Ma Kettle: [looks at the low-cut dress on the hostess] That’s a
pretty dress you’ve got on… too bad the top wasn’t finished in
time for the party. –Ma and Pa Kettle Go to Town (1950)
The thought of hosting a party makes me very nervous and well, more uptight than usual. In our house, RSVP means “Respond So there won’t be a Very Pissed off hostess.” The opportunity to break bread with family and friends is frequently overshadowed by concerns such as…What if we don’t have enough food? Will the dog eat the buffet? Where will everyone sit? All legitimate questions. I’m used to cooking for a family of three, the dog has been known to take out an entire plate of pancakes in less than five seconds and we have a kitchen table that comfortably seats four.
This week for college football Saturday, my husband staged his own “Chicago Spicy Beef-a-palooza” and, decided to extend invitations to the entire neighborhood. I attribute the generosity to one too many beers at the Friday night mixer. He attributes it to wanting to share his love for Chicago Spicy Beef, right up there with the blonde mom on Parenthood and Joe Mauer. Adding to the usual pre-party anxiety, I previously made plans to take my parents to see a Ma and Pa Kettle movie at a revival theater on Saturday. After a morning of trying to plan for and prepare a meal for three to thirty people, things got even more tense as I headed to the movie.
If you have never seen a Ma and Pa Kettle movie, it is a treat. Marjorie Main and Percy Kilbride play a husband and wife who live on a farm while raising their fifteen children. Ma is the boisterous, strong woman who runs the household, often forgetting the names of all her children while Pa is known for his laziness and uncanny ability to win contests to support the family. I watched in amazement as Ma nonchalantly set the table for 17, even clearing the table of chickens to prepare for her brood. How did she do the laundry? How many dozens of eggs did she have to crack? Who washed all those dishes?
In The Further Adventures of Ma and Pa Kettle, Pa unwittingly wins a tobacco slogan contest and the family moves into a brand new modern home. During the dedication ceremony, Ma invites the whole town to an open house. I’m thinking, the whole town? Is she crazy? While prepping for the party, she burns up her succulent pig in the fancy new radiation oven. I couldn’t help but think about my own Chicago Spicy Beef singeing an hour away in the crock pot, possibly reduced to a mere stick of jerky only to be split 30 ways.
Well, as it turned out, the Kettle’s party went off without a hitch while the kids gave tours, Ma served cake and used a hatchet to break apart a huge block of ice cream at a guest’s request. Everyone had a splendid time and it’s all attributed to Ma’s welcoming attitude. Of course this was just a movie but I couldn’t help but worry about the unknown waiting for me at my own house.
When I arrived home, I ran inside to get the meal together in anticipation of a crowd. Luckily, my beef was in tact and it looked and smelled delicious. I sliced the beef paper-thin and hoped for the best. Well after all the worrying, most of the invited guests had prior commitments and/or forgot about the invitation. In a last-minute attempt to add fuel to the dying beefy palooza, my husband flagged down some neighbors after a day long soccer tournament who were happy to have a meal already prepared for them. She is one of nine children, so she knows a thing or two about rationing. They ate like birds, everyone found a chair and we had a great time hearing stories about their large family.
After that day, I not only had plenty of leftovers, but a renewed enthusiasm about hosting both expected and unexpected guests. As Ma said, “Listen here Birdie, it may be a good day for you, but it ain’t for Pa. All the poor man wanted was a new tobacco pouch and instead he won a house he didn’t want and he got a bad sunburn.” Maybe not everyone cares about an enormous amount of food or that the table is perfectly set. People just want a little good company and to feel welcome…and of course, a little Chicago Spicy Beef.