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“Goshdangit!” Francis blurted from the driver’s seat, fiddling with the windshield wiper controls in his car. “These things are always too fast or too slow!” I sat in the passenger seat, listening to him grumble as we made our way down Interstate 195 on a dreary, cold December afternoon — and I smiled.

My pants were tight from recent weight gain. My hair was frizzy from the rain. My nail polish was chipped. And I was constipated. But it didn’t matter. Locusts could swarm our car, boils could break out on my skin, and the sun could disappear. Nothing would spoil my good mood, because we were going to a Christmas party.

For 28 years of marriage, Francis and I had been jonesing to get invited to a holiday party. Not a ladies cookie exchange, not a command function, not a work potluck. I’m talking about going to a friend’s house with twinkle lights and hot dips and festive cocktails and red and green M&Ms. I’m talking about spiral hams and cheese balls and “Baby It’s Cold Outside” and tacky jingle bell earrings. I’m talking about laughter and eating too much and getting home late and finding cookie sprinkles in your bra.

That’s the kind of Christmas party I’m talking about.

Over the years, Francis and I hosted many holiday parties of our own, thinking that our friends would surely invite us to their houses one Christmas. Although I vaguely recall one or two brave souls who threw soirées, our hosting efforts were mostly not reciprocated.

While stationed in England in the mid-’90s, we invited military friends and our elderly English neighbors to our village house for Christmas. Francis made his father’s homemade spiked eggnog recipe, we blasted our Frank Sinatra holiday cassette tapes and everyone wore flimsy English cracker paper crowns.

In Virginia Beach, we welcomed friends to the suburbs for our annual Christmas parties, where everyone drank Francis’ now-famous nog and sang along while our kids played “We Three Kings” on our upright piano. In Germany, friends packed into our base stairwell apartment, where middle-schoolers caused drama, neighbors complained about the noise and glüwein turned our guests’ teeth purple. In Mayport, Fla., we invited friends to go Christmas caroling around our base neighborhood in the sub-tropical winter, pulling a wagon containing thermoses of hot drinks, before heading back at our house to party.

Here in Rhode Island, our many holiday guests clustered throughout the first floor of our house, nibbling, chit chatting, cocktailing until the wee hours. We once shooed our college kids’ friends out after 3 a.m.

All along, we had believed that the hard work was worth it, because our hospitality would surely be repaid. I thought we’d eventually receive a festive invitation, make a dish to contribute, find hilarious ugly Christmas sweaters to wear, or at least playful holiday hats.

But instead — nothing.

Until this year. When the invitation came, one would’ve thought I’d won the lottery. “Honey! Honey! Suzette and David are having a real Christmas party and guess what?! WE’RE INVITED!” I wailed to Francis’ upstairs office, dancing on my tippy toes like a hamster on fire.

Quite suddenly, our holiday hosting history flashed before my eyes. All the planning, cooking, cleaning, decorating and hand-wringing. It had all been worth it for that one moment of finally feeling chosen. Gone was the sting of resentment over all the times I scrubbed ham glaze out of the rugs. Poof went the insecurities over my garage-sale-chic home decor. Lingering anger over that time a drunken guest upchucked in our shower evaporated. Ego bruises over “cool” friends who never reached out vanished like magic.

We arrived at Suzette and David’s house bearing wine and gifts, repeatedly thanking them for inviting us. At the end of the night, we overstayed our welcome a bit, wanting to wring every bit of fun out of the event like the last squeeze of a toothpaste tube.

Certainly, party hosting is not for everyone. I realize that invitations are not necessarily about hosting, but rather, taking the time to reach out and let friends know that they are cherished.

Read more at themeatandpotatoesoflife.com, and in Lisa’s book, The Meat and Potatoes of Life: My True Lit Com. Email: meatandpotatoesoflife@gmail.com.


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