Empty Nest Magazine
However You Celebrate It:
A Dirty Old Ladies’ Valentine’s Day
by Robin Bonner
The return address belied its sender—my friend Julie Longacre, a landscape artist and poet. I hadn’t heard from Julie in a while. I knew she had been busy traveling, painting on commission, and caring alternately for her 90-something mother and her infant grandson. In short, she was stretched a little thin. I sent her our family year-end letter around the holidays, but hadn’t heard back from her. What was she up to? I have to say, I was interested to find out. So, after quickly rifling through the other mail (to make sure the bills weren’t tossed out with the junk), I eagerly opened the intriguing envelope.
Inside was the most adorable handmade Valentine’s Day party invitation I had seen in years. (Do they still do that sort of thing?) The pale pink heart mounted on ivory card stock bore the details in black calligraphy. Julie had told me about one other such gathering she had hosted for her friends—to celebrate the publication of her Dirty Old Ladies’ Cookbook, several years earlier. Julie said, “I would love to have seen the faces of the women who got those invitations . . . . ” I smiled, remembering. A Valentine’s Day ladies-only luncheon—how enticing! And to be included in a gathering of the Dirty Old Ladies, as Julie had dubbed the partygoers, what absolute fun indeed! I emailed my boss to say I’d be out of the office a few hours the afternoon of 2/14 (one of the perks of working from home) . . .
Well, after the session, I snapped up a copy of said volume from the sales table, to give to a friend who had recently become a grandmother for the first time. As the artist/poet/author autographed the title page, I asked if she’d be interested in doing an interview for Empty Nest. I figured she was a storehouse of stories, and I was hoping she’d be willing to share them. The twinkle in her eye gave me my answer. Since that interview (Winter 2010-11), Julie and I collaborated on other articles, and we became fast friends. Receiving an invitation to her Valentine’s Day luncheon was just the icing on the cake.
Celebrating Valentine’s Day
Sarah, enjoying our mother-daughter Valentine's Day lunch.
Kevin Armento, a writer for Shine Yahoo!, lists a number of creative ways singles can celebrate. Do something basic, constructive, or creative you’ve been meaning to do—something that will make *you* happy—paint a room or clean up your apartment. Or, you can put things in perspective by dishing up dinner in a soup kitchen. Homeless people gathering for a meal aren’t worried about getting a date for Valentine’s Day. And, as Armento notes, the people there are likely to have some interesting stories to tell. If you’re “kind-of” single—you’ve been seeing someone only for a short time—go out anyway, but keep it low-key. Or, like my daughter, who is single at the moment, you can oblige a friend who wants an excuse to do the event in a big way (he’d had his eye on Barclay Prime in Philadelphia for a while)—and accompany him (or her), especially if he/she is willing to foot the bill!
And, each Valentine’s Day, I think of my kids—Amie in California with husband Todd, and Sarah in New York City, and I send them goodies, even if it’s just a card and a few bucks toward a nice dinner. I also keep my eyes peeled for Girl Scout cookies, usually available around this time of year, which over the years has become a Bonner family Valentine’s Day tradition. They remind me of the special dinners we had when the girls were growing up—meals at home that included them. After all, who do I love more than my husband and my kids?
No one, but I must admit that my girlfriends are getting pretty high on the list . . .
The Big Day
Watch for landing aircraft when driving up to restaurant at the Butter Valley Golf-Port!
Now what to bring? Bottle of wine, fruit of the vine—the old standby. But, which bottle? There on my “wine rack” was the last bottle of Sunstone Sauvignon Blanc, my favorite variety from my favorite Santa Ynez, CA, winery. It was hard to part with, but Julie was worth it. The invitation said “Bring a bit of humor, from the heart a Valentine’s thought.” Hmmm, what does that mean? Maybe our hostess is being purposely vague! A humorous thought from the heart? Then, I had a thought . . . and the more I thought about it, the more I thought it might work. There was a poem from my childhood, about a burglar and an old maid. It is quite entertaining, and it would be great for the Dirty Old Ladies. I’d have to go over it, though . . .
Before I knew it, it was time to head out. The back roads I traveled, quickly cutting across one county and almost into the next, probably weren’t healthy for my Prius, but over the last rise, the muddy road finally gave way to a clear view of the expanse of fields, the runway, and the restaurant of the Butter Valley Golf Port. The “Stop, Planes Landing!” sign greeted me, as I had remembered. So, I was there, and only fashionably late. I went up the steps and inside, bottle of wine in hand, not knowing what to expect. I was greeted by a heartening sight: a host of smiling, chatting women of various ages—my guess would 40s to 80s—decked out in red and pink, Julie herself distinctive in black. I kissed our hostess hello and handed her the bottle, whispering, “This is for you!”
A Get-Together to Remember
Julie rings "Come and get it!"
Julie’s friend Connie catered the luncheon, and the fare was simple but scrumptious: Julie’s homemade red-beet borscht with sour cream, “the way her grandmother used to make it”; Connie’s stuffed cabbage soup (evidently on p. 122 of The Dirty Old Ladies’ Cookbook); and small sandwiches of ham, tuna, and chicken salad on Hawaiian rolls. Deli pickles and olives completed the spread. I tried to eat delicately, as the occasion demanded, but I’ll admit that after making sure I had at least one serving of both soups, I was stuffed. Dessert was handmade vanilla or chocolate ice cream from nearby Longacre Dairy, heart-shaped cookies dipped in chocolate, and the plethora of chocolate candies that garnished the tables.
Connie, caterer extraordinaire, passes around a "basket of laughs."
Finally, as lunch was winding down, Julie rang her bell once again, and order was restored. She proceeded to introduce each of us, telling how she came to know us, in case we hadn’t already met one another. At times she asked us to tell a little about ourselves. She started off by introducing me (much to my chagrin) and announcing that “Robin has a Valentine’s Day story she’d like to share with us.” When I had first arrived at the party, I had also mentioned to Julie that I had brought a story along, not knowing what she wanted per the invitation. (Since then, I had found out how various partygoers had contributed: some helped decorate, some made dishes, and others typed up cute jokes and quips for distribution. One woman even stitched exquisite little heart-shaped bibs for each of us to wear during lunch to help keep our blouses clean.) So, I was to tell a story. Pretty funny—the quiet editor who works from home! Well, I thought of my daughter Sarah, the actress, and tried to channel some guidance.
“This is a story my grandmother taught me, almost 50 years ago. I thought the Dirty Old Ladies might enjoy it,” I began. “It’s a love story, although some people might disagree with that. Pause! Breathe! It’s a poem, actually.” Then I stood up, “Don’t judge the performance, though,” I said, ”because I’m no actor.” And thus went “The Burglar’s Bad Luck”:
I’ll tell you of a burglar, bold,
He looked for a place to hide himself,
Robin recites "A Burglar's Bad Luck."
He lay close to the wall.
But he never knew ‘twas an old maid’s room.
Or he wouldn’t have had the gall.
He thought of all the money he’d get
At nine o’clock the old maid came.
She took out her teeth and her false glass eye,
From under the bed the burglar crept.
She never screamed or hollered a bit,
Then she took a revolver
She held him tight and the burglar saw
“Have MERCY, shoot!”
Well, I’ll have to say that whatever inspired me to recite that poem—the ghost of my long-gone-yet-still-beloved grandmother?—I quickly thanked. Everyone roared and clapped, and I had to laugh. Grandmom’s poem had never had such a willing audience. And, I don’t think I embarrassed myself too much in the process, so all was good.
Friends for Life
The Dirty Old Ladies: Front row (L to R): Kathy, Catherine, Julie, Kate, and Jean. Second row: Sandy, Liz, Patty, Robin, Connie, Adele, Barbara S., Dr. Clair, Adrienne. Third row: Elaine, Nancy, Pat, Marsha, Barbara Schmoyer, Jody, Ginny, and Judy. Angie took the photo.
Sandy, Nancy, Patty, and Catherine are artist friends of Julie’s and members of the original DOL. Catherine has written a memoir; others are following suit. Kathy, a nurse and teacher, is a friend of Catherine’s. Like me, this was her first DOL gathering. Judy and her husband donated a wing/library to a local hospital. Connie is cook for the Butter Valley Golf-Port Restaurant, as well as Julie’s caterer and friend. Angie, the youngest attendee, works for Connie; it was her first party as well. Liz, Barbara, Elaine, and Adele also attended—they are all friends of Julie or of her friends.
These ladies have lived. Many are artists and homemakers. One had been an airline stewardess (before they became flight attendants). A few were nurses, others teachers, still others business owners. Some were church volunteers, others board members. They garden, paint, and hike, and “can create anything from nothing.” One loves her John Deere, and another lives in a haunted house. Julie and one friend have gone skinny dipping on a pond on her property. They’re creative, hard-working, and resilient. Each has a story to tell. Julie’s mantra is that “it’s important for women to talk together, laugh together, and be there for each other, if for no other reason than to listen.” And, that we did.
Well, I checked my BlackBerry several times during the party, and to my relief nothing major was happening on the work front. However, as it is with all good things, party time was drawing to a close. And because Sarah was at the house, and work, then special dinner with Hubby, beckoned, I was one of the first to tear herself away. Somehow, though, I think all of the partygoers were having the same thought: Would Julie do this again?
If she does, I hope my name shows up on the guest list.
Robin Bonner is editor of Empty Nest. For more about Robin, see About Us.
Empty Nest: A Magazine for Mature Families
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