For this year’s birthday, I wanted something very selfish. I wanted a dinner in my house, with my friends, at my table… but MY house was not ready. Big shock, y’all, that Farmdale wasn’t ready… a week later it was, but for my birthday proper, it was not ready. And even if Farmdale had been completed, there would be no way I could gather my friends around a table that was to be pulled from storage, piled with boxes atop it, stacked with a skyline of dishes and all the STUFF that a person accumulates… stuff, upon stuff, upon stuff. Where does it all come from? I’m thinking I’m a hoarder… admittance is the first step to recovery, right?
So, I put my big boy pants own and dealt with it. I’m neither confirming nor denying a total toddler-style meltdown complete with tears, screams of rage and angst and that red-eye look of a sobbing child – all while in the Publix parking lot. I have lived at Brantwood (my aunt and uncle’s fabulous home on our family land) for the past couple of years while building Farmdale.
Yes ma’am, yes sir… it took me two years to build the place… somewhere between moving my office downtown, losing Mama and Mimi in the span of 9 months and traveling the country for speaking engagements and book signings, it took two years to build my house. And, not to mention, amid all of that aforementioned hoopla, nothing in the construction world happens in a rapid, timely or scheduled manner. NOTHING… but… it does come to a close eventually. Just not in time for your birthday. Again, I’m sounding like a toddler. Moving on…
We have a little supper club here in Perry. This group is a tightly knit posse all connected through the ties that bind. Half of us all went to high school together, some transplanted to Perrydise and others matriculated into our town and social circle seemingly by fate. By no means are we an exclusive club, but this group has banded together over the years and I know I can always count on them – for anything. Coming to my impromptu birthday dinner was the gift I really wanted from my friends. I wanted a moment to savor the wonderful, warm nature of my family’s home with a group of folks I love so dearly. I wanted Mrs. Mary’s biscuits to fill our bellies and us to all laugh, go back for seconds, reconnect and refuel – all on a night. A fun, midweek supper that just happened to be my birthday dinner.
I set the table with some of my faves – bowls of peaches, sunflowers and mint and hydrangeas in mason jars, Aunt Kathy’s hand painted Italian dinnerware set off with a hodgepodge of plaid napkins. Mrs. Mary obliged me and prepared one of my all-time favorite meals – salmon croquettes, sautéed squash and zucchini, skillet corn, purple hull peas, cucumbers in vinegar, sliced maters, okra and tomatoes over Carolina Gold rice and of course, Mrs. Mary’s famous biscuits. There may have been a peach and cobbler and strawberry cake too. Mrs. Mary has made my sisters and me a strawberry cake for our birthdays for as long as I can remember. Our birthdays are May, June and July so strawberry cake is all too apropos.
Time does heal all wounds, but I’ll be honest, time can also whoop you upside the head and make you realize that you are having another birthday – which means another year without your Mama and Mimi. Holidays and their birthdays are not nearly as tough on me as my birthday is without them. Maybe that’s because they always handled the day – from our first birthdays, to our themed childhood ones with the coordinating cakes and party hats to our nice, sit-down dinners at a nice Atlanta restaurant when we were “grown up.”
I feel closest to Mama and Mimi when I’m cooking, setting the table and entertaining my friends and family. They did that so well, so effortlessly and so elegantly. Not that it was always “fancy”, but comfortable and lovely. You’d leave with your soul and belly full – filled with more than a moment of sustenance. So in the chaos that was to follow the week after my birthday of moving into Farmdale and more teetering on the edge of insanity, I have come to regard that particular night as an oasis of peace and soulful goodness. Good friends, good food and bowls of peaches can heal just about anything that’s ailing your heart, body and soul. Aren’t I the lucky birthday boy!