Tag Archives: friends

The Lamentable Silence of the Doorbell

I get so excited when the UPS man comes. One of us is getting a package! Cool! But I also get sad. It’s just the UPS man.

I mean, he’s working. He can’t stay.

But…I could put some coffee on…

Is it my imagination, or did people used to…y’know, stop by and see people? Unscheduled? I know it’s not my imagination, because I distinctly remember being in the back seat of my Dad’s enormous Impala when he would say to my Mom, “Long as we’re in the neighborhood, let’s stop in and see Maishe.” And so we’d swing on over to Uncle Max’s, knock on the door, and spend a pleasant couple hours. My brothers and I would romp in the yard; the adults would chat over coffee and solve the world’s problems and figure the Steelworkers were asking too much this time and the Steelers, what are you gonna do with coaching like that, and no, haven’t seen Ernie for weeks.doorbell

The honors of visits such as these were not limited to family. In an age when the telephone still felt new to the Depression generation, talking was preferred face to face. Presence was the thing, not just the talk. Be it friends or family, homes were open and visitors were welcomed. There were loose rules — not too early, not too late, don’t stay too long, don’t impinge on meal times. But otherwise, there was beer in the fridge and coffee in the pot, and heck, we got some of this cheese log and some crackers…

Somewhere along the years, I remember someone saying soberly at the suggestion of a drop-in, “Oh. Oh no. We can’t just pop in without calling.”

Wha? What happened? How? Did things speed up so much and get so informal that there was no time, plus too much chance of finding someone in their sweatpants? Did the collegial habit of visiting require some sort of Ward-and-June, creased-pleat perfection?

I was disappointed. I still am. But the behavior is burned into my set of social rules. Even when I manage to overcome it and actually drop in on someone, I do so with trepidation.

What to do? Well, for one thing, start again — but with a tacit social understanding: if the visitee says, “Lovely to see you, but could we do it another time? I’m just jammed up here changing the filler in the Diaper Genie and Jessica has a fever…”, then the visitor must cheerily understand and postpone.

Why not? Shouldn’t every visit from friends and family be like a delightful Christmas gift? Aren’t our lives predictable enough? What brings a smile quicker than the approach of a friend you haven’t seen for awhile?

Lotsa questions. We should talk about it. C’mon by when you can; I can get a pot of coffee on…

© 2014 Adam Barr

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The Case for Sunday Dinner

Clocks tick faster as life goes on; we all know that. I have a solution.

When I finished college, I left Philadelphia. A number of my closest friends stayed on for jobs or grad school. About six months after graduation, I asked one of them how everyone got together, now that dorm life was over.

“Dinner almost every Sunday at someone’s place,” he said. “Nice to have that, something regular to hang your week on.”

Hang your week on this excellent custom.

Hang your week on this excellent custom.

This last part came out not as you would expect from a 22-year-old with the world before him, but more like a 37-year-old who had spent time in the trenches dealing with nasty bosses, failed romances, early-closing dry cleaners, and blown engines that ate his Caribbean vacation.

Of course, as we got older, all these things happened, and more. Tribulations and exaltations (children, homes, travel, good jobs, doctorates, etc.) make it tougher and tougher to see each other despite all good intentions. But the Sunday dinner idea has stuck with me.

And it works. We see a great deal more of our friends than we used to, and in some cases we see them at all, because I organize the occasional Sunday dinner. There’s more good news: you don’t have to be an avid cook to succeed at this effort (although I am), and things don’t have to be complicated. The main thing is to commit to getting together, and do it.

Why Sunday? Because Sunday remains the most relaxed day on the calendar, at least in the United States. Friday is a wind-down evening for many, and getting home from work in time for a dinner might be tough. Saturday holds the promise of nighttime fun of various intensities. But Sunday has that blessed afternoon in it, and plenty of time, even if you have to mow the lawn or do the laundry. Sure, it’s a school night, but the afternoon gives plenty of opportunities for starting early — say, 4:30 p.m.

Here’s the how:

  • Keep it small. Four guests is a good number, plus their kids. Rotate your invitations so in the course of a couple months, you get everyone in. You can rotate locations too, but we like to host. Consider inviting people you want to meet each other.
  • Keep it simple. Easy appetizer (tasty cheese or hummus plus crackers or toasted pita triangles), a hearty main dish, one starch, one or two unadorned vegetables, simple dessert.
  • Have everyone come about an hour before dinner is to be served, for talk time and wine and beer and smiles.
  • Include kids. Nothing resets your mood for the coming week like the laughter of children. Perhaps set up a DVD player in the other room so they can enjoy some movies when the adult conversation inevitably bores them.
  • If you’re not up to cooking, have everyone bring a dish. But there are so many simple cookbooks out there that even the kitchenphobic can develop some skill. Example: Easy Weeknight Favorites (yes, yes, I know; calendar license) is a good resource. Fast and tasty. Not that fast is always the only easy way: don’t forget slow cookers. A lot of excellent recipes require you to do little more than toss the ingredients into a pot, plug it in, and turn it on about six hours ahead of time.
  • Leave off the finery. Keep the table and yourselves casual. People will appreciate the relaxed atmosphere, and especially the mere fact that you invited them.
  • Music. You can make a playlist, even if you can’t make a standing rib roast.
  • Engineer it to wrap up by about 8 p.m. This gives plenty of time for people to get home and get organized for Monday. And they’ll feel a lot better about that task after the hot meal and warm welcome they just enjoyed.

I would do this every Sunday if my wife let me. She may be reticent because I like to light it up a bit with the cooking, and because she likes to clean up the house pretty thoroughly before people come over. But I assure you again, haute cuisine is not necessary. If you can do Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic, Wild Rice in Saffron Broth, and Sautéed Green Beans with Cider Vinegar, by all means go for it. But if it’s just spaghetti with jarred sauce and a salad and the crusty bread from the grocery, do that instead.

Either way, it’s made with love, right? And that’s the soul food you meant to serve all along.♦

[Got a Sunday dinner suggested menu or recipe? Looking for ideas? Drop a comment to this post….]

© 2013 Adam Barr

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