My parents grew up in large families, and I remember attending family gatherings that included uncles, aunts and cousins of all ages.
Today, families are smaller, and relatives often live far from each other. Few have the opportunity to attend parties that span the generations.
Earlier this month, Sally Wilson Esty dropped by our house with her son, Troy. They came to discuss plans for a quick party that she and her husband, Bill, had decided to organize so that relatives and friends could say hello to Troy during his brief visit to Bangor.
We have come to expect these parties whenever the Wilson boys, Troy and Brent, are home on leave from the Navy. The Estys have a spacious home, acquired with the intent of having the folks they care about around them as often as possible.
In less than one minute, because we had followed the same routine many times before, we decided on all of the major details of the party. It would take place on a Friday evening at the Estys’ house, and I should bring the dishes that took longest to prepare because I had the most time to spare.
Others would be assigned the remaining chores, and the meal would begin after 6:30 p.m., allowing the hosts to take care of last-minute details after returning from work.
Everything ran smoothly and successfully, as Sally’s parties always do. She began organizing these mixed-generation parties years ago, when the Wilson family offered hospitality to foreign students studying at nearby Husson College.
Sally would put together family-style gatherings to benefit students who were far away from their own families. Our children were very young then, and they thought it was a great privilege to attend parties with grown-up boys and girls and adults of all ages.
Now she puts her talent for organizing to work at a moment’s notice — when her sons come home to Bangor, when friends are celebrating a special occasion, or when a newcomer needs to make new friends.
By working with a small network of acquaintances who share her interest in such gatherings, she can organize a great party at her home despite her busy career as a medical office manager.
Sally has always been surrounded by supportive family members who enjoy her style of entertaining as much as she does and who are willing to pitch in and help. She, in turn, never imposes rigid ideas on them, but directs their interests and entertainment ideas along channels that are workable. This way, no one steps on anybody’s toes.
The mix of people at this recent party included an 18-month-old boy; adolescent girls who thought the toddler was “cute”; Bill Esty’s daughter, Ellen, just home from a vacation in the Caribbean; the toddler’s parents and friends in their age group; parents of some of the young adults and others of the senior generation. Not only did the ages of the guests vary, their occupations and interests were disparate.
To make everyone feel equally welcome, the Estys introduced everyone as he or she arrived and briefly mentioned their relationship to others present. Even the youngest child was made to feel as important as his grandparents.
Everyone was forewarned to dress casually to enjoy the buffet-style potluck meal. There was something for everyone, including spicy chicken wings, quiche, salads, tiny meatballs, fresh vegetable nibbles, cold cuts, breads and lots of desserts, including one called “Sex In A Bowl.”
When word circulated that “Sex In A Bowl” was in the kitchen, formal barriers dropped and even the most shy went to investigate. Tanya Kearns, who learned of the recipe at a bank Christmas party, ladled out generous portions of her sinfully rich contribution to the dinner fare.
“Sex In A Bowl,” guaranteed to liven up any party, is made with a chocolate cake mix. While the cake, baked in a 9-by-13-inch pan, is still warm, poke holes into it with a fork and douse it with one-half to three-quarters of a cup of Kahlua. Prepare a six-serving-size package of chocolate pudding. Then whip up a pint of cream.
In a large bowl, alternately layer crumbled cake, pudding, and whipped topping. Spread the real whipped cream over the top and sprinkle with the broken pieces of two Skor candy bars.
Lee Ryckman is a free-lance writer who lives in Bangor.