K., N. and I have collectively become known as the Woodchucks, a three-headed entity. (Woodchuck is the name of our store.) When only one or two of us show up to an event, we’re asked where the missing pieces are and sometimes have to explain that although we carpool often, each one of us is occasionally able to function autonomously. OCCASIONALLY.
Occasional assertions of independence aside, we do a lot of stuff as a triumvirate. Like celebrate Fourth of July Eve by drinking wine and watching Independence Day, both of which only improve with age. And like hosting a cookout on the Fourth: our new friends’ introduction to our North Tonawanda compound.
After an intense morning of tidying up the house and garden, everything was in place. The canoe did double duty, supporting the boom box and shading the beer cooler. Pasta and bean salads chilled in the overloaded fridge. (I searched on Epicurious for a pasta salad recipe and found that it, like most of my cookbooks, was not going to help me with this particular dish. Is pasta salad that déclassé? Or does everyone already have a house method?) And various patio furniture and lawn games had been pulled out of storage hideyholes. We sat down and waited for guests to arrive.
Our cookout was planned and publicized at the last minute, so we were mentally prepared for the worst case scenario of no guests at all. Luckily that didn’t happen, and our yard was full of happy chattering friends in no time at all. Friends who brought homebrewed beer and elderberry wine, potato salad, and Italian sausage!
We had a cookout last month for K’s family and I got a little stressed out: grilling pizza for the first time on a too-cold grill when everyone’s starving can do that to you. This time I made sure to remind myself that if you keep cool and have a good time, your guests will have a good time. Moods are contagious. My party-throwing inspiration is my grandma’s friend Marie Louise from the family seat of Monroe, Louisiana. From the introduction to a cookbook she put out in 1966:
Marie Louise entertains so easily. Most ladies fret and fume for days getting ready for a party, but Marie Louise gets all that fine cooking done and saddles her horse and takes a ride. She returns about time for fifteen or twenty dinner guests to arrive. After rubbing her horse down and tucking him in for the night, she dashes in, giving everyone a quick hello and flashing that broad grin of hers, disappears for a quick bath and change, and comes in looking as fresh as the proverbial daisy. She then puts the finishing touches to her dinner and joins her guests as relaxed as anyone there.
I don’t think anyone at our soiree was fresh as the proverbial daisy, since it was pushing 90 degrees and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. And as if it weren’t hot enough already, the ex-hobo woods caught on fire. I asked “is it coming this way?” and couldn’t understand why the answer “yes” was said so casually, but then around 10 fire trucks showed up and got the blaze under control in a hurry.
Darn kids and their firecrackers! We were going to offer the firefighters some fresh-off-the-grill hot dogs as a “thank you for saving our building” gesture but although I undoubtedly have some Southern bon vivante lady ancestors who would have been capable of breezing in blithely and tendering that offer, I chickened out.
After our guests departed, we did a perfunctory cleanup and then headed south to the beach at Angola to meet up with a few more buddies for swimming, a campfire, and enjoyment of other people’s fireworks. Swimming in Lake Erie was weird for me because I’d never really been to a fresh water beach and the non-salty waves were that kind of shock that rational expectation can never really prevent.
To say that it was the perfect end to a perfect day would be a huge understatement. There will be more cookouts and more campfires this summer: summer in Buffalo is a social whirlwind of outdoor happenings, a frenzy to enjoy as much fun in the sun as is humanly possible before retreating indoors for another Lake Effect-filled winter hibernation. And woodchucks are social creatures.