December 6, 1999: Laissez les bon temps rouler! is a phrase heard frequently in Louisiana around this time of year on through Mardi Gras in February. It means, "Let the good times roll!" That is precisely what happened this weekend in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Farris and I did something unprecedented for us. We drove a one thousand sixty-four mile round trip simply to attend a party.
It all started a few months ago when my schoolmate and our good friend, Aubrey, sent word for us to mark December third on our calendar because that was the date of his company's annual "Winter Wonderland" Christmas party. I should have had an inkling of what it would be like when the oversized envelope containing the silver-embossed invitation arrived and beautiful artificial snow spilled prettily all over my desk when I opened it. On the other hand, I am not sure I could have been prepared ahead of time for the experience.
I first had to overcome the hurdle of boarding Sally, our little Papillon, at the vet's for the first time in her life and ours. She handled it better than we did, and I must say the trip was not near as lively and much fun as it is when Sally is with us. Once that wrench was behind me, though, I began to look forward to the weekend.
When we arrived at the hotel where Aubrey had blocked off rooms for his out-of-town guests, the first thing we saw were signs informing us that limousine service would begin at a certain time to take the guests of Louisiana Agencies to the party at Boudreaux's, the large hall/ballroom where the party was held. And sure enough, there were three stretch limos ferrying guests, and I got my first ride in one. I should tell you that my sister Lynette and her husband and my lifelong friend DD and her husband also were guests at this party, and we all met in the lobby and the three little country girls who live inside our, uh, mature bodies crawled into that limo with an air of sophistication that fooled no one but us.
Upon entering Boudreaux's we were truly in a winter wonderland. A long brightly lit corridor was lined on each side with several full-sized bare-limbed trees flocked with glitter and snow and an occasional cardinal perched on a limb or in a nest. Smaller evergreens, also flocked with snow, were at the base of the trees. Gossamer artificial snow covered the floor and tiny white fairy lights were everywhere. Entering the large ballroom, we encountered Aubrey and members of his staff greeting some of the four hundred fifty-three guests who attended the party. A bar flanked each side of the room and one could get every kind of drink imaginable, including soft drinks and fruit juices for those who preferred not to drink alcohol. In an alcove nearby was a gorgeous banquet table banked with decorative plants and vegetables, on which were platters containing various kinds of cheese and bowls of dips with crackers of all kinds and buttered toast points, and that treat of all treats, baked brie cheese hot from the oven. I had barely begun to taste these goodies when someone called me to come see the décor in the main ballroom.
On the way there I noted several white Christmas trees throughout the rooms and a huge twenty-five foot tree in the dining/ballroom proper, snow-flocked, and decorated with gold ornaments and bows. In the dining room were some forty-three or so round tables, seating ten, covered with black tablecloths. Centered on each table was a very tall vase containing a huge bouquet of at least five dozen extra-long-stemmed white roses with more long stems of white orchids cascading among the roses (all flown in from South America) and decorative glittery silver ornamental curled sticks (for lack of a better word) interspersed throughout the bouquet. It was an impressive and beautiful sight.
After meeting some people and visiting with our party and staking out a table, we returned, as I am sure you guessed--to continue our investigation of the food. In an anteroom to the ballroom was a lovely single table containing an absolutely enormous silver urn banked with crushed ice. Centered in the ice, nestling in it, and spotlighted from above, was a magnum of golden frozen Russian vodka, laced with whole cloves, peppercorns and a single vanilla bean, to be drunk neat from stemmed crystal shot glasses provided nearby. To the right was another banquet table, my favorite, with silver plates of fluted circles of creamed white cheese centered with mounds of coal-black caviar, a lovely presentation. Next to these were three large platters of smoked salmon. Above each platter, nestled among the greenery and vegetable décor were crystal sherbet dishes, some upright, some tipped on their sides, each spilling condiments for the salmon: capers, chopped green onion, bacon bits, chopped hard boiled eggs, each with its own tiny silver spoon. Bowls holding toast points and crackers surrounded all this. Another platter held piles of tiny meat pies. All the food and beverages were available throughout the evening. I could have spent the whole time at this table, but my love of people called me back to mingle with the other guests. As we strolled and visited and eyed the beautiful gowns and party clothes, servers circulated with platters of tiny hot stuffed mushrooms, oyster balls, boudin balls, chicken bits wrapped in bacon, pieces of chicken in a sweet-sour sauce and tiny sautéed shrimp.
After a while we returned to our table and began the serious visiting with our tablemates and discovered that Alyce (a delightful new companion) and her husband had flown in for the party from Atlanta, Georgia, and the other couple was from Metairie, a suburb of New Orleans. Farris practiced corporate law in New Orleans for many years and he particularly enjoyed getting to know Sandy from Metairie, who has a family law practice there in partnership with her daughter. Among the people we saw again were our friends who were with us the past two summers in San Miguel and other guests we had met down there. A part of Aubrey's special talent is putting together people who have things in common. As busy as he was with his duties as host, he came and got me so we could look for Ann, whom he has wanted me to meet for several years. Even before this night, Ann and I have sensed that we are already mysteriously connected by the bonds of friendship (I call those Spirit set friendships) and had exchanged a brief single letter years ago. Ann is elegant, tall and regal, and it was a pleasure to finally meet her. We firmly believe we will have a chance in the future somehow to develop this potential for a deep friendship despite the miles that separate us.
Soon the orchestra arrived and the floorshow began. Singers and dancers and a comedienne entertained the guests and then there was music for dancing the rest of the evening. At this time, we became conscious that three other serving tables now were filled with food. Behind us was a seafood table filled with boiled and fried shrimp and perhaps calamari, or fried squid (I couldn't taste everything, although I tried), delicious sautéed shrimp and frog legs, all with accompanying sauces. A delectable eggplant and seafood casserole along with tiny crab croquettes and little broccoli spears in a creamy cheese sauce also graced this table. We sampled all this and visited around some more and then investigated the other two tables. At one, a huge china bowl was filled with home baked buns and various mustards and spreads were available. A waiter served slices of hot roast beef and ham and chicken, I think, although it may have been turkey. A side dish of eggplant campanata provided a spicy accent. At the next table, a waitress filled stemmed crystal sherbet bowls with mashed potatoes and two silver bowls contained hot creamed mushroom sauce or hot brie sauce to pour over the potatoes. Later in the evening dessert consisted of a sherbet dish of vanilla ice cream served with either cherries jubilee sauce or a fancy thin fudge sauce (which I chose), and brownie squares. Even later, that delight to my palate, dark French roast Louisiana coffee was served in the anteroom where we met with a large group of friends including Aubrey, and had another mini party within the larger party. Then it was back to the limo and the laughter-filled trip to the hotel.
If you think the party ended there, you are wrong. A large group of us met around eight-thirty in the morning in the lobby of the hotel where a complimentary hot breakfast was available, and Aubrey was already there. Others joined us and we had a breakfast party. Farris and I had to tear ourselves away about ten o'clock for we had appointments to visit some of my high school friends in central Louisiana on our way back to Texas. Lynette said the rest of them lingered and visited until nearly noon!
I have described the externals of the party. For me, however, the real Christmas Festival was the opportunity to spend a couple of days with Lynette and her family, to share another great adventure with DD and her husband, Bob. It was the opportunity to hear again the funny stories Donna tells, to experience again the sweetness of Mary Jon, the gentle touches and smiles from Mary Carol. It was finally meeting Ann and getting to know Alyce. It was fun to see again Aubrey's assistant, Cathy, and to meet the lovely Jan from his office, with whom I had talked on the phone. I relished once again visiting with Bob B. and meeting Hamilton from their office for the first time, and loved experiencing again the humor and friendship we share with Aubrey. He was generous to provide these opportunities for us. We had a great time.
I want to take a few minutes to tell you about someone else who was there, someone who seems to crash every party where I am having a good time. Have you ever met the creature I have nicknamed Neggi? Neggi is that miserable, love-starved entity that hates to see anyone having fun, that likes to spread guilt feelings and a pall of negativism and throw a wet blanket over any party. Neggie slithered from the Pit where it lives and sneaked up behind me at the party and whispered in my ear in a too-familiar voice, "Look at you in your long brown and cream and black dress with your smoky topaz jewelry draped over you. Look at all this opulence and all this food. How dare you enjoy all this when there are poor and starving people everywhere and there are people suffering in this world?" I have learned to handle Neggie. Mentally turning toward it, I gave it what it so desperately wants, namely love, in the form of validation and attention; otherwise, if ignored it will clamor more loudly and in other places in its bid for attention. I said, "You are absolutely right, Neggie, poor, starving and suffering people are everywhere right this minute, and I am daring to have a wonderful time. Now you read my thoughts." Then I thought about how although Aubrey and his company bore the immediate brunt for the monetary expense of this lavish party, we all contributed in some fashion. I thought about how Bev and Al paid as they returned the favor by feeding our cats this time, how we paid the vet to keep Sally, how we bought gasoline for the trip, how we paid the person who made our sandwich at the diner en route. I thought about how we paid the hotel bill, how Alyce and her husband paid the airline company to fly them to Baton Rouge. I thought about the jobs created by this party, about the paychecks that would be taken home by the catering staff, the beverage supplier, the produce company employees, the meat supplier, the decorator's staff, the owners of Boudreaux's, the policemen who provided security in the parking lot, and the limo drivers. And these are just a few of those who benefited from this gala affair. I thought about how those guests who were being entertained in gratitude by Aubrey's company represent millions of dollars spent so we can have good roads and safely constructed schools, hospitals and other buildings and how all this contributes to the healthy economy we are enjoying in this country. I thought how I know that many of those same people present give to secular and church charities and contribute tax money to help relieve poverty, hunger and suffering. I thought about those who took some of the table decorations to their churches or to hospitals and nursing homes, or just a few of the roses and orchids to share with their families when the party was over.
I caught again a glimpse of Indra's mythical net. The Hindu god Indra is said to have cast a net over the entire creation. At each intersection of the strands of the net is attached a tiny bell. If something moves at one point of the net, a bell rings and the whole net is tweaked and bells also ring here and there and over there. Or if you prefer it put in Christian terms, I thought of the mystical Oneness, or connectedness of all of us, and how what happens over here affects something or someone over there. I thought how Scriptures tell us that Jesus, the precious Person of the Christian tradition was so much in the midst of parties and good times that His detractors accused Him of being a glutton and winebibber. I thought all these things and I smiled because that party was for me a fitting beginning to Advent, the season of preparation for the celebration of the coming of Love to be with humanity for all time.
So, read my thoughts, Neggie, and slide back into the Pit where you belong, and stay there. Indeed!
Laissez les bon temps rouler!
Last revised: November 26, 2010