I don’t know how far back the DNA goes for throwing parties, but I can trace it back to my great Nana Billy.
Billy’s legendary hostessing was before my time–back when my grandfather was a boy–when they threw dinner parties at their Pacific Avenue home in Atlantic City back in its heydey in the 1920s.
Complete with visiting dignitaries, local politicians, and other community leaders, meals shared at Nana’s house were always an occasion, even when it was just her grandsons around the table.
“A typical everyday breakfast was three or four pounds of sausage, three or four pounds of bacon, a couple dozen eggs, pancakes, English muffins, French toast… She could have fed five people for every person there!” recalls my Uncle John of his beloved grandmother.
Even more impressive was Billy’s ability and willingness to bring differing groups of people together. Though she was a devout Catholic, her husband Samuel was a Jew, so Billy became active in both the Jewish Ladies Society and Catholic Women’s Society, hosting them often. Around the holidays, she would decorate her house to represent the traditions of both faiths–one on each side of the house–to welcome all.
By the time I was born, Nana Billy was an aged woman in a wheel chair wearing a wig. I loved spending time with her in her room at my grandparents house. Inside the marble-topped end table that she had brought from her own home, she’d hide chocolates that she’d share with me, making our time together very much a party.
It was from his mother Johanna, that my grandfather inherited his bright charm and generosity, making him the life of any party–whether at a dance or in the kitchen flipping pancakes with his granddaughters.
His wife, my Nana Lila, was an equally vivacious hostess and a fine cook, who continued the tradition of combining faiths in the home with the annual tradition of a spectacular Jewish brunch on Easter Sunday.
With her bold and commanding spirit, Lila could cater a party, host a party, direct a party or act as the life of the party herself. Her DNA skipped a generation and was directly injected into over a dozen granddaughters, of which I am one.
Of all the wonderful parties that I have thrown in my life (including those at Lila and Bob’s “grand” house which later became ours), the one that stands out the most is the infamous Doctor’s Party, which took place 24 years ago today.
Looking back now, I can see that my heritage played a part in the success of this event–given that it took place in the old doctor’s office that had once been my father’s and his father’s before him. In fact, even my grandfather’s father had been a doctor and even Nana Billy’s father, my great-great grandfather had been a health officer.
It was this lineage that was tapped in the conception of the best party–ever! I might mention that I was 22 and that most of my guests were young as well. We all worked in the same restaurant, owned by my Uncle Jim, who clearly inherited at least the partying gene of the Salasin family.
Guests were invited–were required even–to arrive in some condition requiring medical attention. They were to enter the old doctor’s office via the waiting room and wait–seated in the plastic bucket seats that lined the walls beside which they would find boring magazines to read.
I remember George arriving with two heads, and another waiter–who would later become my boyfriend and then husband and then father to my children–arriving on his bike with a six-pack and his arm in a sling.
In this well-cast party, my friend Lisa (the assistant manager at the restaurant) acted as the brusque receptionist who required guests to: “Sign in, and take a seat. The Doctor will be with you shortly,” (which I might add was the never the case when my father was the doctor. His patients waited for hours!)
Another friend, Trish (the head hostess), played the part of a nurse, in great comedic form. Dressed in white, Nurse Trish would enter the waiting room with a clipboard in hand, looking around the room as if she didn’t know a soul and shouting out another name which she would invariably mispronounce.
In all seriousness, she would then escort each patient to the laboratory where to the patient’s horror, they would be handed a urine cup. They wouldn’t be required to produce a specimen, however, but to drink one, similarly yellow, through a straw. (It was freshly tapped beer.)
The next stop would be to the doctor, where patients would lie down on the examining table for diagnosis. Dressed in scrubs, Doctor Kass (a waitress) and I (the restaurant manager) took our time with the two waiters who we liked most. Of all the patients, Rob and Casey required the administration of the most “medication.”
The medication was stored in coolers on the floor, consisting of various flavors of Schnapps (very in vogue in the eighties)–including the traditional McGillicudy’s Peppermint, and the newest flavors, like root beer and peach. (I still cringe at the memory.)
These “shots” were injected via syringes into the reclined mouth of each patient whereby Nurse Trish would reappear and wheel them off to the operating room.
The “operating room” was in fact the operating room, where I had assisted my father in a number of minor surgeries as a teen. Only now it had been emptied as the final destination of the evening for our guests. Here, to their relief, they would find other “patients”, a tapped keg, and piped in music from our favorite albums in the closet.
Within an hour, we were all joined together–doctors, nurses, receptionists and patients. However, during the course of the evening and into the wee hours, some of the patients required additional “attention” which was administered in the tiny examining rooms lining the hall.
One additional room, the largest and grandest, with built-in bookshelves where thick medical annals once stood, was reserved for the head doctor–me–and it was there that I brought the man who has shared my bed for the past 24 years.
No party since has been as successful–or as fruitful. In fact, over the years I’ve begun to fear that my partying skills are dramatically fading. This may be due, in part, to my dwindling interest in intoxication–something for which I hold no regret.
What has survived, however, is the “spirit” of party giving–the creative impulse to mark occasions with celebration and inclusion.
This is a trait that I humbly call my own–shared with siblings and cousins and nephews and nieces, passed down through the generations, and bestowed, with honor, upon those to come.