It’s been going on for six years. The ten of us, five married couples, congregate from all over Lancaster County and gather at one of our houses for dinner. Or we meet at a restaurant. Or, like we did last Christmas, we all find our way to some underground concert venue in Center City, Philadelphia to hear Over the Rhine. I can’t remember whose idea that was, but it will certainly go down as one of the best dinner clubs ever. It doesn’t seem to matter where we go, because it’s always the same crew, and I’m learning that sometimes the people become the place.
It’s been going on for six years, almost every month, and there’s a kind of depth that time bestows on relationships, a kind of depth that can’t be microwaved. In the consistency of our gathering, seed after seed has been planted. We began in the awkward mask-wearing phase, only allowing others to see what we put forward. But then, suddenly, we were celebrating together. And grieving together. Layer after layer and before you know it, six years later, when I enter the place we are meeting and everyone is there, I feel an immense sigh of relief.
I can relax. These are my people.
* * * * *
Another thing that comes with time is laughter, loud laughter, the kind that has you waking up the next morning with sore abdominal muscles. The problem with choosing to conduct this dinner club in public is that our laughter, it can be rather…shall we say…boisterous.
* * * * *
We all stop talking and pay attention. It’s time for a story.
One of our friends tells us of his groundhog problem. They’re destroying his yard, leaving huge gaping wounds in his fields. So he wandered into a local Amish hardware store in search of a good groundhog trap.
That will work, he thought to himself.
My friend arrived home and realized he didn’t know how to set the trap, so he turned to the fount of all wisdom.
Soon he’s intently watching a hillbilly video (complete with banjo strumming in the background) in which a long-bearded, barefoot man illustrates the proper way to set that very same kind of groundhog trap. My friend’s kids gather around, drawn by the intrigue of the trap and the volume of the banjo picking.
Step one, step two, step three…my friend follows the man through the process of constructing the trap. This is good. This will work. Soon he has the trap opened into a cube shape. The man tells him to make sure the safety pin is in. My friend searches the inside of the trap for a safety pin.
That Amish guy didn’t give me the safety pin, he mumbles to himself, prying around inside the trap. Suddenly, the metal slams closed, down on his hands, trapping him in the trap. His kids stare at him, their eyes wide open. Excruciating pain shoots from his smashed fingers and all the way up his arms. He tries to hold in the obscenities. His children stare at him, not sure how to respond.
He trapped himself.
Groundhog, 1. My friend, 0.
* * * * *
Maybe some friends would exhibit a greater amount of sympathy – after all, he could have lost a finger in that trap. I’m sure the pain was unbearable. But what did the nine of us do?
We absolutely lost it with laughter. I cry when I laugh hard, and tears streamed down my face. We hooted and hollered and clapped him on the back at his misfortune. And in that laughter, that story, another fine layer added depth to the friendships around the table. Another shared piece of history. Another moment.
* * * * *
The place where we meet always changes, but the people are the same. I guess a lot of times the people are the place, probably more often than not. It’s something I’m learning, as life takes me and my family from here to there.
The people are the place.