Recently, I orchestrated my greatest culinary coup yet. I pulled off the ultimate surprise party – a belated birthday brunch for one of my dearest friends, Lori. Lori and I started working together six years ago, both of us relocating from the South. We quickly realized that living and working at a boarding school carry complicated dynamics, which are difficult to explain to those who live outside of the boarding arena and which sometimes impose tricky, uncomfortable situations within the boarding community. Simply put, living at a boarding school is like being on reality television, 365 days of the year… Which is why it was a little amazing that the party secret didn’t leak two minutes after I distributed the invitations.
Part spitfire, part sage, Lori has helped me overcome countless emotional hurdles. She mourned with me when I lost my mom, and she has coached me through struggles with my children and with some choice haters. Her bright blue eyes positively twinkle with mischievous sass, but make no mistake: she is all heart. I knew that whatever I planned would have to be big.
Coordinating an in-house party for upwards of 30 adults and children requires planning and endurance. Logistics come into play, because summer vacations comprise a variable element in boarding school life. When will the maximum number of potential guests return home from their vacations? How many seats do I have available? What if some guests RSVP and others don’t – what is an acceptable median for invitations extended? And, most importantly, who should I invite?
The answer changes with each party and harbors an implicit caveat: everyone can’t be invited to everything, especially in a boarding school community, where faculty are united by chance, tamped into a fish bowl, and expected to accord in peace while living on-call, 24/7. There are too many members in the community and too few venues in which to host events of such magnitude. Ultimately, the decision falls on depth of experience – the friends with whom one has laughed the most.
When the day came, we hovered in a darkened corner of my living room, smirking when we heard Lori ask her husband, my co-conspirator, where everyone was. He came in, nodded at us, and gave us the verbal cue: “I don’t know, honey… Maybe they’re all outside.” She entered the room. We yelled, “Happy birthday!” She twirled in a double take. And we laughed all morning.
© 2013 Julia Moris-Hartley