I threw a party last week, a lively gathering on Valentine’s Day of about 25 people. The food and decorations were excellent, the company charming. It was a huge success and I’m giving myself a pat on the back. But it wasn’t my party, my friends, or even my idea. My mother wanted to host her neighbors in their retirement community, which meant I had to make it happen.
My parents have lived at Aldersgate for just over two years now. They moved into a “cottage”, a two-bedroom independent living home separate from the main facility. Their home is on Pine Grove Court, a lovely pine tree-lined street of red brick cottages all similar to each other. It is one of the older sections of the community with the homes being built in the 60s and 70s. There are newer homes elsewhere on the grounds, but the residents of this area are quite proud of their little enclave and often boast that they live on the best street. Early on my parents were invited to small neighborhood gatherings for coffee and sweets, usually in conjunction with a holiday. My mother was always excited for a social activity. Daddy…not so much.
I have childhood memories of my parents and their friends gathering for cookouts and domino games. These were mostly daddy’s golfing buddies, friends he’d known since his teen years. These parties were a bit rowdy as I recall, back before my daddy went to church, the moms chattering in the kitchen, and the dads on the patio with a cooler of beer. I can remember all the assorted kids running freely in the backyard on hot summer nights in Abilene, Texas. As a child this was just typical life in the 60s, but somewhere along the way my mother put her foot down and my daddy started going to church. Not long after that we moved to Beaumont, Texas when daddy was made a Sergeant in the Texas Department of Public Safety.
Daddy collected a new set of golf friends in Beaumont but I don’t remember the same kind of social interaction. Both my parents worked hard during those years to raise their family and give us all they could as my brother and I moved into our teens. Besides his day job with the DPS, Daddy umpired baseball and refereed football at night and on the weekends to supplement the household budget. I’m not sure there was a lot of extra time for social engagement. But then, as a teenager, it was not high on my priority list to pay attention to my parents’ social life.
What I really remember is when my parents started attending a Sunday school class at our church. By this time I was grown and gone, but it was a fairly monumental moment in our family for daddy to agree to this. And it made my mother so happy! Soon they were socializing in and out of church with a great group of people. Fish Fries and beach trips and covered dish gatherings. Daddy earned a reputation as a cook in the church, which made him quite pleased with himself. I used to joke that they had a better social life than I did.
But in the last couple years that they lived in Beaumont their participation had slowed quite a bit. By then Daddy was diagnosed with dementia and it greatly affected his interaction with others. He quit playing golf and had retired from many church activities. He just seemed to lose interest. They still went to Sunday school but rarely went to any function that was after dark. Daddy was visibly withdrawing and it was very hard on mother.
Fast-forward to the move to North Carolina, the horror of Hurricane Harvey in their rear view mirror, both of them traumatized by the loss. Mother needed new friends, AND FAST. Daddy just wanted to be left alone. Sometimes mother would drag daddy to these neighborhood gatherings but often he would let her go by herself. I feared they would all think he was a snob or anti-social, but a community like this is actually quite forgiving. (I guess they all hover too close to the same reality.) My parents continued to be invited and daddy eventually became friendly with a few of the men, particularly those who liked gardening or had a dog to walk. He still had no interest in any other extra-curricular activities, but he wasn’t unfriendly.
So, as you can imagine, when mother wanted to host a little party, he was not enthused. I was excited that mother was willing to plug ahead, even though I knew I would have to do most of the heavy lifting. I took her to buy invitations, suggested a menu and cooked it all at my house. We bought some decorations and I brought some I already had. We pulled out her china, crystal, and silver that survived the flood. She was giddy with anticipation and also a nervous wreck. The day of the party she looked beautiful in a pale pink sweater and winter white slacks. Daddy was in his usual jeans and chambray shirt. (We did not criticize.) As I served coffee and pink lemonade, mother greeted her guests and flitted around to all the little groups like a seasoned hostess. Daddy mostly sat in a chair off to the side.
Finally, as the party was winding down, daddy got chatty with the last few guests, the gardeners and dog-walkers. And when everyone was gone he seemed quite pleased with the turnout. Mother was basking in the glow of a successful day while daddy actually made a few complimentary comments. Though I was tired and my feet hurt, my heart was full. Mother would talk joyfully about this day for many months to come. Daddy might not remember it tomorrow….but that’s ok. They have become part of a neighborhood that loves and accepts them. They have friends. They have a community. Let me start planning another party!