House Party

While the hubbub surrounding infamous groundhog Punxsutawney Phil was dominating the mental space of some individuals last week, our household was focused on something entirely different: Girls, girls, girls.

Three lovely young women, to be exact–one of whom happened to be our daughter. She had completed the four week “J-term” of her first college year and was eager to relax and sleep at home for several days before a rigorous second semester began.

During the Christmas holiday, she’d hugged us warmly and, with a sweet smile, cajoled, “Can I bring two friends here for J-term break? They can’t go home and don’t want to be stuck on campus.”

Who could deny such a request? Certainly not us. And so, last Saturday, my husband headed east across snow-driven highways to collect the girls following their final exams.

They arrived at suppertime, fresh-faced, cheerful and hungry. (It’s pertinent to mention our kitchen isn’t fully operational at present.) We served pizza, noticing that three large pies nearly disappeared and were consumed with voraciousness one might expect from a football team.

Our guests, however, were attractive young ladies–tall, well-mannered, athletic and good-humored. Two-hour tests and a lengthy ride must have stimulated their appetites, we figured.

And how best to adequately entertain active 18-year-olds, one of whom hails from Houston, Texas (her home lies only five minutes from the stadium where the most heralded athletic contest of the winter unfolds this weekend), and the other from upstate New York, in a quiet southwest Minnesota town?

That challenge stirred memories of “Carney’s House Party,” a book by noted Minnesota author Maud Hart Lovelace. In the novel, Carney Sibley returns home by train from Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., to the fictional town of Deep Valley (a thinly disguised Mankato) with her wealthy and sophisticated roommate, Isobel of Long Island, N.Y., in tow for the summer. Carney enlists two local friends, Bonnie and Betsy, to craft adventures with her and Isobel.

A church “Souper Bowl” lunch was one of our options, and the girls heartily dug into styrofoam cups of 12 different soup samples, seemingly enjoying the flavor varieties and accompanying fresh bread.

That evening, we suggested different meal options; they chose to dine at Perkins, a restaurant completely unfamiliar to both of our guests. You’ve never seen a table piled high with pancakes, biscuits and gravy, omelets, French fries, eggs and hash browns dwindle so quickly. We brought home a French silk pie to top things off, and no one declined a healthy (?!) serving.

Our daughter and the New Yorker are runners, so maybe the nearly 10-mile runs they’d navigated earlier in the day had something to do with it. Meanwhile, the Texas star had stood tirelessly for two hours while practicing her violin.

A Tuesday night hockey game was another “first,” as neither guest had ever attended one at any level.

“It’s like football on ice,” exclaimed one, and the other laughed, “Our high school had a ping pong team.” It was comforting to know we were expanding their horizons.

Driving to Sioux Falls afforded another opportunity; neither had ever set foot in South Dakota, nor had they eaten at an Olive Garden restaurant (my daughter’s lunch choice). Our server swallowed her shock as she set bowl after bowl of salad, plus four baskets of bread sticks, before these polite young women.

One evening we hustled to Hy-Vee at 9:45 p.m. in response to my daughter’s whispered plea, “We’re HUNGRY,” and I found myself grilling multiple hamburgers for appreciative eaters at 10:15 p.m. Every morsel was devoured.

Having three compatible, likable, sincere and spirited young women in the house for five days was a delight. Discovering they had the appetites of lumberjacks was something of a surprise.

They’re a heck of a lot prettier than Paul Bunyan, but in the land of 10,000 lakes, it’s best to keep the griddle hot and the pantry full.