Christmas Potlucks Are Timeless
My dad once told me that when he was a youngster, country folk commonly created their own entertainment. They would never dream of ordering a pizza over the internet or using a streaming service to pump music into their homes or zoning out on the couch as they binged on the latest Netflix series.
Never mind that none of those things had yet been invented. People back then were simply made of sterner stuff. Even if they were available, they would have eschewed such effete expediences.
Dad said that folks would gather at someone’s farmhouse on an agreed-upon evening. A potluck plethora of homemade vittles – and perhaps some homebrewed liquid refreshments – would be brought by attendees. After everyone had eaten their fill, the chairs and tables would be pushed against the wall. Someone would produce a fiddle and someone else might haul out an accordion. Homemade music would thrum throughout the farmhouse as its living room floor throbbed with dancers.
This practice had pretty much ended by the time I came along. But one remnant of the neighborhood do-it-yourself get-together remained.
When I was a kid, Mom belonged to a birthday club. I’m not totally clear about its purpose but suspect that it was a firewall that neighborhood farm wives had erected to protect against the likelihood that their husbands would forget a particularly important day.
Each December the birthday club would throw a Christmas party. Club members and their families would gather at an agreed-upon member’s farmhouse where there would be oodles of homemade goodies and an afternoon of convivial conversation. It was sort of a pre-Christmas Christmas party, a warm-up for the real thing.
I had thought that such gatherings had fallen by the wayside. That is, until we met Judy and Jerry Cooley.
The Cooleys live in a 110-year-old Victorian house. They have preserved much of their home’s original charm, including the distinctive trim around its windows and doors and its original hardwood floors.
Each Christmas, Judy and Jerry decorate their home in a style that befits its heritage. Garland is hung around the doorways and each room has its own Christmas tree. The decorations are numerous yet elegant, attractive but not gaudy.
The Cooleys have created a tradition of hosting a pre-Christmas Christmas gathering for friends and neighbors. My wife and I have lately made a practice of attending these gatherings so that we can enjoy convivial conversation and “ooh” and “ahh” at the handsome adornments.
The Cooleys’ home might best be described as cozy, realtor-speak for “not exactly huge by today’s standards.” As guests begin to arrive at the Cooleys’ house, it isn’t long before space becomes tight. Which is good, as it forces one to actually converse with people you may not know. Floating through the gathering without engaging with others is not an option.
I chatted a bit with Jerry, who teaches computer science at the local university. Jerry is the only guy I know who knows how to play bagpipes. Or at least the only guy I know who will admit to being a bagpiper.
When I asked Jerry if he knows any Christmas tunes, he replied that he has a number of them in his repertoire. He also indicated that there currently wasn’t sufficient space in their house to deploy bagpipes. While we chatted, I noticed that his necktie was adorned with cartoon Santa cats.
I asked Judy how long they have been hosting their pre-Christmas gathering.
“We started doing this when our kids were little, so it’s been at least 20 years,” she replied. While we chatted, I noticed that her earrings were shaped like sparkly little Christmas trees.
“This party has become a tradition for our family,” Judy continued. “I can’t image a Christmas season without it.”
The Cooleys’ elderly dog, Max, a hound of mixed ancestry, waddled through the crowd. He slipped silently among the forest of legs as he conducted his crucial crumb patrol mission. His portly build seemed to indicate that he’s highly skilled at this activity.
My wife and I noshed on tasty tidbits from the potluck. It’s almost as if Cooley party attendees are in an unspoken competition to outdo one another regarding the yumminess of their offerings. Which is wonderful. I am all for any competition that increases the level of deliciousness in my life.
After a couple of hours of festive socializing, it was time to bid adieu to our hosts and thank them for opening their home for this gathering.
We then drove home, gratified to know that there are still those who are highly skilled in the traditional art of do-it-yourself home entertainment.
Jerry’s book, Dear County Agent Guy, is available at Workman.com and in bookstores nationwide.