Ah, the Seventies! A time of maxi-dresses, big lapels, powder-blue suits and eye-shadow, pizza-in-a-box and fruity cocktails. At 2394 Pyramid Crescent, things were happenin’! There was no “swingin’” going on, but the food was flash, the drinks were frothy and the chat was cheerful. These were the Davison dinner-parties and as a little girl, I was “party” to all the festivities – the craziness before, the cacophony during and the chaos after.
My parents were always big on entertaining. They had a close circle of friends – originating on my mother’s Nova Scotia side – two ladies (and their partners) who had moved from Mom’s small coal-mining hometown of Glace Bay to the hoity-toity highlife of Toronto, Ontario and the parents of one of my friends at school, whom they had befriended at church. This was the Fabulous Four and their parties were always a hoot because of the wacky sense of humour of the husband of one of the Cape Breton ladies, the presence of my dad’s rich Irish laugh and the clear, Scots’ accent belonging to my friend Susie’s mom. As well, her dad was an accomplished Chef who had worked in the finest hotel-restaurants of Bermuda and when he prepared a meal for one of their parties, it was fit for a king.
My parents loved to fill the house with the smells of good food, the sound of music,laughter and chatter and to enjoy good conversation on just about any subject from politics to film. I heard it all.
Having a chef in their group put a bit of pressure on my mom and dad. They wanted to prepare dishes that were equal to that of their talented friend – my mom particularly had a sense of pride about this and so, between my mom and dad they would come up with some pretty elaborate meals. I recall one party where they actually made pastry and wrapped it around a choice cut of meat to bake in the oven. This, I think was their piece de resistance – a Beef Wellington! Mind you, there were many other select dishes over the years: Coquilles St. Jacques appetizers, homemade soups, Beouf Bourguignon, Round steak in a Parma-cheese and tomato crust, Roast leg of lamb, Stuffed Salmon etc. – all accompanied by potatoes and vegetables done to perfection and finished off with Strawberries Romanoff, Grasshopper pie or Chocolate Mousse.
This is not to say that things always went well in the kitchen. We had a pretty small house – a bungalow, with not the largest kitchen and not the best appliances – no gas ranges, no microwaves, no double-doored refrigerators – no, we had a Frigidaire olive-green stove with 4 burners and 2 inner racks and neither did we have a whole lot of counter space.
I can recall my mother, her hair piled high in a bouffant do, decked out a long, floral, jersey dress and black patent square-toed shoes with pirate buckles, sporting a half-apron as she checked whatever was roasting in the oven. The Deilcraft dining-table with the extra leaves would be set with the Wickerdale Spode and the Oneida silverware on a colourful linen tablecloth and a centrepiece of fabric flowers would be placed dead centre. Meanwhile, my dad would be prancing around in his y-fronts and undershirt, his just-shaved face stinging from the styptic pen he’d used to cauterize the blood from a cut. Mom would be yelling at him, “They’re going to be here any minute!” To which he would yell back, “Betty. I’m going as fast as I can!” If you hadn’t sent me out for such and such at the last minute, I’d be in my suit right now, ready to go.” And so it would go, until the doorbell rang and then it would be all smiles and belly-laughs and shrill shrieks of delight and knowing looks. The party had begun!
Along with great food, there was a trend in the Seventies to concoct some pretty fantastic drinks – the likes of which you could only get at a fancy cocktail lounge or in the finest restaurants. Though not given to overly excessive indulgence (at least not on a regular basis), my parents did like to, shall we say “tipple” and my dad, who was the soul of generosity, would spare no expense to accommodate all tastes – running from aperitifs to after dinner liqueurs. (I got to taste them all by the way, despite being waay under-age.)
The advent of the personal blender made all these decadent concoctions possible and the Oster blender guidebook that came with the machine allowed for experimentation with as yet unheard of potent potables. One night it was the fruity orange blossoms made with gin blended with orange sherbet, served in a bowl-shaped champagne glass, and on another, it was frozen strawberry daiquiris. A canned piña colada mix brought a taste of tropical lands to the Davison living room where the room was a-buzz with shouts and strident talk, punctuated by sipping ladies and quaffing gents. The fellas had their favourites too, but they tended to lean to the more traditional screwdrivers, rum and cokes and gin and tonics. Of course, there was also always a goodly amount of the popular Canadian brews in the stubby bottles cluttering up the shelves of the small Frigidaire.
The one thing my parents had literally no clue about was wine. I am appalled to admit that along with such great banquets they were wont to serve the likes of Maria Christina (an overly sweet Canadian white wine that today would make anyone gag), or a bottle of Mateus (you know, the kind you would let drip with the wax of candles when using as a centrepiece?) or some rudimentary red that caught my dad’s eye when he scouted out the liquor store. Occasionally, a trip to a new restaurant in town resulted in the trial of a new wine that my dad would latch onto. He was quite set in his ways was my father, and when he found something he liked (even if others did not, he held to it like the mast of a sinking ship). My mother still considers “Black Tower” to be the height of wines for a fancy meal.
Thankfully, as they aged, so did their wine selection and I must take some credit for introducing them to a full-bodied Merlot, or an unoaked Chardonnay.
Along with wine, my father loved to have an impressive selection of liqueurs. Coming from an impoverished Belfast family and having made good over here in Canada as a Chartered Accountant for the Canadian Government, he liked to put on a good show and a storehouse of alcohol was one way he did that. He had built a solid wooden bar in the family room in our basement and liked to stock it with anything that struck his fancy. We had Tia Maria and Drambuie, Crème de Cacao and Amaretto, Cointreau, Cherry and Peach liqueurs – you name it! And my father had absolutely no compunction about giving me a bit – especially since it was “only a tiny glass”. It’s a wonder I’m not a full-blown alky today! Then again, “familiarity breeds contempt”(did Shakespeare say that, or was it the Bible?) so, I’m not inclined to even taste liqueur these days – alright, I’ll admit, I do like a bit of Bailey’s in my coffee and Kirsberry Cherry liquer doesn’t go amiss. Oh, and then there’s Kirsch in the fondue…
There remains a legend left over from my parents dinner parties and it gets blown out of proportion every time it is told (naturally). The wacky Jack (a stocky character with prematurely white hair, sparkling blue eyes and a devilish grin) was known to be a bit of an imbiber in these brouhahas. He was the joke-teller who often crossed the line into the blue zone, if you know what I mean. He was the card, the wit and the one inclined to get “in his cups”. He was also the one who supposedly pilfered the silver from the dining table and after acting as usher at the next day’s Sunday mass, handed over the goods from his jacket pocket with a guilty grin and a guffaw.
Jack is no longer with us. He died from Cancer a number of years ago, but we will always remember his laughter and also his good heart. He once cooked up a fabulous full breakfast for me and my sister as we watched him manoeuvre around his kitchen like a pro. He was a good egg himself.
I hope somewhere, my dad and Jack are having a bit of a laugh – raising a highball or tipping back a tiny glass of the nectar of the Gods. I miss them both–I miss those days.
(Next time, we’ll have a look at some of my own parties – from little girl birthdays to big girl bashes.)