My parents are hosting a party today–it’s sort of a “Welcome Home Cait, Bon Voyage on Your New Venture Coming Up So Soon” soirée sort of thing. In preparing for this event, I’ve been struck by the difference between how I plan an event and invite people over and how the grownups do it.
I’m a graduate student. When I have a party, I just call (or more likely, Facebook) around the invitations a couple of days before and then hope somebody brings an extra bottle of wine. Nobody cares if there aren’t enough places to sit, because there is always some floor. Food? Well, there MIGHT be food.
For my parents, however, and I suspect for grown-ups everywhere, a party is an excuse to a) redecorate or b) finally get those certain areas of the house that for some reason always seem to accumulate clutter cleaned up. Every once in a while I will catch my mom cleaning under the fridge, and I know we’re having a party (why? Why?? Nobody is ever going to look under the fridge!)
This particular party is formed of a group of women who met at a sort of neighborhood quilting bee. It was actually originally a community art project designed to get people sitting around a table and talking to one another while sewing a large tablecloth. Over two years later and these women still meet up about once a month for a potluck supper, occasionally deigning to invite the spouses along as well. Not everyone makes it to every gathering; the transitory nature of Florida residency means that the community formed through the project is actually quite dispersed (and then there are people like me, freewheeling about the globe all the time.)
The menfolk have definitely benefited from this project as well, though for the most part they didn’t participate in the sewing. In almost every culture, it is considered a woman’s role to forge and upkeep social relationships, particularly kinship relations. (I don’t know about you, but in my family the Christmas cards are almost always signed and addressed in my aunts’ and grandmothers’ handwriting.) Generally, this isn’t perceived as a form of work, or as a stone-set rule of social conduct. We just do it without thinking about it very much most of the time. This is how gender works–we do it; we take active steps to participate in it, but we don’t really think about it. (That’s kinda what my PhD is about.)
Ultimately, this kind of social work is beneficial to more than just the women who directly make all the calls to invite people over and making the potato salad. As I said, the men also benefited from this project, despite not being involved directly in it (most of the time. Some of them bravely broke out the needles and thread every once in a while.) From this work, a growing community emerged, a community that has branches all over the USA and internationally. These women (and the assorted men and children attached to them) can now call upon each other in times of need or times of joy to share the load. I’ve seen them mobilize to care for a hospitalized friend, and when I left for graduate school they gave me the best send-off a girl could ever ask for. And right here on our little island, all the ladies still get together once a month to keep that community going.
I don’t need to look further than my own home for lessons in how to build communities of my own. When I think how these women, few of whom knew each other before the project began and all of whom have such divergent life experiences, personalities, political viewpoints and potato salad recipes, I’m always left in awe of their willingness to engage with one another, to listen to each other and to work to make their little (though growing) corner of the world a more harmonious place in which to live.