For years, I strived to host perfect holiday parties, as if they were an exam to pass. Hours before guests arrived, I dressed the table with my porcelain best, each item set precisely in its place. Thin lines of shimmering silver bordered its delicate rose pattern. Folded linen napkins bloomed on the plate.
My china, a wedding gift from 1980, held not a single chip or scratch. I’d stand on a chair to retrieve the set from its protected place—high in the cabinet over the refrigerator. With each tiptoed reach, I handled the pieces as if they were eggshells.
Next, I’d pull the walnut silverware chest from the kitchen drawer and open its hinged top to rouse the silver, nestled in its red velvet bedding. Salad and dinner forks parked to the left; dinner knife, teaspoon and soup spoon set to the right.
Even with festive conversations over a feast of full plates, I felt fragile. What if someone viewed the food, my house, or me as less than perfect? I worried any detail would crash at any minute and my insecurities would break open for all to see.
I handled my parties like eggshells.
One day, a good friend invited me to her place. Our afternoon visit eased into evening and our appetites grew. We combed through her cupboards to create an impromptu meal. I moved newspapers and books from her table while she pulled out paper plates. Then, we sat to eat.
In between bites of leftovers, she asked me if I felt welcomed. Was I having a good time, despite the slight disorder?
I knew what she was getting at.
Placing a hand on my forearm, she told me she attended my gatherings to see me, not to grade my house, my cooking, or my Emily Post etiquette.In my aim for perfect, I missed the target. I could see how I depleted myself before my guests arrived, and deprived them of the blessing to help. My attempt at perfection caused me to miss out on the joy of the people.
My friend imparted a valuable lesson.
Over the years, I learn, imperfectly, to ease.
On occasion, my husband still has to remind me that I don’t need to “spring clean” before dinner guests arrive.
I nod in acknowledgement.
Five months ago, he and I had dinner at a friend’s house. When we walked in, she stood at the kitchen sink, tending to the final stages of freezing her garden kale. I placed my bowl of potato salad on the end of the counter, near the stack of packaged kale. She asked if I’d grab a knife and slice tomatoes for caprese. We talked as I tucked mozzarella between tomato slices. I felt I belonged—like family. My friend let me enter her everyday life.
My china hasn’t been out in years. Linen napkins stay in the drawer, suffering stains of the past. A layer of dust clings to the dark walnut silverware chest.
At my last party, I tossed a batch of Vanity Fair napkins at the buffet, next to the stack of paper plates. I asked everyone to help themselves.
We laughed as we balanced plates on our laps and drank from red plastic.
I learn to give my best.