In today’s Spokesman Review column, I write about the simple joy of breaking bread with friends. I hope entertaining isn’t a lost art. Do you enjoy having people over?
You can call it “company,” “having people over,” or even the loftier “entertaining,” but I just call it fun.
I grew up in a hospitable family. Our dining table had leaves to extend it and those leaves were frequently in use – especially on Sundays. Mom and Dad often brought someone home after church for Sunday supper, and Sunday game nights were a staple of my childhood.
In fact, I honed the waitress skills I used in college playing “restaurant” when my parents hosted a game night. I’d make the rounds with my “magic coffee pot” and offer refills to my parents’ obliging guests. I even earned tips, until I outgrew plastic dishes and was pressed into dishwashing. That wasn’t nearly as fun.
I married an extrovert who loves a houseful of people. Soon, we had a slew of friends who were also young parents and we’d all take turns hosting game nights. These weren’t fancy parties. Everybody brought a snack to share and we’d play Pit, Taboo or Charades for hours. It was worth every penny spent on baby sitters.
“Company’s coming!” was a battle cry, and I enlisted even the littlest ones in a game of clean up and hide stuff.
The whole clean house thing can be off-putting for some. Recently, a friend confessed the reason she dreaded having guests was the time it took to clean out all her closets.
Astonished, I asked. “You clean your CLOSETS before people come over? Why?”
She launched into an extremely far-fetched scenario about what if someone went upstairs looking for a bathroom and accidentally opened a closet door, and discovered that her towels weren’t organized by color and size.
Stunned by the fact that color coding bath towels is apparently a thing, I shook my head and admitted, “Honestly, I just clean my kitchen, living room and bathroom and call it good.”
Seriously, if someone sneaks a peek into a closet and is hit on the head by falling junk while judging my bath towel organization skills, well, that’s their own fault – not mine. And there’s a reason the bedroom door is shut. That’s where I stash everything when I’m cleaning. Open at your own risk.
Another friend hated to entertain because she felt she lacked culinary skills.
“I can’t cook,” she said. “Really, I’m terrible at it, so I can never ask anyone over for dinner.”
Apparently, she believed that only the Rachael Rays or Paula Deens of the world host dinner parties.
I quickly disabused her of that notion.
“You don’t have to be a good cook to entertain,” I said. “Go to Costco. Buy pre-made lasagna, a bag of salad, some garlic bread and a dessert. No cooking needed!”
She was skeptical, but a few weeks later I was thrilled when she invited us over and served the meal I’d suggested. We had a fabulous time and so did our hostess. She’d even upped the ante and used paper plates. No cleanup and nobody minded a bit.
But as our kids grew I was dismayed that dinner parties, game nights and barbecues became few and far between. For one thing, many of us who were at-home moms returned to work once our kids were in school. It was a struggle just to keep up with work and care for our families, let alone plan parties. And sporting events and band concerts gobbled up any elusive spare time.
For several years, entertaining consisted of planning snack schedules for soccer practice and huddling under shared quilts at football games.
But change is in the wind again. Slowly our nests are emptying. The kids still at home can drive or have plans of their own – plans that rarely include their parents.
So, I’m shaking out the tablecloths and dusting off the serving platters. This summer they’ve seen plenty of use.
At a recent gathering, more than a dozen guests filled our backyard. From my vantage point on the Delightful Deck, I paused and watched the smiling faces (some smeared with barbecue sauce) and listened to the happy buzz of laughter and conversation.
That sound reminded me why I love entertaining.
The food doesn’t have to be fancy. The gathering doesn’t have to be large. Paper plates are more practical than china, and plastic cups can hold expensive wine or cheap soda. Those are just the trimmings. All that matters is that people feel welcome and relaxed enough to sit down and stay awhile.
The real feast is in the friendship.
Contact Cindy Hval at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @CindyHval.