October 3, 2015

The Life of the Party

   After a weekend enjoying my husband’s high school reunion, combined with the weather beginning to cool and the store shelves being filled for Halloween, my mind has traveled back to a time when we threw big parties. We did entertain at other times of the year, but our biggest party production was always Halloween. The tradition went back many years.

   In the early eighties we lived across the street from some busy bachelors and since we had food, and sometimes beer, they gravitated towards our house on the weekends. Some of them played guitar with my husband and so we had live music to accompany our gatherings. We discovered Trivial Pursuit and some text-driven computer games like Zork where we had to puzzle our way through a virtual world without graphics, armed only with our wits and imagination. There were late nights and plenty of teasing and friendly banter. And then there was Halloween.

   Since we had the bigger house and yard we planned our party to not only include our own friends but also the longtime friends of the bachelors who had grown up in the neighborhood. We decided to collect a couple of bucks from everyone who attended and put it into a pot to award as a prize for the best costume. With enough bodies there was a tidy sum and of course there were the ever desirable bragging rights.
   We planned and plotted and designed invitations and scratched our heads for what to wear to the big party. We had taken in a tall friend who was down on his luck, and although he was hesitant to wear a “silly” costume we put our foot down and insisted anyone who lived with us was required to have fun at Halloween.

   That first party was one I will never forget. The characters who attended included Carmen Miranda, with a tall headdress of artfully arranged plastic fruit and a solid fellow who covered himself in blue eye shadow and wore a knit hat and a white beard and arrived as Papa Smurf. When a friend we did not know arrived at the door wearing a blood covered apron and carrying a huge plastic meat cleaver, our young children were hesitant to let him in. In his free hand he carried a six pack of cold beer. Bloody or not he was quick admitted. One couple fashioned a Flintmobile from huge rolls of cardboard with a faux fur rooftop and they walked over, feet emerging from beneath, to attend as Fred and Wilma Flintstone. Their vehicle was big enough for two and had to be passed by party goers over our tall fence. That couple took first prize. That year my husband and I and our tall house guest dressed as the Addams Family. I fashioned a dress that was so snug around the ankles I understood why Morticia could only shuffle femininely. I had to sew in a zipper so that I could get up the stairs to the bathroom. We posed on the lawn late that night for our Halloween portrait. As hosts of the party we disqualified ourselves from the competition but at a local bar a few nights later the three of us won the best costume prize.

Raggedy Ann and Andy

 Samara from The Ring

Pai Mei from Kill Bill

   A year or two later, some of the bachelors moved to a larger house and we were able to be guests at their place for the annual celebration, which made us eligible to compete for the prize. Selecting a Halloween costume is tricky business. It's best if it is timely and original enough so that you are the only one dressed as that particular character. That year I made large, black fig-shaped outfits, with arm and leg holes, and filled them with stuffing. We also wore black tights and bright red socks over our shoes. We had snug, fitted hats, reminiscent of leather bomber hats, with antenna, huge sunglasses, Hawaiian shirts and holsters. Have you guessed it yet? We were "Miami Lice". We were not just the only Miami Lice at the party, we took first place. I felt about as attractive as a cockroach, but we had a blast.

   Over the years our annual tradition continued, and we would spend 365 days looking for ideas for the perfect costume. Our plans got more elaborate, eventually including fog machines and strobe lights, stuffed gorilla suits and a live band. Dave Marshall and the Mojo Band got into the fun and played one year as The Soggy Bottom Boys from the film O, Brother, Where Art Thou?, even learning a song from the film. We had Janis Joplin and Spiderman, devils and angels and even Mae West. 

 The Soggy Bottom Boys

 Janis Joplin

Jessica and Roger Rabbit

   Some of the partiers would perform with the band, including my youngest daughter. She had grown up during our parties and that year came as Jessica Rabbit with her husband, Bob, as Roger Rabbit.
For days after our gatherings I would get calls from the folks who had attended, thanking us and expressing the warmth and enjoyment they had felt at the party. Friends who had been strangers met one another and became friends on their own. I was always told that a good time was enjoyed by all.

   And so, in the afterglow of the wonderful high school reunion I think about what it is that makes a great party. Is it the food? That’s certainly a big factor. Lousy food or worse, no food, can mean cranky guests and people who leave early just to go somewhere where they can eat. Bad music? A band that is too loud or plays only one style of music drowns out conversation and tires the ear. Location? A room that is too small, or outdoors in uncomfortable weather, can make people prickly too. Some things have to be just right. Good food, decent booze, the right music for your guests and comfortable surroundings are all important. But there’s one factor that is the most important of all. The people. When you have a group of friends or family or folks that are gathering for any reason, you need people who have the same agenda. They have to come to have fun. Fun for themselves and fun for each other. When the attitude is great, the people are friendly and welcoming. When that happens each one walks away with a smile. When the hour grows late and goodbyes must be said, everyone feels that good memories of the gathering will go on and on. That’s a great party and I remember each and every one I have ever held or attended. It’s not so hard, if your attitude is just right.
Thank you for visiting and have a happy Halloween!

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