I really enjoyed my dad’s birthday party. It was just a small, family gathering. Well, at least it started off that way. Then, my brother’s girlfriend showed up. Then, my sister’s fiance’s niece and her best friend. Of course, we can’t forget my three friends who call my dad, their dad, which isn’t really unusual considering Milton Warren James “fathers” the community. Then, my mom’s part-time business parter, my cousin-sisters and their kids. I think that is all who was there. Oh! I forgot about the two pets and Papa Amos, who just happened to stop by (I think it was because of all the cars in the driveway.) Overall, it was a great turnout. We are the community family, so, everyone who wasn’t invited is still welcome.
After the food, we spend about four hours opening five gifts. EVERY gift had a story and a reasoning behind it. It wasn’t just a picture frame. It was the picture frame. The only picture frame available to portray the love and loyalty of our family bond. It wasn’t just a watch. It was the watch–the ONLY watch–that symbolized the endless time of our love. The watch that will not snag at dad’s shop. The watch that matched all colors in his closet. The watch that told the moon phase, because of the conversation six years ago when dad forgot when the next full moon was going to be. No gift was given simply because we wanted to have the gift. No. Each and every gift was given with sufficient motivation to ensure dad’s gifts will be utilized to their fullest potential.
Every detail of this birthday party was planned–down to the menu items. Now, let me take a moment to explain just how dinner parties work in the James family. It is the same for breakfast items. If we are not making a single portion, any item on the menu is prepared in such a surplus that we can pack up the pots and pans and take them down to the nearest shelter–and THEY will eat for weeks. We have always been this family–as far back as I can remember–we have been the community family. After church service, our family would go home, and just as we sat down at the table to bless the food, the doorbell would ring. By the time we actually ate for dinner, our house was so full of people that our short, quaint meal, instantly, turned into the James’ Mess Hall and Buffet. As everyone grew up, they didn’t come around as much, but we still kept cooking as if, any moment, the doorbell would ring.
Today is no different. On the menu, there is lobster, crab cakes, shrimp, macaroni and cheese, rice pilaf, ham, Cornish hen, rolls, honey carrots and banana pudding. I was in charge of two items–Gouda grits (for the shrimp and grits touch) and magic cookie squares for dessert. The Gouda grits are always a party favorite. The magic cookie squares are a holiday/family gathering legacy. My mom normally makes them; however, as of late, the “magic” torch has been handed down to me.
No one can forget the ingredients to grits–grits, water, Gouda and a few other ingredients thrown in for taste. I voluntarily agree to make them because they are the least amount of hassle with the least amount of effort. Yet, they are always a smash hit–except for the day I neglected to purchase quick grits and got instant instead–epic FAIL. But today, I had all the ingredients to everything. I was absolutely amazed at just how creamy the grits turned out, today. The entire meal was immaculate. Everything was perfect.
Desserts came after gifts, after dinner. I was so proud and smiled so hard when everyone realized I made the magic cookie squares. They went on and on about how long it has been since they had any, how wonderful they smelled, how rich and thick they looked. Yes! My “magic” was a hit. About fifteen minutes later, Lulu asks “Aren’t we missing something?”
“You need More food?” I ask laughing.
“No. These chocolate things. Aren’t they missing something?” Lulu continues.
“I don’t think so. I followed all the directions on the sheet.” I responded.
“They don’t have any nuts on them. They’re missing the pecans.” My mom interjects.
“I thought they tasted different.” Lulu confirms.
“You waited ’til you have a corner left on your square to notice that something is wrong with the square?” I ask irritated.
“I wasn’t sure. It took me a minute to think about it.” Lulu says back while finishing off the corner square in her hand and proceeding to lick her fingers.
“I’m not getting up to sprinkle some nuts on those squares. Just think of it as an altered recipe.” I retort.
Another fifteen minutes go by and we have more fun and laughter. We tell more family stories. While my father is telling the story about the blessings of his present, my grandma asks for another square.
“Momma, your sugar!” My mom protests.
“I don’t want but a small piece,” Lulu says almost pleading. Lulu has a voice that tugs at your soul. Three people, including me, scramble to get her a piece of “magic.” Grandma takes several bites of her magic cookie square. Again, when the treat in hand is nearly a distant memory, Lulu says, “SOMETHING is missing.”
I stare straight ahead at Lulu, without blinking. “Nuts, Lulu. Nuts. There are no nuts in the square.
“Okay, okay,” Lulu agrees nodding her head as she continues to take the last few bites of her square.
When the dinner is complete, we proceed to clean up the home. Everything is nice and orderly. As guests leave, we prepare to-go plates and divide the food–nothing is wasted. As we get Lulu into the van to go home, Lulu exclaims, “Did you get me some of those magic chocolate things?”
“We got some to go home,” mom assures her.
“Good!” Grandma says excitingly. “They were real good.”
“But Something was missing.”