Last March, I opened Chicken Soup for the Soul’s “Communique,” a newsletter exclusively for writers who have published stories in Chicken Soup for the Soul. The announcement didn’t surprise me – Chicken Soup was launching its own food line. (I had figured it was only a matter of time. How could a brand founded on sharing stories to warm the heart, a brand whose namesake is the very comfort food we all know, not at some point dive into the food market?) But then my heart skipped in excitement. The announcement was asking for CSS contributors to host dinner parties based around the new food line. Ingredients and recipes would be provided for all writer hosts.
Um, hello. I fired off an email, asking to be considered as a host.
What might an evening with Chicken Soup for the Soul look like at your place? The coordinators wanted to know.
I singled myself out as a true Midwesterner who loves good company and who loves cooking good food AND eating it.
“I would fashion a special night around good food and good writing, inviting friends to come for a free meal, relax with a glass of wine, and hear a heartwarming essay from a Chicken Soup for the Soul book,” I wrote.
My essays appear in CSS: Thanks Mom (2010), The Dating Game (2013) and The Multitasking Moms Survival Guide (2014). The capstone to the evening would be a private reading, to go along with dessert. I bookmarked my essay, “Due Dates,” from The Multitasking Moms Survival Guide, blocked off a Saturday night, and sent invitations.
Seven dear friends of mine said “yes” to the invite. Lynn showed up with a box of gourmet chocolate covered almonds. Ann showed up with a bottle of white, Karen with a bottle of red. Pasta was simmering on the stove – the beginnings of Sausage, Broccoli Rabe and Cannellini Beans with Tomato Basil Sauce (key ingredient: CSS Tomato Basil pasta sauce). As I cubed avocado for my own avocado orange salad, I surveyed the circle of women in my kitchen.
Some knew each other, but many had shown up with only one thing in common: They knew me.
We ranged in age from late 20s to mid-60s. I welcomed friends from almost all avenues of my life: friends from church, friends from the local Moms Club, friends from writing circles, and friends whom I’d met (and grown to love) through mutual acquaintances. Some of these women I have known for several years; others I have known for several months.
These diverse threads of connection did not hinder conversation; they enriched it. Ask any one of them about the story of the pet gerbil that got loose in a classroom, and how and why my friend – who was a teacher at the time – killed it and later had to answer to her student who owned the thing, and you’ll be met with a hearty laugh. This was the lighthearted conversation that so many of us crave day-to-day. Over bowls of Minnestrone Soup and Vegetable Bean Chili, we lost ourselves in the kind of talk that carries with it no sense of expectation, no heaviness. An all around congenial, feel-good time.
And I needed that lighthearted atmosphere around the dinner table. Because when I sat down on the living room steps to read “Due Dates,” I almost cried. Not out of sadness, but out of the sheer overwhelm of emotion: over the joy of my two little boys, over the fierce passion God has given me for writing and sharing stories that are both mine and others’, over the web of support that, at that moment, literally surrounded me.
Well, the emotion may have just been the wine talking.
But I don’t think it was. What could be better, I thought, than an evening like this? In the comfort of my own home, engrossed in not one, but two things I love to do (cooking and sharing stories), and being able to share it all with others who mean so much to me.
The winning ingredients for a night with Chicken Soup for the Soul? Good food. Good people. And good stories that resonate well past the evening meal.
*Join me for ANOTHER EVENING of Chicken Soup for the Soul in November! In honor of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), I will host a special Chicken Soup for the Soul writer’s workshop at the Louisburg Library. Mon., Nov. 17 at 7 p.m. I will also sign copies of Chicken Soup for the Soul books in which my essays appear. (A fabulous gift idea – hint, hint!) Register here.