I knew what I was going for last week when I started preparing my mother’s birthday dinner. Something warm, something autumnal, something that screamed, “Thanks for everything and I’m really sorry about setting the family car on fire that one Christmas when I was sixteen.” You know … a complete package message.
I go for the same theme each year, and each year I fall spectacularly short.
It usually starts with the number of attendees. When throwing a birthday dinner, it’s proven to be most readily appreciated if the individual whose birth you are celebrating is present (unless it’s something like Presidents’ Day or Christmas, in which one finds it unreasonable to expect the dead to appear).
This year, the number of invitees dwindled. It was only going to be my mom, my kids and myself: small, intimate, deflating.
I was going to have to cancel the big band swing orchestra and the caterer. I drew the line at calling off the inflatable moon bounce, because that has proven to be the highlight of the evening for my mom the last five years running.
I spent the entire previous day making this beautiful Gingery Spiced Cake with Sour Cherries and a Sour Cherry Glaze. And by the entire day, I mean the whole time between 3:30 and 4:45, but I shoved twenty-four hours worth of love into that labor.
The following day, I worked feverishly at creating a Smoked Turkey and Black Lentil Stew, filled with smoked turkey and black lentils.
There were a billion other things in there too, and it was supposed to be recorded and preserved for everyone to see under the Scullery section, but I forgot to take pictures until everything was already in the crockpot. It proved near impossible to separate the teeny tiny black lentils from the onions, Kuri squash and thyme leaves in order to set up individual photo shots of each ingredient–and I did try for a while–but there was a lot left to be done, so I gave up.
I needed time to set up the champagne fountain and direct the newly arrived Grand Marshall as to the best route for the military parade later that day.
Once I finally unloaded the three vans full of white orchids, set up the fireworks and laser show outside, and emptied a room large enough to fit the shark tank in, I woke to the sound of the ringing telephone. (It turns out all those bits in between making the stew and filling up Shamu’s new digs were part of a lavish afternoon kip on the couch, but it didn’t make it any less real to me.)
The phone call was Chloe, announcing she and her brother were on their way home from his brutal soccer practice and her mind-numbing after-school job. They were hungry. Make food.
By the time they got home everything was ready: the stew, the cake, the set table , the small string quartet I’d settled for (okay, the CD player providing us with a little mood music). The problem was … we had no guest of honor.
I told the kids to have a light snack, which to them usually involves a bagel, a smoothie, a bowl of popcorn, some soup and an entire pantry shelf full of cookies. They were set for the next thirty minutes.
After an hour and a half, I phoned my mother, who always answers her iPhone the same way: like it’s a small explosive device that could detonate at any moment, and therefore, she must handle it like plutonium.
“Hello?” came the tentative, faraway voice on the other end of the line. She usually holds it at arm’s length.
“Mom? What time are you coming for dinner?”
“My last student is late. I’m waiting for him.”
Note: my mother is a violin teacher who would rather be drawn and quartered, watching her intestines being roasted on an open flame in front of her, than miss instructing a small child of three or four how to properly take a bow.
“About an hour and a half, but he hasn’t phoned to cancel, so I’m assuming he’s still coming.”
“Mom. His lesson is a total of fifteen minutes. He’s missed it six times over. He’s not coming. Dinner is ready.”
“You go ahead and start without me. I’m just finishing up.”
I put the phone down and cradled my head. I am again in the situation where I must celebrate a birthday without the birthed celebrant.
“DINNER!” I called.
The dog and cat came running.
Ladling out the stew, the first question I get when handing it to my daughter is, “Is there meat in it?”
I answer yes, but remind her that the turkey was a vegetarian, so it should be okay in the end.
The next question is, “Are there guts in it?”
This is a question everyone asks if they know we’ll be dining with either one or both of my Polish parents.
“Not today, sweets. It’s guts-free gruel.”
We finish dinner, clean up and the kids leave to do homework. My mom’s car pulls up the driveway. She comes in looking exhausted. I place a bowl of stew in front of her, but then have to return half of it to the crockpot, because she insists it’s too much. I convince her to have a glass of wine from a very special bottle, pushing it into her hands. I sit across from her, watching as she nudges my stew around on the plate.
Finally, I call the kids down and we light the cake and bring it in. It looks beautiful. My daughter snaps photos, we pass out the pieces. My son takes a bite and announces in Spanish to his sibling that my chocolate cake tastes like mierda. I retort to my surprised fourteen-year old that firstly, it does not taste like poo and secondly, it is not chocolate and thirdly, I worked for hours on making that cake (75 minutes), and that I do not appreciate either his language or his lack of appreciation.
I turn to my mother. “What do you think? Do you like it?”
She shrugs her shoulders, “Truthfully, I can’t taste a thing. I’ve got a cold. I’m heading to bed.”
I look at the dog and cat.
“You guys wanna go for a moon bounce?”
Don’t forget to check out what’s cookin’ in the Scullery this week (here) and what we’re all talkin’ about down in the pub (here)!
11 thoughts on “The Party; prodigious promise, dismal delivery.”
I hale your grandest effforts for your muter! How deflating your past few months have been; the garden tribulares, your most consuming efforts to prepare a meal that even Escoffier himself would have found shocked, at most, tenaciously and a truthfully underappreciated by such educated palates as one’s own teenage son. The interruption of your sweat and tears over a full days deluge of slaving over the soup, the cake (ohh that savory cake) with the typical mid-day phone call that the troops are coming home so you clone yourself just in time to make sure their tummys are full while not fogetting the guest of honor… and the constant changing of the correct entertainment to choose and then cancel. I’m guessing you probably were over-come with what to wear as well. I, feel your pain.
Over my last eight birthdays, the most memorable celebration I enjoyed was waking up at 4:30am to a small cupcake covered with tiny finger prints and missing frosting, three little children (whom all, of course, needed to be fed, diapers changed, lunches made, dressed, changed again, and delivered to day-care or school) and then enjoyed my birthday cupcake on my way to work, alone. I even hummed my birthday song to myself.
Pat yourself on your shoulder, strap on your boots (not your barn boots as you really should just give up on the gardening) and pick yourself up as you once again out-did yourself in the kitchen (where I’ve told you some of your grandest talents lie). Know in your deepest part of your soul that your mother, even with being the modestly late guest of honor, adornes you and all your efforts. I know, even she would have been happy with a grilled cheese sandwich and a can of Schlitz beer to share with you on your veranda while watching the sun set. (You do recall she was always the last one to sit and eat dinner as the rest of the family ravished the goods and then swept away as if some other huge priority was in need of tending).
Oh I wish that someone, someday would offer me such a birthday celebration. If you’d ever consider that to be me, I’d cancel everything… even a meeting with the Pope if it meant I would be charished in glory for just that one day.
Oh, Steve, I think you’ve got yourself the making of a posse of perfection. Those tiny fingers are going to continue fussing over you and grow with a fevered pitch intensity. Each year that cupcake will get better tasting and probably better looking. Thank you for your lovely words of encouragement as always. I do it on behalf of all of you who can’t be here in person – maybe not as well as some, but with heartfelt intent and a side dish of humor. 😉
You deserve an “attagirl”! I tip my hat to your magnificent efforts of taking care of your loved ones. Thanks for sharing. Gary
I’ll take that “attagirl” and raise you one “backatcha” because I bet you’d do the same for yours, Gary. No doubt! 😉
You always conjure up such funny images…. thanks for bringing a big, fat smile to my face 🙂
Thank you, PJ. If I can’t manage to conjure up a decent dinner party, I’ll have to settle for a good giggle!
Sometimes they only notice when you DON’T do something. Loved the dream party, I got some good ideas there. LOL
Dream parties are the best. They’re incredibly impressive, everyone is wowed, and I wake up feeling totally refreshed. 😉
Ah yes, I’m all too familiar with this scenario. (Except for the part about the wonderful baking and cooking. You’re tops in that department, hands down). The part about being under-appreciated, though, the effort, the hope, the desire to put smiles on faces and to warm bellies. I get that in spades. My mom was always under-stated. She hated a fuss. We were not aloud to make a big deal about her birthday or, heaven forbid, Mother’s Day. I really related to this post, and delight as always at your wonderfully written and humorous take on life. Big squishy hug
Good heavens, Alys, I haven’t read this essay in years. I snorted so hard at one point just remembering this day that my dog came running over to see if I was choking on lunch, and therefore, wouldn’t be alive to finish it.
I’m glad it resonates though, and I’m not surprised. I’m pretty sure we’re cut from the same cloth–although yours was done with finely sharpened shears and then edged in shiny sequins and I was just hand ripped from the big bolt.
Regardless, I’m glad you found this one and allowed me a trip down memory lane.
Big squishy hugs back, dear friend. ❤
You are hilarious! I spotted this on Twitter yesterday. You must have random posts cycling through. Is that correct?
There is nothing “hand ripped from the bolt” about you, my dear, but you did make me laugh again.
I’m really glad you didn’t choke on your lunch. Haggis, you sly dog you.
Big squishy hug back at you.