It disturbed me when the Seinfeld series ended. It was a disappointment to countless viewers, reminded again that all good things must come to an end. I am thinking of this now as I am ending a long-term annual tradition of Labor Day weekend parties at my house.
Strange to be comparing a TV show to my house parties I know, but these festivities were somewhat like a long-running show. We all knew when it was on, looked forward to it, prepared to be there, laughed throughout and happily awaited the next episode. The core characters were the same, though with alternating prominence depending on their life situation at the time, and occasionally new characters would show up. Since this is real life, there was misfortune too. Over the course of 18 years, divorce, employment loss and even loss of life were woven into the fabric. During those times, we shared more consolation than joy, but rather than bringing us down, we boosted each other up.
The annual get-together started when we moved to CT and wanted to hold onto our inner circle. We already had a tradition for the Fourth of July when we’d spend the weekend with some of the same friends in NJ. So we picked the Sunday of Labor Day weekend for our annual event with the idea that everyone had the day off before and after to prepare and recover respectively. We began with formal invitations until it became a standing rain-or-shine invite with no formality required. Some would sleep over, and a bagel brunch followed by a walk the next day allowed for smaller and quieter conversations, an introvert’s favorite pastime.
The barbecue was expansive with a variety of appetizers, side dishes, desserts, and an open bar. I revel in the hostess role, and my husband boasts superior barbecue skills, so we were well-prepared. Of course, our invitees insisted on bringing more culinary delights and drinks, so inevitably it turned into the ultimate food and booze fest. One couple brought margaritas. Another came with the breakfast bagels and two beloved well-behaved dogs. The backdrop was music, laughter and playful teasing that comes off well only with people who know each over a long period of time.
The truth is that with all the advance prep, food and music, what really made these parties so amazing was the people. They clicked. Even if they hadn’t seen each other in a year, they joked and teased as though they were daily pals. We caught up on each other’s news, shared comical tales of woe and melded as a crowd. Like Seinfeld, some of these stories were about nothing, but still somehow so funny. I took pride in my orchestration of the details and success in bringing together people that hit it off so well. The only thing I regret is that I don’t have photos of each occasion, but I was too busy enjoying my company to photograph them.
Then gradually over the years, the group dynamics changed. Some guests moved out of the area. Kids grew up and stopped coming. People became bitter and jaded as they aged. The energy level declined. The long drive became too much. My husband exhausted himself at the barbecue, standing for hours while cooking way more than necessary and then falling asleep during the party. One person with OCD became obsessed with helping me wash dishes and serve until I felt like I had a looming shadow from which I could not escape. She became overly sensitive and started to take friendly bantering too seriously, becoming easily offended. Another developed multiple ongoing health, family and financial issues that sadly tended to dominate the conversation. A heaviness replaced gaiety. Another became a Trump supporter; ugh. Everyone was trying to lose weight but continued to bring the same amount of food. This left me with an excess of tempting goodies to deal with later. Another thing I noticed, and this is a pet peeve of mine, is that the women and men seemed to cluster separately so there would be a girl conversation here and the guys chatting over there. That’s way too high-school for me.
Worst of all, some would talk badly about each other the next day. Being they were all guests whom I welcomed into my home as friends, that was the defining moment; the moment when I realized that all good things end, and I’m OK with that.