Door’s Open, Come On In by Deidre Murphy
My parent’s celebrations are still legendary almost fifty years later. Everyone was invited, our friends and theirs. Spur of the moment invitations to casual acquaintances were accepted. People who saw us enjoying ourselves through the windows came to the door and were welcomed. Classmates who never spoke to you in the school yard showed up. Love affairs began and ended. World problems were solved. Fights broke out. Spontaneous dancing between odd pairings to the out-of-tune piano happened. Black, Filipino, Chinese, White, Jewish, Catholic, Protestant , Buddhist, Establishment, Black Power, middle class, blue collar, gay, straight, jocks, wimps, sweethearts, rivals, painters, photographers, musicians, unlikely combinations created a party cocktail for that night only.
There were three major holidays for us: New Year’s Eve, St. Patrick’s Day and Halloween. For New Year’s, we spent days getting ready. Dad wisely left with the boys when Mom began her cleaning frenzy. My sisters and I washed windows, curtains, floors, bed clothing, scrubbed walls, bathrooms, kitchen counters, vacuumed rugs and furniture. Everything was cleaned, even the telephone dial. The boys had the sole task of polishing the hardwood floor which was done when all else was finished.
After the cleaning, food preparation began. The buffet varied according to the celebration and pot luck but there were always red beans, carrots, celery filled with Cheez-Whiz, olives, cheeses, crackers, potato salad, dip and chips. Enthroned in the dining room, Mom kept us replenishing the food and her Jack Daniels on the rocks. Eventually, when her attention lapsed, we could disappear for our own party.
Bottles of Smirnoff, Jack Daniels, red wine and white stood on the kitchen table along with ice cubes and plastic cups. Beer and soda were in the refrigerator. The drink offerings changed throughout the night depending on who brought what at what time. Dad held court there, regaling his audience with the proper way to gouge a man’s eye out, strikes on the docks, civil rights, the impact of white flight on cities, suburban crime and back to how to win in a street fight.
When my sister Moira went to her grammar school reunion, a guy at the sign-in desk said “I remember your Dad and the parties at your house.” She answered him politely but later indignantly told my sister and me “He was never there.”
“It’s like Woodstock,” my sister Sheigla replied “even if they weren’t there they’ve heard so much about it or know someone who was there they think they were.”
But he was there. This guy was an obnoxious drunk with a last name that encouraged bad jokes. At one celebration, he was in the back yard with the other under-age drinkers and illicit drug users. Swaying, he started calling some guy out yelling about what he was going to do to him. Dad suddenly appeared, probably from the corner where the pot smokers were.
“Mr. Dunn,” he said, “no one kicks ass in this house but me. Would you like to try?”
“No, Mr. Murphy. Sorry.”
He’d probably been in the kitchen earlier.
We’d come downstairs the next morning and the house would be trashed. Bottles, half-eaten food, dirty plates, empty glasses, and full ashtrays were everywhere. The miasma of stale booze and cigarettes permeated everything. Inevitably, there would be someone sleeping on the couch, the pull out bed in the dining room and in the basement. Sometimes we knew them, sometimes we didn’t. I never understood the big clean up before the party when it would be such a mess the next day. But my mother insisted the house sparkled for our guests. Despite the six children living there, the house was always spotless.
Then there were the various birthdays, first communions, confirmations, and graduation parties. Friday and Saturday nights were for highly competitive Pedro games.
My favorites though were the spontaneous Sunday dinners. Dad cooked on Sunday. It was home-made pasta, which he rolled out and cut by hand until we got a pasta machine from a friend, or spaghetti sauce, or veal scaloppini or hamburgers or skirt steak. People might still be there from the night before or they would drop by and be invited to stay for dinner. There could be just us eight or there could be twenty people.
Someone was designated to help and clean up after him. One Sunday, my friend Clarice was his sous-chef, as he described the job. After he invited another person to dinner, she said “There won’t be enough food.” He replied “Eat less.” Stimulating conversation, lengthy stories, sustained laughter, and people enjoying each other were nourishment enough for him.
She still tells that story. Now she throws the Halloween party. It’s always memorable with an interesting blend of people and a variety of food and drink.
Recently, I ran into a guy who as a teenager came to the parties, played Pedro and ate Sunday dinner with us. “Whenever I drive down Fulton Street with people,” he said,” I point and say ‘That was a fun house.’”
It was. A party house never duplicated with a mix of people never to be found again.