June 28, 2012
On Barbara Reid's The Party, and devilled eggs, Joan Didion and cousins
I was born into a family already stocked with aunts and uncles, lots of cousins. And while I was about two decades too late for the party-going as captured in Barbara Reid’s The Party (which has a ’50s/’60s vibe), I can tell you that my grandparents were still hauling around the same cooler, same chairs, bowls full of dip and tins full of squares by the time I came along. I know what it’s like to confront a backyard full of cousin/strangers who are so familiar by day’s end that saying goodbye is a tragedy. And that menu! One day I want to have a The Party party just so that I can serve all the staples: “There’s sausage roles, casseroles, pineapple rings. Devilled eggs, chicken legs, little cheese things. Salads with jelly, salads with beans. Enough? Let the dog lick your party plate clean.”
It makes me sad that Harriet is unlikely to know the abundance of cousins that I did (and any cousins she might have will live a 5 hour plane journey away from on either side of us), that Barbara Reid’s The Party is a foreign storybook land. Joan Didion’s wrote this about her daughter in “On Going Home”: “I would like to give her more. I would like to promise her that she will grow up with a sense of her cousins and of rivers and of her great-grandmother’s teacups, would like to pledge her a picnic on a river with fried chicken and her hair uncombed, would like to give her home for her birthday, but we live differently now.” And we do.
Though my beloved cousin, who is my oldest friend, has a little girl who is five months younger than Harriet. They see one another just a few times a year, which means they’ve probably met about six times in their lives, but every time, they’ve adored each other and that delights me. That Harriet will know the bonds of cousinship. And then two weekends ago, on the other side of the family, my aunt and uncle invited everybody in the family to spend a sunny afternoon at their farm. These days, we usually only meet at funerals, and the family tree has grown so many branches of its own and with our grandparents gone, it’s hard to get everyone together. But we did, and it was glorious, and Harriet met aunts, uncles and cousins for the very first time, all these people who are a part of who she is, and there was even devilled eggs and bean salads, and a sky that shone like plasticine.