Parties

17 Oct

Parties.  I’ve never been very good at them.

Last night I found myself at a party in Cayuga Heights–right next door to my house in fact, which meant I could drink freely from the champagne punch bowl in the dining room.  When I surveyed the room, I realized that my mother had been right–most of the people there were dressed up, whereas I had worn a pair of old blue jeans and a green sweater.  My hostess was a double survivor of cancer:  skin and breast cancer and the party was, in the main, in her honor.  She was welcoming and lovely throughout the evening.

There I sat in her living room regaling a professor of architecture with lurid stories of people who have died in Cayuga Lake and the surrounding area.  I returned three years ago to New York after living thirty years in Minnesota, and since I’ve been home I’ve added to my stock of tales.  It’s hard for me to say exactly why I do this; I suppose I feel somewhat inadequate at parties and I know that the tales are interesting.  Talking about this kind of thing has the appeal for the listener of driving by a car accident that’s hard to resist.

Several years ago I went to a Lansing party given by my sister-in-law, her usual Christmas Eve celebration.  She had invited a former Navy Seal, now Cornell professor of cultural anthropology and his family.  He and I ended up in a discussion of Noam Chomsky, a famous linguist, which was my fault probably, because I think I was the one who brought him up.  He uncovered the fact that I have only a passing knowledge of Mr. Chomsky, not even by skillful excavation but just in the desultory kind of rhythm that party conversations have.  A Navy Seal who has a Ph.D. in Anthropology is obviously the pick of the litter and I felt somewhat cowed.  It’s the fact that I worry about this kind of unmasking rather than the unmasking itself that is the problem.

This all goes back to my childhood.  For children grade school age the birthday party is the big social event.  One time I really felt left out, because there was a party I wasn’t invited to and the girls who were there brought streamers from the party and held them up high when they went down the slide.  Once I was actually invited to a party I would start stressing out about the games and whether I would be able to figure them out.  One of my favorite games was “Ring Around the Rosie,” the Black Plague inspired game, because I liked the falling down part.  I also liked “Red Rover,” but I disliked “Simon Says” because “Simon” would always catch me.  Another thing I worried about was my dresses.  My maternal grandmother bought most of my dresses in Cleveland and she had good taste, but I was always worried about fitting in. My favorite parties were at Nancy West’s.  One year her parents bought her a trampoline and instead of games we were all given multiple chances to jump on it.

Once I reached the teen years, things became appreciably more difficult.   At one point, I think I must have been in eighth grade, I took the initiative and invited a group of girls over for a taffy pull and an overnight.  Three of the girls were close friends, but the others were neighbors and girls from my Girl Scout troop.  I suppose it was a little hokey, but it was certainly more imaginative than some of the parties I was being invited to.  I was really hurt when one girl who was waiting in line to make her taffy said, “What is this?”  My close friends later told me they’d had a good time, but I was skeptical.

The teenage parties I was invited to often involved standing against the wall and watching other people dance, while loading up on pop and chips, so as to have something to do with my hands.  One of the neighbors, who lived katty corner to me had a pretty voice and played the guitar.  We all stood around and watched her at one party.   I perfected the walk to the snack table, then going to the bathroom, and then walking back and leaning against the wall.  There was one exception and that was a party that Jody Lisberger, one of a set of twins from Cayuga Heights, held.  Everybody was doing “the jerk” then and I could handle that.  I always liked the group of students I went to school with at Cayuga Heights and that made a difference.

Strangely enough, the Methodist and Presbyterian churches in downtown Ithaca had a lot “going on” during their dances, some of it not too churchly.  Outside of the high school, they gave the best dances in town, although not necessarily for reasons the parents would have approved of.  I was too shy and inhibited to be involved in any of the hanky panky, but it was exciting to be asked to slow dance for the first time.  There were many specific dances that one had to know, and the girls would practice them together in the Presbyterian bathroom.  The Methodist bathrooms were hardly big enough to use the bathrooms successfully.

The dances did return me to the notion that parties could actually be fun, and later in life I gave a number of successful wedding and baby showers.  Still, my awkwardness at parties can still crop up, and I did feel that ol’ feeling  come back the other night.

7 Responses to “Parties”

  1. Lopa Basu October 17, 2011 at 4:16 am #

    Kathy, Very nicely written. I really liked this trip down memory lane. I identify with your awkwardness at parties.
    Lopa Basu

  2. claireaperez October 17, 2011 at 2:30 pm #

    I think your feelings are universal and it is great you can chat up about something: personally, I hope you can attend my next party and share the Cayuga Lake stories.

  3. Jim LaBonney October 18, 2011 at 8:25 pm #

    Wonderful narrative! I found myself immersed in your prose and perhaps too in your shoes. No party in grammar school ever left fond memories for me. High school dances were so bad for a kid with acne and thick ugly glasses that I think I did no more than attend one or two over these four years of awkwardness. Gee, no one ever asked me to slow dance. I never dared to ask anyone either.

    Even now I look down to see one left one and the other is left as well.

    Thanks for the story. Fabulous!

    Jim LaBonney

  4. Nancy October 19, 2011 at 12:15 am #

    Wonderful writing, and I loved your “party” memories! I look forward to reading more!

  5. Rhonda Eckert Mapes October 21, 2011 at 1:35 pm #

    I really enjoyed this piece sis-in-law and of course I know who you are talking about at my party :). I never see him these days. Loved it, and I want to hear more about your neighbors party. Keep up the wonderful blogging….

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