This past Saturday, we had a party. There were people downstairs, people upstairs. Sisters playing the piano, brothers playing ping-pong. The kitchen teemed with visitors, guests who sat around the kitchen table and chatted while waiting their turn to wind around the island, assembling their dinner. Outside, in the almost spring-like weather, the men stood and sat around the oven, my father standing at the front, others coming and going. Some, who had never seen the oven in action before would watch and marvel as the raw pizzas that they had assembled slid into the oven to come out a few minutes later, the cheese brown and melted, and the entire pie sending up aromas that had the dog sniffing the ground eagerly, pausing at each twig in the hopes that it would transform into a slice of pepperoni.
Our cookie jar, a brown bear clutching a huge version of a Hershey's kiss, nearly always has chocolate chip cookies in it. I have the recipe memorized. Sugar, brown sugar, butter, eggs. Flour, baking powder, salt. If you do it right, you can make them with one half cup measure, one half teaspoon measure, one bowl and one spoon. They are the essence of simplicity. And although my father and I have a standing debate over whether or not they can be called cookies when I omit the nuts, they are always basically the same. We mix the dough and mom gets a spoonful. That step is now written into the recipe. We bake off a sheet and eat them warm from the oven, on folded squares of white paper towels. The rest, cooled and hardened, are slipped into the cookie jar to disappear gradually over the next few days.
We have had pizza parties before. This one follow the pattern. Because only three or four pizzas fit into the oven at a time, there is never a time when everyone is sitting down and eating. Mom spends the afternoon standing at the inside counter, hands covered in flour, cutting off pieces of dough, forming them, stretching them and teasing the next person into line. Making sure that everyone has a chance to eat before sending people through again for seconds. Dad stands out by his oven, hands gloved, so that they don't burn on the handle of the door or singe in the heat of the air. He holds a metal spatula in one hand, sometimes a slice of pizza finds its way to the other, left behind when it didn't quite fit on a plate, but for the most part, he waits. At the ends of the afternoon, when everyone has found their way through the line, my mother brings out her pizza. There aren't many people eating at this point. Most of the kids are playing a version of football further out in the yard, adults sit around one of the tables set out on the lawn. Mom slides into a chair, off her feet at last. She says something serious, insightful. But before things get too dull, she makes a comment about the hard lemonade she is drinking, sending everyone off into laughter.
I could sit here and type out the recipe for chocolate chip cookies. I could sit here and type out the form for every pizza party we have had. They have small variations every time. Maybe we use macadamia nuts instead of walnuts, maybe we have five people over instead of twenty. But the essence doesn't change. They are still chocolate chip cookies. It is still not about the pizza, it is still about the fellowship, the joy of the gathering with those of like mind. But somehow, we take these objects and through repetition, instill in them some of the joy of a moment. Chocolate chip cookies are home and family, the oven is community and sharing. And the knowledge that we will do it again.