AND NOW - The rest of the story!
(Thanks, Paul Harvey)
'Twas The Party Before Christmas(the story behind the poem)
I love our annual Christmas Party.
We've had the Party here, in Stevenage, every year for the last six years. We invite people from around the neighborhood as well as some friends from outside the immediate area. They all stop in to have a few drinks and tell a few tales.
It's a fun time for all.
The Christmas Party holds a special place for me though.
Let me tell you a story about the first year of the party here at Olde Cottage.
We first met Marilyn and Peter the summer before our first party.
We hit it off immediately, especially Marilyn and Andrea.
We'd just come back from visiting Cornwall and talked about how much we love it there. We go back there almost every year for the beaches, the Southwest Coastal Path, and, yes, the chillin'. We left Marilyn and Peter that summer vowing to stay in touch.
Between the time we left England for the summer, and the time we got back for Christmas, Marilyn and Andrea decided it would be a bang-up idea to get folks from the neighborhood together to enjoy a few drinks at Christmas time.
I should tell you that Marilyn doesn't do Christmas by half. She doesn't do anything half-assed. She's all in, off the diving board in a frilly suit, and a full head of steam.
Peter, as it turns out, has a sacred mulled wine recipe that he pulls out of the Holy Grail stored in a secured vault under number 10 Downing Street. At Chrismas Peter dusts off the holy text with extreme reverence wearing anointed cotton gloves. He peels the parchment back with the care of a conservator then inspects the recipe to make sure it is, in fact, the same document stored with such care the previous year. You'd think the recipe was handed down from Charles Dickens himself. There are all kinds of exotic ingredients.
I don't know if I've said too much already. The mulled wine police (MWP) may be coming around the corner as I write. I think the real reason Ed Snowden had to flee to Russia is he leaked the recipe to Julian Assange. Nobody wants to be chased by the MWP.
Bottom line: It's exceptional, and everybody looks forward to Peter's brew.
The first year of the party, the decorations went up, and the stage set for the night. Marilyn on the oven, Peter on the mulled wine, Andrea at reception, and me on fire. Yeah, I get the dangerous job. I get to play with fire!
The party was starting. We had a bit of a toast between ourselves before the rest of the folks began arriving.
I guess the word had got around because before long the house was packed with people hobnobbing and rubbing elbows. The place was hopping.
Everyone was lovely. Drinks were drunk, hors-d'oeuvres consumed by the bucket load, lampshades worn, music blasted, and I think everybody was having a fabulous time. I know I was.
The last person togged up and left sometime in the wee hours of the morning. After we gasped our last and patted each other on the back, Marilyn and Peter trundled off on the short five-minute walk to their home around the corner.
Through our beer goggles and wine colored glasses, we started clearing up a bit. Getting enough dishes together to start the dishwasher and organizing food in the fridge so it wouldn't spoil out on the table all night.
I think we were brushing our teeth and getting into pajamas when we got a call from Marilyn. It appears, while we were enjoying ourselves at the party, there was a fire at their house.
Our friends have a lovely old Victorian house with high ceilings and lots of wood; bunches of wood. The exterior is brick, but the interior is almost all lime plaster and wood.
Before the fire, they'd been going through the house meticulously restoring one room at a time, picking out just the right this or that for here and there. They had just lovingly finished the sitting room with original materials and fixtures, and brand new furniture.
The work was painstaking and detailed.
The fire started in the room they'd just finished. Apparently, one of the candles on the wooden mantle over the fireplace had burned down and caught some decorations on fire.
It could have been so much worse. If the fire and not burned itself out and spread just a little it would have caught the Christmas Tree. The whole house would have been a goner. As it turned out, they got off easy. Instead of a conflagration the wood smoldered and created so much smoke it choked itself out.
I say they got off easy, but I don't mean that. The whole house got covered in toxic, black, thick, soot. The soot formed webs in all the corners, and the smell was horrible. It's not like a nice wood fire in the fireplace. It's not like the flames of a barbeque in the summer. It's an acrid disgusting smell that chokes you and sticks to everything you wear.
We walked over to their house the minute we got the call. Peter and Marilyn were devastated. It certainly looked like an "all is lost" moment.
We invited them to come back to our place and stay the night. I'm sure it was not a stellar night's sleep for either of them. The thought of everything in their house destroyed must have haunted them all night.
In the morning we suggested they stay with us until everything got sorted and we set up a room for them. This was only a couple of weeks before Christmas. As a result of the fire, we ended up becoming terrific friends spending the entire Christmas holiday with them.
We always look forward to coming back to England because they've become family.
Adversity can make for unusual situations. We are so lucky to have them in our lives. Our experience is much richer for it.
We go places together. We did a week's vacation with them in Cornwall. We go to the races at Newmarket every year.
We have the best times in such exciting places like the time we went to see Paloma Faith in Croatia. Paloma didn't show up. We had a great time just the same. They've also come to St Thomas to visit with us and soak up some of that island sunshine.
They are just a pleasure to be around, and we appreciate them very much.
The point of the story is that you never know what things will bring friends together. In this case, we formed very close bonds through adversity. One night's fire turned into what I hope will be a lifetime friendship.
That's what makes our Christmas party unique to me. Yes, it's great to meet up with people you love and don't often see during the year. I love that.
We absolutely love getting together with our friends and neighbors during the season.
As we head into this season and feverishly prep for the party, for me, I will always remember the lifelong friends we made one dark, cold, and devastating night before Christmas.
Until next week - I wish you peace on earth and good will towards everyone.
Especially the guy in the parking lot, he needs it.