Graduate Deb Kristina on How Grandma Taught Her How to Party

Kristina Riggle is a Graduate Debutante from the class of 2009, where she celebrated the release of her debut, Real Life & Liars. Her new book, The Life You’ve Imagined, releases Tuesday. The new novel tells of three friends and a mother connected by a dying family business, learning to cope with life as it is, not as they planned. It’s an IndieNext Notable pick for September.

Thanks for having me back at the Ball! I love going to a party, and I also love to throw a party. The planning, shopping, food preparation, even the cleaning! I love that few minutes when the house is clean, set up, and I’m just waiting for the first guests. Even though my parties are casual, I’m usually a little dressed up, because why not? It’s an occasion, even if the occasion is something like, Hey, we haven’t had anyone over in a while… I’m a fiercely social person and it’s one of my simple joys to sit in the midst of a crowd of people in my house, a buzz of chatter all around me.

At first, the origins of my hostess habit seem mysterious. My parents are on the shy side, and gatherings at our house were infrequent.

But there’s my Grandma Riggle. Mary Helen, as she is known to everyone (never just “Mary”) has always been the consummate hostess. When my husband first had dinner at her house, I cautioned him to take only about half the food he thought he’d eat, because she would insist he take second helpings. As gentle as she is, saying no to her is well-nigh impossible.

Grandma loved a picnic, either in her backyard, or at the beach. These events were swarming with relatives, and every horizontal surface was covered with plates, bowls and platters of divine summer food. There were deviled eggs, sweet corn, grilled meat, salads of every kind, pitchers of lemonade and iced tea (not sweet, we’re northern, after all) and cans of beer for the men who would gather in a circle around my Grandpa at the grill, talking about fish and baseball and whatever else men discuss at picnics.

The screen door would creak open and snap closed all day as the women rushed in and out getting more of this and that dish, extra napkins, more ketchup.

Some days rain threatened, but Grandma never doubted the sun would burst through the clouds. Often it did, just in time. Sometimes, it rained, and we’d cram into the house, or under the beach pavilion, and we had fun anyway. Deviled eggs, lemonade and beer, how could we not?

Mary Helen is now 94, and her hostessing days are behind her. She’s ill, and at the moment in a nursing home. Recently I visited her with my parents. As we sat under the gazebo talking of old times, Grandma said, “Say, John, why don’t you go to the fridge and get us some beers?”

In the twilight of her life now, no longer at home, she’s still playing hostess. What I would have given to conjure up some real beer right then! (We made do with cold water.)

No matter how long she has left with us in his life, a part of her will always be with me, especially when I prepare hors d’ouerves (she used to jokingly call them “horse doovers” and for years I thought that’s what they were really called). She’ll be with me when I greet my guests, invite them in, and make sure they have second helpings.

10 Replies to “Graduate Deb Kristina on How Grandma Taught Her How to Party”

  1. Ah, you’re all growed up with your second book and everything! So many congrats to you!

    Your grandmother sounds delightful. Events in my life lately have me reflecting on family; how we’re all crazy, but somehow crazy in a way that seems to fit perfectly, like some really odd puzzle!

  2. That’s a lovely tribute and you’re such a good writer, it just comes alive. For those of you who haven’t pre-ordered THE LIFE YOU’VE IMAGINED, get on it. It’s fantastic!

  3. Thanks for throwing a party at the ball today, Kris! I can’t wait to read the new book. Doesn’t it feel great to have two books out now? Definitely party-worthy.

    My grandma also loved a party (and dark beer). It’s definitely in the genes…

  4. Thanks, everyone! I tried to find a picture of her at one of these picnics so I could post, but I couldn’t find a good one. I’m guessing she was too busy hostessing for anyone to snap a pic. She’d probably have been a blur on film!

    Delightful is a great word to describe her…

  5. Your grandma sounds like a wonderful person, and the heart of the family. Thanks for sharing these memories, and congrats on the new book!

  6. Oh, this was such a treat to read, thank you for writing it. My grandmother spent her last ten years in a nursing home, but it was just up the road, so I saw her a few times a week. One Christmas my mom snuck in a travel mug filled with Memere’s favorite drink: eggnog. Real eggnog, with rum & nutmeg. That visit was a hoot!

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