The Congealed Closet Party

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It started, I admit, with memories of my childhood. Recollections of a simpler time when cats birthed their kittens in the barn and school buses delivered their children on dirt roads. Soon, my nostalgia smelled the shaved cedar in number two pencils and the pungent, earthiness of a new box of crayons.

Like a butterfly, my consciousness flitted across images and fragrances to land, as it usually does, upon the tastes that make retrospection such a delight. In the blink of an eye, I was sipping Ruth Griffin’s sweet tea, nibbling Aunt Sis’s pie crust, and savoring the yeasty goodness of my Mama’s angel biscuits, cut with an open-ended soup can. It was about then that I got a real craving for Jello.

In my youth, every community spread included at least one gelatin dish. Despite a likelihood to contain such ingredients as Cool Whip, Dream Whip, and sweetened condensed milk, these glutinous delights weren’t placed on the dessert table. Instead, they were welcomed alongside the salads, following meats and vegetables in proper potluck protocol. Where else could children skip the one leafy lettuce option in favor of an assortment of Jello flavors?

When I roused from my reverie, the idea of a congealed party began to form in my mind. Why not insert a bit of gelatinous clarity into the midst of this dark and perverse generation? Most of my friends shared memories of childhood salad suppers, and surely we were old enough by now to forego the main course without recourse from our mothers.

And so it began.

I would encourage guests to wear something from their closet, no longer in style but still in their heart. No decade would be specified, giving them the freedom to mix and match at will. I already knew of a certain bubblegum and lime Liz Claiborne earnestly calling my name from the back of my closet.

Once I set a date, invitations went out for the first-ever Congealed Closet Party. With a goal of nostalgia and relationship, I kept the cost to a minimum. Except for vintage paper plates from Amazon and a few repottable plants, I bustled decor from my own cabinets and framed some vintage Jello ads my daughter found online. (Who knew Jello once came in flavors like celery, Italian salad, and seasoned tomato?)

When the day of the party arrived, I was surprised at the excitement that entered with each invitee. “I’ve been looking forward to this date since my card arrived,” and “It’s my first party since Covid” were popular declarations. I hadn’t realized how starved we all were for fellowship and connection. “We needed a reason to gather besides a funeral,” was one friend’s thankful response.

Although I had icebreaker questions ready, there was little need. We chatted about the history of our outfits and the recipes of our Jellos. Two ladies discovered they had summered in the same small Texas town as children. Another brought a bag containing her handmade baby quilt and her childhood dress fashioned from a flour sack. “Show and tell” is an activity I’ll add to future invitations.

The buffet table held six congealed salads, one chicken salad, and a Jello mold full of popcorn. In the spirit of the event, this last addition reminded us that the invitation said to bring “a congealed salad or another favorite from decades ago.” We agreed this to be a perfect addition, especially when Traci explained that her mother used to make popcorn in the middle of their living room. “We knew we were in for fun when Mom began spreading plastic table cloths on the floor. Without covering the popper, Mom would start the appliance. Popcorn went everywhere, and we kids scrambled to get ours before our sibling did. The night wasn’t complete unless one of the unpopped kernels hit us in the face.”

Isn’t it time for a party in your life? Are you needing to reconnect with the fun of friends? Maybe you need to have a Congealed Closet Party, too. Drop me a note, and I’ll send you a blank copy of the invitation to help you get started. You just have to promise to send pictures after your event.