Sunday, December 20, 2009

One Potato, Two Potato...

We'd been living in New Jersey for about a year when we decided to throw our first party. It was time; we were settled, Stephen was established in the company and had met several people who he thought might enjoy a lively evening of music, food, and cocktails with us. The invitations went out to well over a dozen suggesting they bring a guest, an instrument (we had the piano) or CD featuring their favourite musical selections to share. We'd had this kind of party several times before with friends at our home in Omaha, and it was always a crowded house, with lots of food and entertainment, that lasted well into the wee hours of the night.

I started to get a bad feeling when by 7:30 only a few people had arrived, but kept hope. By 8:30 it was clear that whoever was coming, had arrived, and it was not the crowd we expected. No one brought any music to play or share. It was very quiet, and the embarrassment of food set out was a constant reminder during the evening that our anticipation of attendance at the party had not been met. Two couples came-we totaled six.

So I mentally switched gears for the kind of party it was going to be. Instead of music amplified throughout the house, or played live with willing guests providing the entertainment, we'd share a more intimate evening with drinks and small plates of heavy hors doeuvres. The living room was ringed with 3 chairs and the couch, everyone sat, sipped and nibbled. It was very quiet.

Topic: we need a topic---my brain was scrambling for an ice-breaker; nothing political, religious, or touching any other taboo or potentially awkward subjects. I asked if anyone was taking a vacation soon, since we were planning some camping trips in New Jersey in the summer. We LOVE camping! Good idea: camping, it's a safe subject--the great outdoors, nature, favourite spots, memories and anecdotes from childhood! I bragged about our extensive list of camping supplies, our cast iron skillets, the endless list of red and green Coleman equipment, the aluminum nesting cookpots, and our infamously leaking tent. Yes, we LOVE camping, who doesn't? What's NOT to like? It should definitely spark conversation!

The circle of guests suddenly transformed into a Campers Anonymous meeting. The woman next to me immediately chimed in to declare her complete and utter distaste for camping and any outdoor related activities. She described her idea of 'roughing it' as having to settle for a Super 8 motel over a Hilton adjacent to shopping malls or outlets. She proceeded to recount a particularly disturbing childhood experience involving an outhouse, complete with spiders and intestinal distress....

This party ship was sinking, and fast. It wasn't even 9 o'clock.

Next around our tiny camp-fire ring was the young dating couple. He'd been introduced upon arrival as visiting the U.S. from one of the Middle Eastern countries, and spoke very little during the early part of the evening. But he began to offer his camping experience.

It was actually more of a bivouac experience during the Persian Gulf War when Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990. He described his rancour at being assigned KP out in the hot desert sun. His job for this particular day required peeling hundreds of potatoes for the troop. He didn't have a proper tool, so he was resigned to using a small knife to undertake the seeming insurmountable task. But not long into his duties, the knife slipped and he gave himself a tremendous gash in the palm of his hand severing a major blood vessel. This required a minor surgical procedure in his very primitive setting and several stitches to repair the wound. At this point he revealed his scar.

Ohhhh, it was nasty.

This story was becoming a little heavier and somber than the previous two light anecdotes about spiders, smelly National Park outhouses, and a delicious pork and bean recipe. But it continued.

Our guest grew quiet, paused, looked thoughtful; he passed his gaze around the circle, meeting each guest's eyes, and took a deep breath. He had more to say.

He recounted that because of his injury, he was relieved from his begrudged daily duty of lowly potato peeling, and was allowed to return to his tent and cot to recover. AHHH! We all sighed--no more grunt work, a regrettable injury is healing--all's well that ends well.

The story wasn't over. He lowered his head into his hands and continued. Shortly after he was freshly bandaged, and given pain medication, a skirmish occurred, and his six fellow troop members were called up and immediately deployed to an airplane to provide air support. An air force scramble for which he had to stay behind.

Within minutes the plane was shot down and all his friends were instantly killed.


What to do? I stood up, took a plate off the sideboard and walked to the middle of the circle. "Cheese puff, anyone?"

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