Early December, I round the stairway and noticed the dappled light streaming through the dining room window. I stop, and feel the warmness of that light. The thought comes into my head that soon the warmth in this room would be generated by a group of women who will come together and share this table with me. I’m thinking about them sitting around this table every second Wednesday in December to celebrate the gift of friendship. This will be our 23rd year of gathering. A lot has changed for us over the years but not this table or these girls. When I think of a holiday table, I see all of my friends gathered here. This is the one day that officially starts the Christmas season for us. This is the table where joy resides on that second Wednesday. This table is a continuation of the love that we all share on this special day, in this quiet place. When they arrive though, the quiet will disappear and the stories will begin. All of these girls have been my friends, some for over fifty years, the rest of them for over thirty years and just one for probably 20 years. They started out as my friends, but long ago, as we gathered at this table, over time, they also became friends with each other, even if some only see each other once a year. It is an amazing group of women with multi personalities and ages, occupations and hobbies. Yet, we all blend. How does this happen year after year to the point now where this table defines Christmas and the history of our lives together. I guess in order to do that we would have to look back a bit.
If I were to be honest, I don’t really think of these girls as mere friends. I see them as an extension of family. I was brought up with three brothers and not one sister. Those boys were not going to have a tea party with me, although my long history of loving tea came from my Grandfather, who would serve tea to anyone who walked through the door, much to my grandmothers chagrin. Much later in life I did get one of my brothers to love tea with me. So, these girls are my hand-picked sisters and as traditions happen, one year I invited a few of them to Christmas tea and it stuck. Through the years we have added a few more and now we are up to 10 “sisters” and each year most everyone makes it. So that is the story of how we began.
When I turned the corner and saw the light, I also delighted in the blue flowered tablecloth that I had on the table from the Fall. Christmas is coming so it is time to change that for sure, then a light bulb went off. I so love when that happens. Jim and I had been to Paris in August and of course we love everything about Paris and that tablecloth just took on a French feel, so I knew right away that the theme for this tea party was going to be all about Paris. It’s a funny thing, when you get something stuck in your head like that, it always amazes me how everything else falls into place. Within the next few days the table was set with a crockery vase that I had gotten this summer with the words Le Marais…oh my, that is the arrondissement that our hotel was in. Then I had the flowers added, asking that the flowers be of a delicate hue, pale pinks, lavender and light blue with a sprinkling of white because that is what you most often see in Paris. I wanted the girls to feel like they were in Paris also. A sharing of my trip. I used my soft blue china which is my original wedding china of over 50 years ago and I added little dried roses to hold the silverware together. I was pumped, lace napkins and a tiered cookie dish with French Macarons of all colors. The main course would be a quiche Lorraine with french cheeses from The Salem Cheese Shop and along with the tea, which happened to be named Paris, a gift from my son, we also had a lovely French white wine. I couldn’t wait for the girls to get here. Even Molly, my American girl doll, was all dressed in her finest Velvet and satin outfit, sitting in her chair to join us for this le petite tea.
The day came, 3:30 arrived and the flow of friendship started. I love how they all gather in the kitchen, some putting gifts under the tree, lots of hugs and kisses and exchanges of “how have you been”, “can you believe another year has flown by”. I stand back and smile as friend after friend enters the foray that is happening. Some come from a few towns over, two others come from as far away as New Hampshire, another is from way out on the South Shore. Distance does not stop them. When Holly, one of my oldest friends from way back in our school bus driving days, moved to New Hampshire, I was afraid I wouldn’t get to see her anymore at the tea party but no, that drive hasn’t kept her away. Her sweet husband dropped her off these past two years and oh my gosh when she walks through the door her hugs are just the best. It really does amaze me even now, how dedicated and kind my friends are. Dina and Claudia have both been my friends for over fifty years. I met Claudia in high school and just recently we celebrated our 52 and a half class reunion. Dina and Pat were my first friends after going to work at Beverly Hospital when I was just seventeen years old. Dina was also my maid of honor when Jim and I got married and the first year we had the tea party she brought her friend Joanne. It goes on and on. Two of my friends were my husbands friends wives when he worked at Gillette and for over 40 years, even though he doesn’t work there anymore, those two girls are still with me and the fact that they travel so far to get here means so much. I could never leave my friend Linda out…she is my truth teller, my wine buddy and a faithful friend. We share a history and we survived. Pat S. is so good, she is my meter for kindness. We also share a tough time together and she gives me inspiration to know that no matter how difficult life can get we just need to live each day fully. What a group of loving, kind, honest and funny girls that sit at this table every year. Each one bringing something different to my life. Each one knows the value of caring about each other no matter where we have come from or how far away we are. So now they have once again greeted each other like they just saw each other yesterday, all of them so festive and I’m sure, hungry. The tea is steaming, one dark black, that would be the Paris tea and one fruity with no caffeine for those who like a lighter tea. Someone has lit the candles, someone else has read the place markers and all are ready to sit down, slow down and relax. We all take a deep breath and know that there is nowhere else we have to be, nothing else we have to do so we sit and relax and sink into one another again
The food is passed with lots of ooh’s and ahh’s. I pour the tea made with fresh tea leaves, no bags here on this day. Every year we vow to keep it simple but we never do. A favorite every year is my homemade scones and clotted cream served with strawberry jam and lemon curd, I think lemon curd wins out. Now the conversation is really flowing with so much laughter and noise, I sit back and enjoy them. I watch and see who is talking to whom…I notice how relaxed they all seem knowing that their lives are busy each day and going forward towards Christmas they will get even busier. I am grateful that I can make this space for all of us to slow down and enjoy each other, knowing that the real gift of the season is family and friends. I count these girls as both. As the food disappears and the desserts come out, so does the bottle of that delicious French wine. I try to remember the philosophy of Paris…life is to be enjoyed. Aside from the scones and all the other lovely treats each year we wait for Dina to cut into her homemade lemon meringue pie. Made from scratch, with so much love baked in, it is so tangy your palette puckers. When everyone has gone home this is the one thing Jim looks for…wondering if we managed to save him a slice this year. We always do. When none of us can put another piece of food or another drop of anything in our mouths we sit back and sigh. Then we move on to our entertainment, usually a yankee swap with gift cards but this year we switched it up and it was so much fun. Each person had to buy 7 gifts (that is how many girls were present this year), the combined gifts could not cost anymore than $20.00. They had to be wrapped and passed. I provided take home bags for everyone to put their gifts in after opening them. Each gift had to be opened together, at the same time. Well we really had a great time with this and the gifts were the true test of how much and how well we know each other. All of the gifts were so thoughtful and heartfelt. Many of them were homemade. Each person had to tell the story of why they chose to share the gifts they brought. It was our best gift giving ever. We have decided that we will continue this new tradition going forward. Instead of going home with one little gift card to Starbucks or Marshalls, we all went home with a bag full of well thought out gifts, from homemade coffee set up with cup, hot chocolate packet and a nip of Rum Charta to warm up a cold winter day, to a very large homemade coconut macaroon cookie with a lovely piece of Putnam Pantry Fudge, socks, coffee mugs, homemade photo cards… the list goes on. Best of all were the stories of why these gifts were chosen.
I looked out the dining room window and I noticed that it was dark outside. Another year of continued friendship was about to slip away from this table. I had a moment of sadness, which quickly passed, as I remembered what was to come. As the girls starting packing up their things, saying final goodbyes to each other, "travel safely", I knew that we were all ending this day with hope in our hearts for a wonderful holiday season ahead and we would all carry the memory of this day going forward until we meet again next year at this very same time and table. My “sisters" are my anchor. In all things, they surround me with their faith, their dreams and with their continuing love. That love is a circle here. Each one of us ends this beautiful day wishing the best for all who enter and who now leave, going home to their own families. Some of us will get together during the year but most of them will not see each other until this table is open for friendship again the second Wednesday of December next year. My gift to them is the time spent at my table each year. Their gift to me is a sisterhood that I never had growing up but for over 50 years I have enjoyed each and every one of them. Our unified gift is that we get to meet again to share a cup of tea and life’s stories and lessons and to hold each other tight for a few hours, and whenever the call goes out, we will be there for each other..that is truly a gift.
Family is defined by so many different circumstances …hand picking your own to sit around the table with, is not such a bad idea…Cheers to girlfriends and tables, no matter the size.
All photos were taken with the Canon 5DMK111 and Canon 35 mm 1.4 lens
I read all comments and welcome all visitors to my table and blog post. Thank you for stopping by and visiting. It is always greatly appreciated.
A little bit of a back story on this post. I am very excited to have joined a local writing group being lead by a published author. We will meet once a month. This is the first homework assignment given to us before Christmas. The task was to write about a Christmas table that you remember and tell why it is important to you either good or bad. Lots of detail was required, hence the length of this post. I’m a shorter essay writer so this was a stretch for me. After writing the piece I turned it into a blog post by adding these photos. I’m looking forward to see how this class develops…Happy New Year. Perhaps you will be doing something exciting and challenging also. If you would like to share please add a comment below…