Ciao Bella! | A Memorable Party

We kicked off our summer vacation with a barbecue on Memorial Day. Our houseguests from Houston were a great help in setting up tables and tents outside for around 80 guests expected at 5:30 p.m. For days, we had been checking the Weather Channel app, relieved that the chance of rain had fallen to 20 percent on party day. Hahaha.

At 5:15, we were standing in the kitchen, when – with no warning whatsoever – lightning struck two pine trees along the back fence next to the Aiken Golf course (8th fairway, for you golfers). The tree burst into flames! Then began a huge downpour. As we silently lamented the ruination of our party, we watched the fire, believing the rain would put it out. But no! The blaze got bigger and bigger. At that point, I started wondering how soon the fire would spread to other trees and perhaps lead to … well, you get the picture.

This is not a good way to start a party.

We called the Fire Department, which quickly responded – along with three police cars, blue lights flashing and sirens blaring. The brushfire truck that came to our rescue had lots of hose, but little water pressure to reach high up in the tree. But it prevailed. The kindly firemen told us the rain would not have put out the fire, because lightning actually boils the sap in a pine tree. [Who knew?]

By this time, guests had started arriving, carrying chairs, side dishes, beverages and umbrellas. However, with the rain abating, spirits were high. Our friend Karen had brought a big bag of towels and formed a posse to wipe off the tables and chairs. The food was laid out and looked delectable, even if our decorations were somewhat soggy. Despite the weather, our friends were game. The party had started!

About 30 minutes later, the weather radar showed another huge storm coming (one in a series), so in her
outside voice, Karen yelled, “People, there’s another storm coming! Grab your food and get inside!”

Now, our present house is larger than the one we moved from last November, but in no way, shape or form could it accommodate the damp group that moved indoors just in the nick of time. Somehow we managed to set up an extra serving table in the kitchen and transformed the dining room table into a buffet. I couldn’t imagine where everyone would eat their barbecue, but our friends were very resourceful; they found places everywhere; even the staircase had many happy diners with plates in their laps.

Throughout all this activity, Rob had been mysteriously absent. I eventually discovered that right after the fire truck and police cars had left, he was directing arriving guests to park on the front lawn, knowing the driveway and street could not accommodate all the vehicles. All went well with the first two cars. The third and fourth car? Not so good – they sank into wet sod up to their hubcaps. So Rob and his buddies spent the next hour or so doing guy things with ropes and SUVs to pull the cars out. They succeeded with one, but the other was trickier. Time to call the tow truck. (Why not? We’d had everything else!)

Around 8:30, the weather radar showed another cell coming to dump yet more rain on our already bedraggled party. At this point, most of our intrepid guests made a mad dash to say goodbye, gather their things and hightail it home. We collapsed into our living room chairs and had much-needed drinks.

Over the next few days, we received many texts, emails and hand written notes about our party. “Memorable” was a word common to most of them. One of our favorites complimented us on being “models in how to give a party with the forces of nature.” Another told us, “No one can entertain like you … police cars, lightning, burning trees, and firemen, not to mention all your great friends. Feel so special to be included.” Jeff Wallace even wrote about the party in his Aiken Standard column! Two other friends told us it was the most fun party they ever attended. Go figure!

Last month we were reminded of the party when two enormous tree removal trucks arrived on the golf course to cut down the trees that had died. We watched with sadness as they were trimmed of branches and then slowly cut down and chipped into mulch or hauled away, until nothing but sawdust remained – and even that was raked away later. However, we still hold wonderful memories of that night, especially of our good-natured friends. As for future barbecues? We’ll wait until the memory of this one is a little dimmer.


Kathy Huff Cunningham