Guess who’s not coming to dinner?

One summer when I was in my 20s and newly married, the idea took hold in my extended group of friends that it would be fun to stage a massive Italian meal for which everyone would contribute a dish—and by “everyone,” I mean the wives. This was the 1970s, and for the most part, the men didn’t cook.

In fact, this was the period when young women—God knows why—were buying fancy cookbooks and teaching ourselves the intricacies of world cuisines. I myself was a devotee of Julia Child. I never tried her more esoteric fare, like quenelles or aspic. But I could cook a mean beef bourguignon.

We arrived at the party on a superhot afternoon to find a flotilla of picnic tables outside, laden with platters of risotto, lasagna, ziti, meatballs and sausages. There were marinaras and Alfredos, pestos and clam sauces, eggplants, antipasti and salads. I put down my humble casserole of pasta e fagioli and elbowed my way through the throng of eaters to the house.

There, at the kitchen table, were the event’s masterminds—three or four weary women in tomato-stained aprons, bangs plastered to their foreheads with sweat. I especially remember the face of the hostess—the lady whose backyard we had invaded—as she sat behind a pasta machine garlanded with fresh fettucine. That Munch screamer comes to mind.

She and her husband later divorced, and the two events are linked in my memory, as if the Italian dinner party had caused the marriage to sour like a tiramisu left out in the blazing sun.

I used to hold dinner parties frequently when I first moved to Pennsylvania, after my own divorce. It was fun to fill my little cabin with high-spirited company—important when you live alone. Later, when I remarried, George and I became host and hostess, inviting people over at least once or twice a month.

But as the years wore on, the dinner parties began to dwindle. The most recent one was about six weeks ago, when a couple of girlfriends stopped by on a Saturday night, the three of us happily sharing prep duties for a scrumptious vegetarian meal.

It was fun, but I haven’t repeated it since. Am I just too lazy to do all that’s necessary—clean the house beforehand, shop, cook, serve and then clean up afterward? Just thinking about it makes me feel like that Italian dinner party hostess of long ago, felled in her own kitchen.

Last week I happened to run into my friend Joann. She and her husband have been to dinner at our house and we at theirs—though not in a while. When I saw David one day recently at the post office, I vaguely spoke about having them over again. I mentioned this to Joann, adding apologetically, “I just never seem to get to it.”

“Actually,” she smiled, “let’s just meet at a restaurant. It’s easier.”

Now, there’s a dinner party plan I can get behind.

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