Osius column: Sharing the table during the holidays
Last semester my younger son lived in chaos and hilarity with two wildly entertaining British students.
As we make Thanksgiving plans, I tell him, “Your grandmother says you’re welcome to invite your Brit friends.”
He laughs. “They’ll be fine.”
“Well, I doubt they’ll go home over break.”
“They’ll have plenty of places to go.”
My mother has always invited extras. For years she worked at St. John’s College in Annapolis, Maryland, and our family (and extended-family) Thanksgiving photos are always dotted with a few young “Johnnies,” whose names I cannot remember; nor, by now, can she.
I repeat my mother’s invitation to both of Mike’s and my sons, suggesting they ask along “any friend who lives far away.” We are spending Thanksgiving in Annapolis, which is close to Virginia, where Roy is a student, and a train ride from New York, where Ted is working.
“They’re all going somewhere,” the boys reply.
“Someone might not be,” I text back.
A few weeks later, I can’t help sending: “Remember, G-mom says you’re welcome to include guests.”
“Mom, chill,” they text back.
“Well, anyone likes to be asked.”
In time I text this memory, regarding my two sisters, then a college freshman and a 9-year-old (who gave up her room as a guest room), respectively: “We all remember the time your Aunt Meg brought this nice Iranian guy, Ali, home from college. He slept in Lucy’s room, and he didn’t know to turn on the electric blanket, and he was so cold all night. He said he kept thinking, ‘If Lucy can take it, so can I!’”
I have to add, “And then his country dissolved into revolution, and he disappeared, and Meg never saw him again.”
Later I give one last plug, about a charismatic friend who lives far from family. “She has many times spent Christmas by herself,” I say. “She doesn’t want to say anything, and everyone figures she has something going on.”
“OK, noted,” a son replies forbearingly.
Around here, my friend Randi for years did a potluck Thanksgiving for all comers. Lots of people went, and it always sounded fun. “It was a blast,” she says. Once when I lived in Utah, my housemates — Jim, Glenn and Rin — and I invited every other “orphan” we knew, putting a sheet on a ping-pong table for maybe a dozen of us. I recall music by the Grateful Dead.
My friend Heather, from Ottawa, once invited “anyone who didn’t have a place to go” to her place for Christmas dinner. I thought that was a bold move, since she had only arrived in the area three months before, but she says, “Oh, I wanted to. I was excited to do it.” She thought she would get “about two people.” Twenty came.
She had thought, as she went out skiing that day, that she was well-organized, with a turkey prepped, dessert done, and the woodstove packed full to make things cozy after everyone’s day on the slopes. What she didn’t realize was that the woodstove was designed for a house 10 times the size of her basement apartment. Also, while her (absent) landlords had said she could use their oven upstairs, she didn’t know for hours that, fiddling with the unfamiliar digital controls, she had not turned it on. The small apartment heated up to over 100 degrees. Her friends stripped down to their underwear and strolled around with margaritas. An enormous pan of potatoes someone placed in the small downstairs oven finally burst into flames. People ate dinner at 11:30 that night in their underwear.
My parents often had people over, in a multigenerational way, and we were encouraged to ask our friends. Though in recent years I have been remiss—always feeling short on time—one of my favorite things is having people to dinner, with the sharing and laughs and rowdiness.
My sons are in their early 20s, an age when friends and sociability present themselves boundlessly, or so it must seem to their blithe glance. Yet our texts might be a start. One son recently wrote, “I asked Jim, but he’s going home to California. He appreciated the invite.”
Meanwhile, I need to extend myself, too: to ask people over. I better tell them to wear their best underwear.
“Femaelstrom” appears on the third Friday of each month. Alison Osius lives in Carbondale, where she is a climber, skier and magazine editor. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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