I could hear the moaning from the second floor.
“I think you should know,” my husband said above the yowls, “the cat is suffering from PTSD.”
Oh, dear. Some kind of damage always occurs when we have our annual holiday party. Years ago, houseplants used to die when some drunken friend or another dumped vodka or cigarette ashes into their dirt. (I always told myself: at least the plants died happily.) Floors were ruined, stereos were upended, glasses were smashed.
The years went on and the physical damage was curtailed. Our parties attracted damage of the more emotional variety. One year, a poet tried to dismember my husband for a study he’d published about suicidal poets; she’s no longer on our guest list, but we presume she isn’t suicidal about it. Another year, a guest came flouncing up to me, complaining about another guest who wouldn’t introduce her to his new wife. “I guess I was good enough to fuck, but not good enough to be introduced,” she huffed. I nodded in what I hoped was in a neutral, yet supportive, manner. The duties of a modern-day hostess are many and varied.
In years past, too, my husband and I used to regale each other with scandalous, gossipy stories after every party. These days, the gossip and scandal are mercifully in shorter supply. The stories we tell each other are warmer, even bittersweet. We take great pleasure in having our grown children and their friends at our gatherings and watch their collective progress in life. Our annual parties no longer seem like single events. They’re part of a greater continuum of our lives through the years.
Since we’re not a religious family, I worry that we lack meaningful rituals, especially this time of year. Last week, driving home, I heard a version of “O Holy Night” that made me think of my sister, my parents, my childhood. I don’t necessarily miss the beliefs we shared, but I do miss the music, the ritual, the deeper meaning to the holiday season that I once possessed.
The cat calms down and, slowly, we’re getting the house back to normal. This annual party, it occurs to me, is our family’s ritual and tradition. Every year, it reminds me how fortunate we are to be a part of a wonderful community of friends.
(Copyright 2008 by Ruth Pennebaker)