By Mike Faricy
Late January marked Teresa’s fiftieth birthday and nothing would do but a surprise open house, made all the more special by my surprise visit to Dublin. In secret contact with her adult daughter, Avril, we (me making suggestions, Avril doing all the heavy lifting,) laid on the plans for a caterer, invitations, beverages and admonishment to all to keep the party a complete secret. Having shrewdly not mentioned one word of Teresa’s birthday over the past month in emails or phone calls, I sprung the first trap a bare six days before my arrival.
“I’ll be unable to make it over, I can’t get time off, but I know how important it is to you, so I’ve put your very nice gift in the mail this morning, you should see it on Thursday or Friday, with any luck,” I said slyly.
The last time a female got off the phone with me that fast was 1968. I’d had a crush on a girl I’d known since grade school, having cleverly thrown up on her in Mrs. Rose’s third grade class. She was attending OLP in the fall of ’68, and I had a homecoming dance, she got off the phone in a thirteen word sentence I can still quote lo these 36 years later. “No thank you, Mike, fortunately I intend to be rather busy that night.” My standards have apparently improved with time, Teresa got off the phone in just five clipped words, “We’re not going there, goodbye.” Thus far, my plan seemed to be working perfectly.
Thank goodness Teresa’s daughter knows her mother dates a dunderhead. Avril called, not ten minutes later, questioning me in a concerned tone on how it had gone, in the process mentioning something about doors slamming.
“Well, she doesn’t suspect a thing,” I replied, dodging her direct question.
“But, how did it go?” asked the young woman, not fooled and obviously unaware of my skillful ability to defuse volatile situations with pure charm. I quoted her mother’s response and could sense her rolling eyes, shaking her head in disbelief halfway around the globe.
“Mike,” Avril cautioned. “This may not be such a good idea, the surprise part, I mean. Mum’ll miss out on all the fun of helping to plan the party, miss out on a week of congratulations from workmates, miss out on all sorts of people sending her cards and well, frankly, she’s really ready to strangle you!”
Great, relationship advice from someone who doesn’t know Paul McCartney was in a band before Wings. “Let’s just see how things go,” I counseled from the safety of 5000 miles away. “But, you’re the one on site, if it gets rough, tell her, I mean it’s not worth it if she’s really down.”
The young woman stuck to her guns, but things sure weren’t going my way. Over the next thirty-six hours between phone conversations with Avril, Teresa, and Teresa’s sister Mary, not to mention a rising phone bill resembling the national debt, I threw in the towel, cracking under the final pressure of tears applied contrary to the Geneva convention. I just couldn’t let Teresa suffer, even a rat can have a conscience. I called Teresa and grovelled—I’m good at that, too, it’s another one of my strengths— and told her all that we’d been up to. The royal ‘we’, Avril had done all the work, the phone calls, the emails, the caterer, the cards, the beverages, the down payments. I was just lining up to grab a healthy share of the credit. But, telling her was the right thing to do, now she could get her house in proper order in anticipation of the gala event.
I arrived compliments of Delta Air at 7:40 AM, Friday. Teresa met me at the airport, fed me a breakfast of smoked Irish salmon with brown bread and let me sleep for three hours. My afternoon and evening were spent doing touch up painting throughout the first floor and moving furniture upstairs to accommodate more chairs coming in the front door from Mary’s. Saturday morning, I was up at 0-dark-30 for something akin to Ajax night in a basic training barracks, scrubbing and rubbing anything that stood still, while the girls attended a spa morning. But, Teresa was three feet off the ground and it was worth it.
Saturday afternoon was spent in food preparation, as in, food to eat before the caterer arrived. For once, I did what I was told, remaining out of the way and everyone was both surprised and happy. Okay, I took a long nap. I spent the early evening setting up the self-service bar, one of my specialties, in the backyard. January in Dublin, with a temp of 38°F was perfect for beer and white wine. I was left with barely enough time to fill dishes with my “Fifty Sucks” lollipops, imported all the way from the US of A, placing them strategically around the house. The caterer arrived at 8:00, the guests began arriving at 8:30.
The gala event was reminiscent of a line a friend once told me about her childhood. She grew up in a Baptist family in the Deep South and she said on Sundays they would go to church, period. They never came home. They just remained there all day long. They had a morning service, followed by bible meeting, lunch, early afternoon prayer, a fellowship meeting, a late afternoon service and a church dinner followed by an evening service. They were there all day and well into the night.
This was a version of the same thought process, people came, and kept coming, but no one left to go home, they remained all night and into the following day. These sorts of parties must be the same the world over, you clean the whole house from top to bottom and everyone ends up in the kitchen because they don’t want to mess the other rooms. Sort of like not using the guest towels in the bathroom even though you’re the guest.
My assignment, on top of serving beer, pouring wine, dirty glass and plate patrol was to be at Teresa’s side lending support. First of all she didn’t need it, secondly, she was working the party like an organized bride working a wedding, I simply couldn’t keep up. She chatted for three minutes with every person there, catching up on kids and neighborhood gossip, not to mention, displaying her idiot American boyfriend to knowing nods that seemed to say, ‘Oh yes, yes, now I do see what you mean, Teresa. Yes, you’ve your work cut out for you there. Oh yes, yes!’ Anyway, the night seemed suddenly over, even if it was way past the wee hours and into the morning gloam.
The last couple departed at 4:30 AM, and it’s not as though they were one of those interminable hangers on, the couple ahead of them had left just ten minutes previous. We chatted in the kitchen, exchanging stories with family staying the night—kitchens after a party must be the same the world over, too. There’s that comfortable tone, a hum, of relaxed family conversation following a happy occasion, chatting, commenting, snacking on leftovers and me, being half German, cleaning. It’s sort of a master plan inherent in the genetic code, happiness through scrubbing.
One thing I had noticed immediately was that everyone either arrived in a taxi or, if they drove, parked with the idea of taking a taxi home and gathering their car the following afternoon. You can do this in Dublin, it’s not -20F in January, and you can grab a taxi by walking up to the top of the road and simply holding out your hand. Dublin proper is roughly the size of St. Paul, 300,000+ residents and there are literally 10,000 licensed taxis, driven by taxi drivers who honestly know how to get everywhere. So, getting a taxi, at any time, is not a problem. This is a fantastically sensible idea on the one hand.
On the other hand, I couldn’t understand why Teresa had me setting up the kitchen bar for Sunday afternoon until the first callers came to collect their cars and wouldn’t it be grand to just peek in and exchange a tale from the night before with Herself. “Mike, be a dear and fetch a pint for..”
And that’s what they did, they came to peek in on Herself, share a tale, a jar and it was perhaps the greatest gift they could have given Teresa. Not costing a cent, she was surrounded by those who loved her, it is that special feeling that will always be in style, in kitchens the world over.