Oct 23 2015
Every month, the old married people in our church congregation who don’t have children living at home (the “empty-nesters”) get together for a potluck dinner on a Monday night. We eat and visit and usually have some kind of churchy-type lesson. The dinner is almost always held in our home, because that way I don’t have to struggle up a foreign set of stairs. Besides, it gives us an excuse to clean the house.
At the end of our September meeting, when the group organizer asked who wanted to be the host in October, he reminded everyone that October’s meeting was going to be held on Columbus Day. You would have thought he was suggesting we hold the meeting on Christmas Eve.
“We’re not going to be there,” half the people said, aghast that anyone would even suggest it. “We’re going to visit our grandchildren.”
(As you can imagine, the “grandchildren” card is sacred in any group of people our age, especially Mormons our age, who collect grandchildren the way a Boy Scout collects merit badges. It is such a valuable excuse for getting out of things that I am tempted to tell people I am going to visit my grandchildren, even though everyone knows I forgot to have children in the first place.)
Other people said they were going to be traveling, or having guests come to visit them. I don’t remember the excuses. Everyone spoke at once.
Fluffy and I checked our calendar, and we were going to be home on Columbus Day. In fact, I had a doctor’s appointment that day, so we couldn’t go anywhere. So we volunteered to be the hosts. It was probably our turn. And it was easy enough to do, seeing as how it was our house anyway.
I had been thinking about chili, and wanting to create a new chili recipe. Fluffy does not eat beef. Usually this doesn’t bother me. I eat my beef, and he eats whatever he wants to eat. But ground turkey does not make a hearty chili. I am a turkey lover myself, but even turkey lovers must concede that ground turkey and the word “hearty” do not go together. I was in the mood to create something different.
Anyway, hosting the potluck would give me the perfect opportunity to create a decent chili recipe, because the hosts of the potluck are always responsible for the main course. So I put my little pea brain to work and came up with a recipe that used pork sausage as a base for chili. This was going to be fun.
Then I sent out the Evites. I always send out the Evites. I’m not sure why. Fluffy and I are not the official organizers, but the organizers weren’t sure how to send out the Evites, so the job fell to me by default so I do it every month. We send out the invitations, we have the party at our house, and we provide the drinks, but another couple in the ward is “in charge.” I have never figured that one out.
Four pounds of meat would feed an army.
I was gratified to see that pork sausage was an excellent choice. It fried up just like ground beef, but without the grease. But pork sausage gave flavor and more heft, so to speak, than ground turkey. And the brand I picked was all natural, so there was none of the nasty MSG that gives Fluffy migraines.
We added all sorts of other good stuff — a whole head of garlic, and cumin, and paprika, and cayenne pepper, and red pepper flakes. We used RO-TEL tomatoes in addition to regular canned tomatoes, just to give our chili an extra kick.
We have the largest size crockpot they make, but all this filled the crockpot so full that Fluffy had to take a saucepan of chili out just so he could stir the rest of it. We made a lot of chili. (Frankly, we have been told we do a whole lot of things on the “overkill” setting.)
And Fluffy made a pan of cornbread — just one pan, because we really didn’t think there would be more than eight people there, and a pan of cornbread serves nine.
Then we wondered who, if anybody, would show up. We have an interesting assortment of people at our potluck dinners. Some of them are from Asia, and even when the theme is Mexican, they are likely to bring Oriental food. If they showed up, we might be eating chili with kimchi. But that is one of the joys of this little group. We can never predict what is going to happen.
The day before the big party (which was a Sunday), the Evite web site showed that a grand total of one couple had responded to the invitation, and they had declined. That does not mean anything, because our group tends to not be good at responding. But it was still an ominous sign.
Fluffy was assigned to teach the high priests that day. He used the first part of the lesson to remind the high priests who were still in town that there was going to be a party the next day. They all smiled and nodded, and seemed to indicate that it sounded like great fun.
On Columbus Day, I quickly did what little work I could before Fluffy bundled me in the car and took me to my doctor’s appointment. Then I spent the afternoon working while Fluffy warmed the chili, made the cornbread, and cleaned the house.
We were all ready for company when the time came. I was even dressed, which was unusual for me. One of the perks of being in a wheelchair is that I get to entertain in my flannel nighties, but since I had already been out of the house I was actually in my big girl clothes and ready to entertain like an actual person.
The party started at 7 p.m., but we had to be ready before that. The first people arrived had promptly at 6:30 last month, so we got to start visiting a whole half hour early. That was fine. As I said, I was actually dressed this month. Fluffy even turned on the outside light to welcome as many guests who came.
He played on his computer. I played on mine. At 7:15 he said, “How long do we have to wait until we can eat dinner?” I said, “People are usually late. Let’s wait till 7:30 or so. We usually eat later than that.”
But the chili was simmering. The aroma was there. We watched the clock like there would be no tomorrow. We were ready to frolic.
The moment the clocks chimed 7:45, I threw off my clothes, put on my nightgown, and settled myself in front of the television. Fluffy gave us each a big bowl of chili and some cornbread, and we watched the most recent episode of “Naked and Afraid.” The star of this week’s episode was a Utah boy. Since he was obviously a naked Mormon, we counted that as our “lesson” for the week. We had a grand old time.
We cooked for twenty, and we ended up with a party of two. But who says you can’t have fun when there are only two people on the guest list? It all depends on which two people show up.
On Columbus Day, it was just fine that there were only two of us. Our monthly Family Home Evening is an optional activity. People come and go if it’s convenient for them, and there is no penalty if they can’t come this month, or the next, or the month after that.
This particular month, it just didn’t seem to be convenient for anyone but the two of us. Plus, we got a big pot of chili, a good recipe for future meals, and a clean house out of the deal.
Fluffy and I would have been happy if twenty people had shown up, but we were just as happy to watch “Naked and Afraid” all by ourselves. We’re flexible that way. That’s the kind of people we are.
There are parties where the attendance is optional, and our little Columbus Day chili fest was one of those parties. Nobody cared whether the people who were invited actually intended — not even the hosts. But there’s another banquet that we have been invited to, that is not such a flexible feast. It is the banquet that Jesus talks about in Luke 14:16-24:
16 Then said he unto him, A certain man made a great supper, and bade many:
17 And sent his servant at supper time to say to them that were bidden, Come; for all things are now ready.
18 And they all with one consent began to make excuse. The first said unto him, I have bought a piece of ground, and I must needs go and see it: I pray thee have me excused.
19 And another said, I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to prove them: I pray thee have me excused.
20 And another said, I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.
21 So that servant came, and shewed his lord these things. Then the master of the house being angry said to his servant, Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in hither the poor, and the maimed, and the halt, and the blind.
22 And the servant said, Lord, it is done as thou hast commanded, and yet there is room.
23 And the lord said unto the servant, Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled.
24 For I say unto you, That none of those men which were bidden shall taste of my supper.
I don’t know about you, but the Savior’s banquet is one that I do not want to miss. I want to be at the table, with my napkin on my lap, and I want my loved ones to be there with me. If there is an oil lamp that is required of us, I want mine to be filled, with its wick trimmed and ready to go. I want your oil lamps to be filled, too, because I care about you.
Sometimes it isn’t easy to fill that lamp with oil and to set aside other things and go to the Savior’s banquet. Christianity is not always an easy religion. The sacrifices of our religion are ones we won’t regret making, however. A lot of the time we all waste precious hours on things that matter a whole lot less.
This column first appeared in the Nauvoo Times.