Alison Berkley: The Princess’s Palate
June 1, 2011
The other night I was having dinner at my friend Sarah’s house in Carbondale when I realized I’m not here or there. I’m sort of off in no woman’s land.
Sarah recently moved into a new house that has a large, open kitchen with tongue-and-groove wood paneled cabinets and granite countertops and an island and lots of cupboards and a bookcase with three shelves for all her cookbooks that’s built in. She’s got real appliances, like one of those big Kitchen Aid blender things and heavy cast iron cookware and a big, shiny espresso machine she never uses.
Like most of the dinner parties she hosts, it was an extended family gathering. Around the well-worn wooden dining room table were her 3-year-old twin boys Si and Jesse, her parents who were in town from Vermont, and her close friends who live and work up in Redstone. Usually there are even more kids and more family members, the kind of scene where it’s loud and fun and everyone is taking photos of the kids doing kid things, like eating cake with their hands or holding up a new toy or running around in diapers and cowboy boots or whatever else will end up tagged on Sarah’s Facebook page the following day.
Sarah comes from a super-big Irish family, like huge. They have these big family reunions every year with 300 people and they even have a phone book so they can keep track of everybody and a cookbook that’s printed and bound. They’re all blonde and freckled and stamped with the kind of rugged good looks that can only come from that pool of genes, kind of like the Kennedy’s (only minus the curse).
When I surveyed the scene, I was struck by my own inability to have arrived in such a place. A place with a big kitchen that is filled by three generations of people I’m blood related to, including my own offspring. I have thoughts like, “That’s what the Irish do. They reproduce.” After a beer or two, that internal dialogue begins to devolve into thoughts of self-loathing and guilt like, “How did I miss this?” or “What the hell have I been doing, partying away all my child-rearing years in Aspen?”
In Aspen, we don’t often get together in houses with big, warm kitchens unless someone is housesitting or caretaking, and those houses might be big, but they aren’t exactly what I would call warm.
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In Aspen, the closest thing we have to family gatherings is a Memorial Day barbecue at the Eagle’s Club, where my friend Catherine (my only friend with a baby) stuffs her face with whatever food she can get her hands on while I hold the baby, and then leaves before she has a chance to finish her beer to go tend to the million things she has to do as a working and outdoor recreating mom.
In Aspen, all of our friends are much younger than we are, with the exception of our guy friends, who all date women who are in their 20s. This is problematic because the guys have selected these young girls on account of wanting to hold on to that youth, exuberance, and energy that goes along with girls that age. I remember being in my 20s. I remember being able to lose 10 pounds in a month or even a few weeks for a special occasion. I remember being able to pull all-nighters and still function the next day. I remember traveling a lot and partying and not worrying about next week, never mind next year. I remember not having any sense of time passing or having the wisdom to know the ease of those years would not last forever.
I don’t fault these guys for their choices. They have it made in the shade. (In my next life, please God, let me come back as a man with a high metabolism. That’s all I ask. Amen).
Their girlfriends are still hot. They’re thin and fit. They have good skin and no signs of wrinkles. They’re super athletic and can stay out late and get up early and not even think about having babies for at least five years. The guys can revel in late nights and wild times for as long as they please. They don’t want the party to end and they sure as hell don’t want Ryan to leave the party. Ryan is the life of the party.
At Sarah’s, her boss Jeff was talking about Redstone, where he’s lived for over two decades, where he’s raised his kids and now lives with his wife Jeannette. He was talking about how there’s no cell phone reception there, and for some reason that sounded really good to me.
“Do you think there ever will be?” I asked. “Like, in the next five years at least?”
I love this idea of a place where people can only reach me at my convenience, not theirs, where I could live uninterrupted by the trappings of that kind of technology. Where I could enjoy the quiet and quality of life in a small, remote town. A place where life is dictated by the seasons, and the weather, and who your neighbors are, and what goes on within the walls of your own happy little house, a house that you could actually afford.
It’s not like I don’t appreciate the lifestyle I have in Aspen, the carefree schedule, the indulgences, the lack of responsibilities, the selfishness, the skiing, the boozing, the action-packed summers, the brilliant, beautiful fall season. I think part of the reason my 30s slipped away from me was because it’s trite, but it’s true: Time really does fly when you’re having fun.
It’s not that I want the party to end, it’s just that I think I’m finally ready for the rest of my life to begin.
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