They gathered at my home, slowly. First a group of three, then four more, and finally, another four, including the little baby we hadn’t yet seen.

The first couple and their adult daughter arrived 15 minutes early, thinking they were 45 minutes late. No, I assured them, you’re fine. The woman and her daughter both made noises of aggravation mixed with triumph; clearly they had won some previous argument with that news. The man sputtered and pulled the pocket calendar out of his shirt pocket. He checked the time he had written down and declared he had been right, that he had copied it from the invitation email. The fact that I had just confirmed the later start time made no difference to him. His wife proceeded to talk loudly about his unreliability at getting things right, that you could never trust him, and that they had a big scene about being on time because she and her daughter had been out shopping instead of getting prepared to come over. Had he won they might have arrived an hour early. I wouldn’t have been home, I was out shopping too, for last minute items for the dish I was making. I was grateful that they got here when they did. I was also grateful no other guests had arrived to witness the verbal cutting down of the husband by his wife. These are my parents; my father and my step-mother, with my step-sister in tow. My step-sister being in town was the reason for the gathering; my parents live about 5 minutes away.

The second couple and their two small daughters arrived a half hour later. The seven-year old was the first to the door. No other person or vehicle was visible from the doorway. “Where are your parents?” I asked, peering behind her. She said “They’recomingthey’llbehereinaminute”, the words coming out in a rush, as though they couldn’t come out fast enough. Then she tackled me with a bear hug, her hands meeting behind my back. She is in the 99th percentile of height for her age, her limbs are long and skinny, and she bolts about like a colt who is still learning to run. Her parents showed up a minute later, arms full of food and beer and their other daughter. She had just turned two the week previous. Her huge black eyes stared at me calmly, as she leaned into her daddy’s body, and held her “passy” in her mouth. Daddy tried to take the pacifier away, trying to get her to say hi, but she shook him off, tossing her head and making a shrill noise.  No can do Dad, no hellos this time. He apologized for her, explaining that she’d just woken up. I wasn’t offended, I’ve never even heard her talk. She has yet to warm up to me, keeping her distance, watching me, as if assessing my worthiness of her favor. This time was no different. No big surprise. I’m used to it. Her mother followed them in and handed me a tray of vegetable kabobs, giving me a cheek-to-cheek hug as she passed. Her arms were still full of items. The pasta I had forgotten at the store and asked them to bring, the extra veggies for the grill, the case of beer her husband had promised to bring, and the baby bag, full of clean clothes, clean diapers, and other baby necessities.  This arrival brought smiles and laughter, unlike the previous group. These are my brother and sister-in-law and their two girls. They live nearby, about 15 minutes away.

The third group called three or four times from the road. “We’re lost!” It’s a simple drive from the house on Mt. Tabor to ours, but the directions they got from online were convoluted and confusing. A baby could be heard screaming in the background and its mother was sounding flustered. She usually does on the phone. “It’s as if they know when it will be most inconvenient to make noise!” Personally I am sure they do. Mama must not be allowed to pay attention to anything or anyone else. Finally they arrived, a woman my own age with two of her three kids (6 mos. and 6 years), and her stepfather. Her mother and her middle child were not feeling well and had decided to stay home. I was a little bit disappointed not to see them, but I understood. She gave me a big hug as though it had been a long time. It had. Two years I calculated. Her middle child had been a small baby on the last visit. She is visiting her parents for a week as she does every year. Last year I had a horrible cold and missed her. It wouldn’t do to be around the small children with that cold, so I had told her we’d have to try again next year. And, here she was, in my new house, congratulating me. “What a great house!! Oh, I love the vaulted ceiling!” I have known her since I was 13. We have been best friends for 28 years. These are my best friend Nicole, her children, and her stepfather.  She lives in Spokane, Washington, and her parents live in Portland. I have never been to their house, though they moved here a little over two years ago. I would guess it’s about 20 minutes from mine.

Wine and crackers with brie had been laid out on the table when my parents arrived, joining the large bowl of tortilla chips and a smaller bowl of Trader Joe’s Pineapple Salsa.  My husband swears by it. I actually haven’t tried it. I’m afraid I’ll like it, and I really don’t need any more reasons to pile tortilla chips in my mouth. As my family had moved out to the deck to chat, so had the appetizers and drinks. Now that everyone that was coming had arrived, the cooking and grilling began. I made a baked ziti casserole. I would have started it earlier but I had needed that pasta my sister-in-law was bringing. It’s a delicious pasta dish made with tons of cheese and red sauce, baked for an hour. I’m sure a serving accounts for all of my “food points” for the day, but I didn’t care. My husband took control of the grill. This is a good thing. He’s very good at it. Flank steak and veggie kabobs were tossed on and watched with the eye of a practiced grill chef. The smells were appetizing and made my stomach start to grumble. My step-mother put together the salad she had brought for us. It had candied walnuts, blue cheese, red onions, fresh salad greens and cranberries I think. The bread, two loaves: kalamata olive bread and rosemary bread, from Trader Joe’s also, were heated up in the oven and then sliced and put in a bread basket. All of the food was spread out on the table outside and everyone formed a line to dish up what they wanted. A couple of yellow jackets arrived for the party and had to be coaxed away with the “sacrificial piece of meat” that I placed on a small dish and perched on the rail of the deck.  The little girls were scared of the “bees” and high-tailed it inside, joined by Nicole with the baby. She was afraid he’d get stung. The rest of us toughed it out on the deck, emerging victorious over the little flying carnivores. The weather was the perfect temperature, completely comfortable with a sleeveless shirt and/or shorts. Several bottles of wine were consumed, along with a number of beers, and some crystal light for the girls. Conversation was easy and relaxed. My family hadn’t seen Nicole since my wedding five years ago, and had never met her stepfather, so there were plenty of topics to cover, lots of jokes to be made, and lots of pictures to take. The evening ended four hours after it had begun, with cheesecake for those inclined to indulge, and Skinny Cow mint ice cream sandwiches for those watching their waists. Many hugs were given all around and promises to see each other again sooner than later were proffered. Congratulations were given on our house and a successful evening. This was the family barbecue/potluck that my husband and I hosted on Saturday, engendered by my step-sister being in town for two weeks; my best friend being in town at the same time and able to attend was an unexpected and lovely bonus.

After the initial awkwardness of my parents early arrival had worn off, I had a great time and I think everyone else did as well.

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