Sometimes when I'm invited to dinner at someone's house I'll walk in and find the hostess in the middle of, say, browning onions. She'll put down her spatula, pour us a drink, and chat comfortably as she stirs until it's time to sit down to eat. And the whole time she's cooking and we're chatting I'm thinking, wow, I wish I could do that!
I was the kind of student who handed term papers in before the deadline, who never in twenty years of schooling pulled an all-nighter. I got my work done ahead of time because who knew what disaster might strike at the last minute? Though I was not a Boy Scout, their motto was engraved in my heart. I was always prepared.
Unlike my onion-frying friends, I can barely slice a lime for gin and tonics in the presence of guests. If you come to my house for a meal, every last molecule of food will have been prepared beforehand. That means that you will never experience my souffles or, God forbid, any dessert that requires a whipped-cream topping. The potential for last minute misfortunes is too great.
I had invited friends to dinner sometime ago and had spent the day cooking, setting the table, straightening bathroom towels, picking up dog hair, putting away laundry (you never know when someone may wander into the laundry room, even if it's on the second floor), hiding newspapers, straightening rug fringes and wiping nose prints off the back door. By the time I changed my clothes I had five minutes to relax before the guests arrived.
I let the dogs out one last time, and Bisou did her ritual vacuuming of the grass for rabbit pellets. She came back in, gulped down a big drink of water, and jumped up next to me on the sofa. I was sitting breathing calmly and centering myself when she gave a huge burp and all that water, with its cargo of rabbit droppings and half digested kibble, geysered onto my lap, the sofa and the rug at my feet.
It was one of those disasters that turn one to stone. I sat there dripping dog vomit, the guests doubtless already making their way up our driveway, unable to decide which to address first--the rug, the sofa, or my clothes. I shrieked for my husband and told him to stand guard and not let anybody into the house until I gave the all clear.
I have no memory of what happened next. Did I carry away the rug first, or did I take off my clothes, or did I swab down the sofa? I do remember being glad that I had taught my dogs to hold their down-stays no matter what fascinating events were going on around them.
The universe was kind to me that day and delayed the guests' arrival until things were somewhat back in order, or at least not terribly smelly. I have since tried to cultivate a more casual attitude towards entertaining and towards life in general. It's just possible that the Boy Scout motto is not the secret of success. After all, the Scouts have been wrong about plenty of other things...