sorry if I’m a little trigger happy-but I’m so tired of being told that my feelings of being left out are unreasonable. :( I’m not attacking mothers, honestly!! I’m just sad and lonely.)

    I really strive to remain rooted in reality and I know there’s a certain extent to which childlessness within a community of flourishing families is going to be lonely.

    But is there any hope for making it less so? Are there better ways of combating the loneliness of being the only one left out /build and maintain friendships with women when I don’t have this experience that’s a major part of how women bond with each other?

  2. I know how lonely it is, believe me! I waited for years for other women to join our Trad set. "We need to find you other wifies, hen," is how a Schola member put it. What I recommend is finding women whose children are older (like teenagers), so that they have gotten over the talking-only-about-children stage, not to mention have stopped interrupting you to talk to their children. Meanwhile, I tend not to be at parties with women, but meet them one on one, very often when they've left their kids with family. But this would make a splendid post, so I will write it now.