The farm is a wonderland. A haven for animals, a playground for dogs, a sanctuary for birds….and a Party Barn for people.
This weekend, the circus came to town. Our daughter graduated from college two weeks ago, and our community celebrated the achievement. Our “community” consists of family, friends, coworkers and neighbors, some of whom fall into numerous categories. The location was the barn, the format casual, the agenda loose, the menu random, and the results: rather predictable. In one sense our parties are like Groundhog Day. The tablecloths change colors and the occasion varies, but the objective is always the same: Enjoy one another. And we do.
The cast of characters has huge overlap from party to party….but there is always spice. Friends come from a long distance for a more rare (and precious) visit. Guests bring guests (and are welcome to) because “the show” seems to be worth seeing. New combinations of folks inspire new friendships or revive old ones. One often hears the words, “Yes! We’ve heard so much about you!” or “How nice to finally meet you!” I love to hear this because it’s the sound of my worlds coming together. I know so many terrific people, and I love it when they meet one another. It’s fun.
So there’s the predictable stuff… and also unique stuff happens.
Naturally, there was animal stuff. Our black lab, Bart, had five friends over. In effect, cousins. Three sweet and sage large golden retrievers, an exuberant boxer, and an eager-but-tentative schnauzer, the smallest of the pack. Needless to say, the cats disappeared. They were spotted occasionally in the trees, but they knew better than to try their luck on a pack like this. Everyone would leave, soon, they knew. Sit back and observe from a safe perch, they decided.
For the most part, the dogs were blissfully happy. They’d trek off to the river together for a swim. A pack of kids would throw tennis balls until the dogs would drop from exhaustion. They’d find a spot by a couch where a dangling hand would stroke their soft heads.
But for all the wonderful dog moments, there were equally crazy dog issues. Like the moment six dogs in the tiny kitchen burst into a sudden snarling, yelping, roaring brawl over who knows what. It was so shocking – especially to the four humans caught in the mix – that no one knows how it really started. Dogs were lashing out in all directions – as confused as anyone else – until owners were able to peel them away one by one. No bites, so it was quite thrilling.
The boxer punctured his groin on some evil submerged object when playing fetch in the river. The cut started small, but was in the paper-thin, tender area of his privates, and the poor guy stood all night to avoid the agony of lying down on it as the split grew. Ewwwww. Ouch. His dad had to take him to the veterinary ER at dawn to get stitches.
One of the sweet retrievers rolled in the meadow grass after his swim, and ended up sending a nasty foxtail into his ear canal. A local vet had to use a long grabbing device plunged deep into the golden’s ear to get it out. Miserable experience, but avoided the worse option of an embedded, infected foxtail.
Our lab ended up with a bandaid-sized patch of scalped skin from a morning run-in with some old barbed wire. He ended up no worse for the wear.
Our rickety old llama, now accustomed to having the run of the farm, was sequestered with the goats and the miniature horse in the front pasture because he has recently taken to following cars out the front gate to explore. He was so dismayed, seeing the other llama roaming the grounds without him, that he literally paced the far fence all…day…long. Our guests noticed it and pleaded his case, but we persevered and so did he.
And finally the miniature horse, Little Joe, sized up each guest to visit his realm: the front pasture. A mischievous nip on the arm would send most guests shrieking to the gate. Others just stood, stunned that something so cute would deliver such a painful chomp. To that, Little Joe would rear up right there, pawing at the air, flipping them out completely. Bratty. Completely bratty. So what do you do to teach a feisty stallion a lesson? Allow five little girls to braid every inch of his mane and forelock, tying off each little masterpiece with a neon rubber band. The miserable Rastafarian looked like Pippi Longstocking. He did allow me to lead him around to show the other guests, although I will admit he looked dejected amidst the laughter and jeers. The pictures are pretty priceless And he wore his braids for a couple of days. His macho barnyard rep was crushed.
The human experience at this graduation party was similarly colorful. The first hot day of the season, the ladies were glowing, and the gents were sucking down John’s home-brew like champs. We hosted just under a hundred people, and the food flow was heavy but random. Good friends brought dim sum from the family’s favorite restaurant in the nearby Big City. John barbecued five tri tips, a bunch of sausage, and a giant pork loin. We made a ton of delicious cole slaw mixed in huge trash bag, following the recipe of a nearly famous chef friend, to go with it. We had a full-sized imported Portuguese prosciutto on its own serving contraption that we’ve had since we hosted my boss’s retirement party 2 1/2 months ago. It may take a year of parties to finish that thing, and our guests who have attended four or five parties already where that puppy was served are becoming more than a little freaked out by the recurring appearance of this pig. It was aged when we got it. It’s now age-ed.
We served four cases of water, nine cases of soft drinks, twelve gallons of home-brewed beer and a couple of cases of bottled beer. A half case of champagne, a case of wine and about a gallon of vodka. Good gravy Marie. The grad-of-honor made her famous guacamole with ten avocados, and a big batch of her mango salsa. A sea of chips floated that away in no time. See? Rather random. No one seemed to mind. And they seemed fascinated by the prosciutto.
When it came time to serve the giant sheet cake and the seven pies, I went out to the now air conditioned “milk house” (built 70 years ago when our farm was a working dairy) and I discovered a bevy of ladies cooling off amongst the cool storage. Best kept secret at the party next to the neon hair ties.
There were toasts. There were even Jell-O shots in honor of the end of our daughter’s college experience. We turned on the hockey game for our Midwestern guests, and before the night was over, we were gathered around the piano singing as a dear friend and talented pianist played requests using an iPad to look up music when he didn’t know a song. Mostly Beatles. Who knew my kids’ godfather could sing Ave Maria in Latin? Impressive.
Lest we leave all the injuries to the dogs, one of us humans cut our head open on the corner of the Coke machine while attempting to fire up the fog machine to accompany the piano concert. It helped that the Latin-singing godfather is also an experienced ER nurse, and was able to stop the bleeding and pack the Party Animal up for a ride to a hospital to be glued backed together. We managed without the fog, and the effects of the concussion were brief.
It was cool and quiet when the crowds eventually dissipated, and the remaining 15 of us enjoyed a relaxing evening under the stars, bathed by the gentle light of a full moon. We recounted the day’s hilarity and thanked God everyone survived. We thanked Him for our daughter’s safe return home from college and for the team of Designated Drivers that shuttled everyone safely home. For homemade music and beer, for the companionship of animals. For random food and air conditioning. For neon hair ties. And above all, we thanked God for good friends and dear family.
Post script: The peace of that night continued until about 3 am, when our friends who elected to camp in the yard were awakened by the return of the dogs, who had gone outside together to pee. Seeing their first-ever tent, they decided our farm was under attack and circled it barking like a pack of crazed wolves. The guests were terrified at the time, but we had big yucks about it over breakfast. In fact, we had a great time re-living the whole wonderful event. The morning after – in our case – rocks.