Hospitality perfected, limes or no limes

105053-843138-thumbnail.jpgSarah has a thing about learning to become a proper southern hostess. (I've been called in to help her on occasion, as on this night in October.) Growing up in Manhattan and living later years in such cities as Madison, WI and Chicago, not to mention some years in Guatemala and China, she didn't have the same training I did. And so I watch, intrigued, as year after year she shares the steps taken that will carry her closer to reaching her goal.

Once, I, unintentionally rude, asked "You used a cookbook???!" when she'd showed me how she'd found the recipe for fried chicken. It took a minute to remember that everybody didn't actually grow up watching their mom make fried chicken. (Her mom, Bridget, lived in a young society ladies apartment complex where Grace Kelly lived, if I remember correctly, and that's just as interesting as making fried chicken on Sunday after church, no?)

Yesterday it was Key Lime Pie. She told me on the phone and I got very excited, loving Key Lime Pie as I do. And it turned out gloriously, to my tastebuds, but I think they realized something went askew with the recipe. As in too many of those little limes. But so what? Tart pie can still be good pie.

None of that matters, of course - perfect the recipe or don't. It's these efforts, these stories we're making that matter so much more than the way the ingredients combine. We realized last night that our friendship moved, unnoticed, over the threshhold beyond "new." A 5 year connection speaks to the comfort-level we've attained. Speaks to how I knew, when she and Jim asked me to just stay over, that I would be sleeping in the most comfortable bed I've slept in, outside a hotel, with nearly decadent cotton sheets. And how, if I asked, I could have a slice of that pie for breakfast with my coffee and the New York Times which we'd be reading on the deck this morning. (The pie was lovely, and I who love words, was highly entertained to read in that paper Dave Kehr's reference to a Katharine Hepburn film as at times "maddeningly twee," a phrase I've never read before today.)

Now I've found photos from another, larger gathering where you see Sarah dancing and Rachel talking - a true unscripted candid reflecting the natural flow of that evening. So many who were there that night are now living elsewhere: abroad, in Charlotte, in Seattle. These times are very different from those times. And we are "live in the moment" kind of people, so I don't think any of us actually took our time together for granted. Not really. But I still wonder how we'd have paid even closer attention that night, had we realized that two years out so many of us would have so many miles between us.

So Sarah and Jim and I sat on this very deck, Emma the Dog much less a puppy now, laying at our feet, Yo-Yo Ma and James Taylor (among others,) serenading us, possibly one of the same citronella candles in its little bucket keeping the critters away, candles providing ambience - same as always.  And as with all our gatherings on that deck, we talked of travel, of interesting people we know, of books and writing, of good food, (Jim can grill anything to perfection,) of studies and of careers. Regardless of the participants, whether we're 3 or 10, the themes of these gatherings remain the same. Today, recalling the perfection of my evening, I'd say Sarah is every bit the proper southern hostess. Proper, at least, in the ways that matter the most.