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Wednesday, July 27, 2011


It's a fine evening following a string of stormy, interspersed with extremely hot,
weather, the latter finally starting to cool, as I pull up to the curb in front of
Mary's house for the July book club meeting.  Today is the annual bring-
an-item-for-salad supper and share-a-book-or-idea-about-gardening meeting.
My two avocado and jar of sunflower seeds are secured in a burlap basmati
rice bag.  Kind of funky, I think, but the focus is not on the bag.
I hear voices in the back of the house, so circumvent the house to a wrought-
iron-latched door in a high wooden fence.  Oh pooh (but not the same as
Winnie-the-), this door doesn't open from outside the fence.  I glimpse my
friend Terry through a crack.  Thinking I can slip in unobtrusively, I
ask her to open the door from inside.  But, bummer, she has to walk through
the whole group, step down to the ground, and circle the deck, to get
the the door, all of which she does with her usual elan.
My initial embarrassment at creating such a blatant interruption with my late
entrance is quickly gladdened by the opportunity to skirt and savor a
small rockery, where running water cascades pleasantly down among subtle
groupings of green plants.  And there are nothing but smiles and cheerful
hellos from the half dozen gals already enjoying cool drinks and the easy,
catching-up-with-each-other conversation of old friends.
Terry had told me for years that this is a group I would enjoy, but I could
never muster the energy for going out on a week night, during a thirty year
career in teaching.  Even after a few forays, post-retirement, I have fallen
into an approach-avoidance relationship with the book group.  (As many
years as it has been in existence, the gathering's name has remained the same:
simply, the book group.)  Many of the members have been employees of
Minneapolis Public Schools; the others have worked in other professions -
counselling and law.
Though there are definite affinities, my longstanding demurment has left me
groping for background information while they've shared stories of the
growing pains of their careers and family, while, aside from Terry, they
are largely ignorant of mine. But I've gotten somewhat more acquainted
with four of the women who frequent the same exercise pool that I attend,
Mary's thoughts and anecdotes fascinate me, Ruth has an elegance of
demeanor and perspective worth emulating and thinking about, Denise's
unique comments frequently challenge me to  broaden my thinking, while
Terry remains  one of my all-time-best friends.  I have gradually learned
that the book of the month is only a starting point for an evening of
gnoshing and sharing.  I am welcome whether I've read the book agreed
upon for any given month or not, and the discussions range far from and
beyond the book.  And so I find myself drawn back again and again, until
I'm finally able to 'let' myself settle comfortably in, tonight.
Terry and I busy ourselves, setting out our contributions among the
delicacies already in place on the buffet, while Mary offers us wine or soft
drinks and adds finishing touches to the display.  As I cut and chatter with
these gals, the results of my attempts to arrange the avocado artfully end up
childish and smudgy. There are half a dozen greens...spring mix,rich arugula,
practical but delicate spinach, tangy Italian parsley, robust basil and spice-like
oregano , (the first time I've seen the last one green.)   My sunflower seeds
have disported themselves over the bottom of my carry-bag, but I notice
that there is another bowl of the seeds already on the full-to-bursting
buffet. there are tomato and gorgonzola salad, sliced mushrooms, a variety of
cheeses, light and dark artisan rolls, pepperoni, butter, roasted almonds,
slivered chicken, cherry tomatoes, dried cranberries and more--all artfully
Mary and Terry arrange a second table on the deck while the others
and I talk and relax deeper into the balmy evening atmosphere.  Now Mary
asks whether anyone's hungry.  Weak attempts to deny our desire dissipate
in the ensuing shuffle of chairs and glasses. Our unspoken"Yes" is unanimous;
we know it's going to be good.
Close quarters around the wide-angled island in Mary's cozy kitchen
deter no-one. Culinary affirmations and information are exchanged as we
eye the food we are layering onto our plates; there's  no break in the flow
of comfortable conversation, no fumbling as we  find our way back to our
tables, where our gourmet salads soon disappear, one carefully considered
forkful at a time. Anyone for seconds?  Though some of us would like to,
we are satisfied,and going back for more would put us over the top.
But 'the top' is yet to come.
Mary points out that there is room for all, so four of us seated to one side
move our chairs to join the quartet at a round table under an umbrella.
No sooner are we seated than Mary begins bringing out our dessert--
large goblets of fresh fruit  topped with freshly made sauvignon sauce.
Slowing our already leisurely pace to savor this rich and satisfying
preparation, we are  surprised when Mary serves a second dessert--
individual dishes of something called 'Angel Pie.'  The word 'savor'
does not do justice to our examination and consumption of this confection,
a baroque sandwich of flavorful custard between two discs of
burnt-sugar-flavored meringue, the whole being drizzled with dark chocolate.
We protested that we have no room for more, but curiosity sirens us to try, and
we fall under the spell of an oxymoronic light-rich taste experience like no
other. Restricted to a celiac disease diet, Mary has often introduced us to
glorious treats still possible on a gluten-free diet. Tonight's is no exception.
We delve gingerly into this latest 'concoction.'  Then, for several minutes,
there is only an attentive silence, gently punctuated with the 'Unnnhh!'
'Oh....' and 'Mmmmm' of one passionate woman after another. I suppress
a merry giggle at the thought of how an unsuspecting neighbor might perceive
these sounds emanating from this group of women, all of us on the cusp
of matronhood.
Oh, for sure, 'a good time was had by all.' But, aside from a brief flurry
of suggestions and the flourishing of datebooks as the group agrees on reading
selections for the next two months, our reading, garden anecdotes and books
get nary a mention.

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