Monday, September 07, 2009

Gettysburg, Day 3: Blood and Orgies

Ha, it’s hard to see the word “blood” or "orgy" these days without thinking of those ever-lucrative sexy vampire stories, but you won’t find much of that here at Sex, Food and Writing. Except maybe tomorrow. But for today my post title refers to the bonds of blood. As in my family reunion. As in a big huge Catholic one. As in enough bonds there to make for one hell of a bondage story… but I'll try to be clean-minded, as my Magical History Tour continues with a trip into my family past the afternoon of August 9. (And the photo above is just a teaser about the orgy, which really did happen--in a rhetorical sense.)

My oldest sister had attended several of these annual events which had been revived about five years ago, and she knew the drill. First we had to stop at the big old Giant supermarket on Route 30 to buy our lunch supplies—a veggie tray and sandwiches for us, takeout Chinese for the boys. Then we stopped at my cousin’s place along the way to see her amazingly whimsical house and garden. Her husband is a jack-of-all-trades artist and blacksmith and we got to see his old-fashioned forge and some of the beautifully crafted hinges he was making for a construction project, among other highlights. I mention this because these creative touches and magical spaces (especially the “bottle tree,” an iron rack decorated with colored bottles and glittering old CD’s) reminded me that we can add delight and art to our lives in all sorts of simple, but effective ways. I’m wondering if some of the beautiful places I visited on this vacation didn’t inspire my very dedicated bout of fall cleaning this year—my first step in bringing more serenity and space into my life! So far, the unburdening of stuff has been very liberating for body and mind, although I have a lot more to do.

But I digress.

Our next stop was the family reunion itself at the hall of a picturesque church situated on a winding country road. Corn fields all around, the sense of rural community—it was definitely a trip into the past. Family reunions of yore were usually at parks in the summer or church halls in the winter. I could go on and on about my extended family, but I’ll try to keep this brief. First, the food culture. Although aunts, uncles, cousins, second cousins and all greeted each other warmly as we arrived, lunch was clearly serious business and all the families sat down with their own brood and shoveled down the chow with grim determination. Most of my relatives had brought homemade things—the Smith family traditional roasted chicken or baked beans in a crockpot or some such hot lunch dish. We sat in our corner eating the fontina and roasted veggie sandwiches, and I recalled that my cousin who arranged the event said we could probably share in the other relatives’ food since we were the official “traveled the farthest” attendees. But really, that would have involved circulating from family to family with an empty plate and a hungry smile, so if you’re ever invited to the Smith family reunion, I definitely recommend bringing your own lunch.

When we’d finished our savories, people started wandering over to the potluck dessert table and the visiting began. I was also interested to see about half of the offerings were store-bought and the other half—including my pecan cookies—were homemade. To my amusement and delight, the homemade items disappeared rapidly, while the packaged goods languished untouched. Clearly my extended family knows how to indulge in sweets! A real highlight was two big dishes of rice pudding baked from my grandmother’s recipe by my cousin, the organizer of the reunion. He’s taken this as his duty to preserve the iconic family dish, which I think is very cool. Grandma Annie’s rice pudding was served at every Sunday dinner, not as dessert but more as the sweet part of the Pennsylvania Dutch sweets and sours menu. I usually make a Danish-style rice pudding recipe with gelatin, rum and whipped cream, but this version is nostalgia itself—cooked rice mixed with eggs, milk, fake vanilla (if you want to do it like Grandma) and a bit of salt. Pour it in an enameled dish, dust with cinnamon and bake in the oven with the roast chicken. The result is a soft, mildly sweet rice layer with the thinnest band of yellow custard on top. It’s very good and very satisfying in a down-home way, and I’m thinking I have to make it myself sometime, for the sake of tradition. I think it would be great as a breakfast dish!

Anyway, as I said, I could go on and on with the family stories and maybe later I will tell you how my sense of myself as an outsider was clearly formed to some degree by my relationship with my extended family (who all still lived in the same town, while my mother couldn’t wait to get out!). Suffice to say now, I have a new heroine in terms of aging gracefully, my Aunt Betty who will be ninety in a few weeks. Not only is my aunt active, smiling and beautiful (you’d confuse her for 70), her mind is amazingly lively. She told me she’s starting to write her memoirs and I encouraged her strongly because I would love to read them!

The other interesting thing about the reunion was that everyone told me I looked just like my mother. This is actually a huge compliment, so it’s not that I minded, although of course we were all sad that she couldn’t be with us. Interesting though, that on a trip that was all about ghosts, I was suddenly a ghost myself.

Kind of uncanny. But as you know, such poignant, strange moments are very nourishing for my creative mind.

So, the afternoon went by quickly for the chatting, benevolently haunting adults and very slowly for my kids (who distracted themselves building Legos with some distant cousins), but finally we had to make our exit as we had an exciting event to attend in the evening. On the way back to our hotel, my sister drove us past my grandmother’s house at 113 Oxford Avenue in McSherrystown. Here’s a picture, but the house looks nothing like my grandmother’s place as I knew it beyond the same address and the same general arrangement of porch and windows. The red shingle siding is gone, as is the trellis on the front porch, the porch swing where I spent hours daydreaming and making up my earliest stories, the Victory garden in the back. I can only imagine that the inside with its steep staircase and dusty old-fashioned rooms was gutted. In this case, the past was not waiting unchanged for my fond return!

Okay, enough of the past.

Now we get to the good part: the grand gala erotic writers’ dinner at La Cucina in Hanover! First, a special thanks to local eroticist extraordinaire, Craig Sorensen, for choosing such a yummy restaurant and making the arrangements. Once Herr Doktor and I walked in and sat down at the long table, I felt as if the restaurant were our personal party joint—not that we read aloud from our most recent BDSM-themed stories or anything, but we talked freely as the BYOB wine flowed (thanks to Jeremy Edwards, Helia Brookes and Marina St. Clare for bringing some delicious fruits of the vine). In fact, this was another reunion with Jeremy, Helia Brookes, Heidi Champa and her husband, Emerald and Craig, DeDe and Cyn Sorensen (who took the photo at the top of this post), all of whom I’d met before. However, it was my first in the flesh encounter with Erobintica and Marina St. Clare, who’d driven down from die-hard Yankee country especially for this event.

Now, as I’m sure most readers of this blog are aware, getting to know someone in cyberspace is very different from the traditional way you had to do it before technology transformed human interactions forever. In the old days, you approached a new friend from the outside in, but in blogland it’s really from the inside out. I first “met” Erobintica and Marina through the progressive blog dinner, and I’d had the pleasure of reading their stories, blog posts and emails discussing the writing life. So I “knew” them in one sense and yet I’d be seeing them for the first time.

Not that I was nervous, just I was reminded what a novel situation this was in the course of human history. I mean, sure, you could befriend someone through letters in the old days, but this was different.

And yet, it’s also interesting that it took about one second to process the face and smile, link it with the internet relationship, and suddenly it’s as if I’d had coffee with Marina and Erobintica many times, as if we’d discussed the eroticist’s experiences in person instead of through emails. Yep, it was pretty much instantaneous—cool how the mind works. Also I have to say I’ve never liked a person in cyberspace and not slipped right into warm friendship when I’ve met them in person. It could be that erotica writers are just very cool people—which is certainly true! But there are so many cautionary tales of Internet persona not being what they seem--the most obvious being men who pose as women to lure unsuspecting males into cybersex. Yet for me, the cyber-café has always been a fairly trustworthy way to get to know someone.

So, having connected and reconciled the real people with the Internet personae quite effortlessly, we all proceeded to feast and make plans to bring enlightenment to the world through smart stories about sex. A kind of benevolent global warming campaign, if you will. In the meantime we dined heartily on focaccia, salad, and various pasta dishes. Jeremy recommended the gnocchi from his past lunch with Craig, and being a big fan, I ordered that dish and thoroughly enjoyed it. But dessert was the best part for me. Erobintica had brought down her famous homemade chocolate cake with tangy chocolate frosting (I hear the secret is using some of the extra buttermilk in the frosting), so we all got to sample a moist, chocolately slice along with another tin of my pecan cookies I’d kept away from my devouring relatives.

Yes, we were all delightfully sated on pasta and sweets, but as erotica writers, we were more than ready for another round of fun, so we headed back to Jeremy and Helia’s hotel room for an orgy—of conversation, you dirty-minded readers, please! I will admit the topic turned to hotel sex and wild adventures we’d had within the oddly liberating confines of a rented room. But the physical manifestation of our verbal pleasures, as we lounged about on the beds drinking wine from plastic cups, was not especially provocative, unless you count Emerald’s boots!

These are pretty wild, don’t you think? A hotel sex story in the making all by themselves!

To conclude this delightful evening, Herr Doktor came to collect me a little after 11 pm (he was checking on our boys who’d hardly noticed we were gone since they were given unlimited Game Boy time) and I bid my writer friends a temporary adieu as we’d be breakfasting together the next morning. I can’t vouch for what happened after I left, but it may show up, transformed into fiction of course, in some future story? I know I’ll be watching the erotic anthos for group sex romps on hotel beds involving plastic cups of red wine and a few pieces of chocolate cake….

I’ll conclude by saying it was real delight to gather with so many cool, creative people who share an open-minded sensibility about eroticism. I hope we can do it again sometime—I think we all felt the same way. Perhaps in Italy with Isabel Kerr in 2012?

Next time—are the Amish really clueless or just plain perverted?


Craig Sorensen said...

Ah, I've been waiting for this one!

Loved the pic of Grandma's house and all your memories that go with it.

That's very cool about your Aunt writing her memoirs. What a treasure that would be for you to be able to read her story!

Of course, it was a highlight of my day/week to join up with the whole gang. Thanks again to you, Donna, for coming out and inspiring this gathering!

Danielle said...

i was waiting for this one too!!! dona you told me already weeks ago that you are goiung to meet up with all these wonderfull people aka our blog land friends...and how i wished i would have been there..i was like oh marina,..i want to meet marina too..and emerald..and craig..and jeremy and and and..i wnat to meet all of you indeed..sigh*

this post is so beautiful..i m off..i get myself a martini and then re-read it again...

Jeremy Edwards said...

A word to the wise is sufficient: after hearing about the Smith picnic, I'm bringing my own lunch wherever I go. : )

Our fun-filled orgy, oops I mean evening, already seems so long ago. (When did you say our reunion was going to be??) Helia and I had a blast hanging out with all of you (including those not pictured)! Thanks, Donna, for having the PA roots that provoked the smutfest, and thanks, Sorensens, for being the local advance team!

Emerald said...

Heh, I happened to wear those boots today.

"we all proceeded to feast and make plans to bring enlightenment to the world through smart stories about sex. A kind of benevolent global warming campaign, if you will."


I had such a fantastic time too that night (/night before/next morning), and I would so love to do it again!! Thanks again everyone for coming out! And thanks of course for the write-up, Donna. ;)

neve black said...

Hi Donna!
Your words, "Bonds of Blood" has The Godfather theme playing in my mind right now. Haha.

First of all, I think it's really nice learning about how you and your sister seem to have a certain closeness whenever you get together. Or at least that's what I'm reading here. I know family and it's dynamic is multi-layered and there's always sub-text, but I do think the effort to keep a special closeness is there.

I suppose family dynamics, blood or otherwise is fascinating to me.

I'm E with Envy over the Erotic Summit Meeting. How cool is that? It sound simply wonderful. And what an interesting juxtaposition for you personally - experiencing your blood lines right along side your blog lines. :-)

It was our very own, Gina Marie that said recently and so eloquently that there really isn't any difference between blog friends and non-blog friends(I'm paraphrasing here).

Please count me in for the next meeting, wherever it is. Um, yes, Isabel's would be magical, wouldn't it?

neve black said...

Serendipitously, I'm listening to NPR right now, and I've just learned there's an interesting conversation being aired today about relationships with sisters and their affects on adult women. How coincidental is that? Wait. I know, there are no coincidences - :-)

Donna said...

Thanks, everyone, for reading all the way through my long report, and of course for making the evening so erotically magical. It really was a wonderful time and I do hope you can join us the next time, Neve, for dinner, the orgy, everything!

Interesting you should pick up on the sister relationship. This sister is nine years older than I am and we weren't at all close at kids, but we became friends as adults. I should check out that NPR show in archive. Serendipity happens too often to by mere coincidence, I totally agree!

Marina said...

Hi Donna! Sorry I'm late -- I left a longer comment yesterday, but apparently Blogger ate it!

I love this Gettysburg series - have really enjoyed hearing about the history and family memories.

And - hey - someone should have told me they were snapping that picture! I would have gotten my head out of that book! (Actually, it was one of Alison's anthos, and I just got wrapped up in one of the many "good parts!") ;)

The eroticists' dinner was the highlight of my summer. We all get to know each other quite well out here in blogland, but nothing can compare to seeing the smiles and hearing the voices. Can't wait 'til we can do it again! Italy would be great - but we'll need some planning conferences sooner!

SusanD said...

Aw, sounds like a great time, Donna!

Isabel Kerr said...

Wow! Hi Donna, this is so wonderful. I've been wining and dining with a friend/cook from, eh hem, the East Bay, and am now just catching up on my favorite blogs.

Delightful post. Love the family connections (the forge looks a little like our pizza oven) and of course seeing more of our friends from cyberspace.

Now, I have a question for you which you don't need to answer now or ever if you wish, but it has to do with family and sex, two fascinating subjects.

How do you handle telling your family what you do, or do you? If you're like me, maybe you tell selected family members with whom you feel like you can share, but even then it's a sensitive subject, or is it?

It's great to see everyone here and I think that we've all gotten to know each other fairly well through our writing so there aren't a lot of surprises, and there is a certain degree of affinity because we know each others writing and it says a lot about us.

We'd love to host an Erotica Writers Encounter here one day! Thanks for mentioning that.

Thanks Donna, this has been fun and fascinating.

Donna said...

Great to hear you're on board with our Italy encounter. It's really the perfect place for a celebration of La Dolce Vita!

I'm like you--my close friends and family know. And about 80,000 residents of the East Bay know thanks to a magazine profile. But I did not mention the nature of my writing to my extended family. They are conservative Catholics and while some may not care, it just seems considerate not to shove it in their faces. I wouldn't lie if they "confronted" me with it and maybe some even do know?

Since I use my real name, anyone could find out, but I don't announce it first thing. If that makes sense....

Craig Sorensen said...

Since I use my real name, anyone could find out, but I don't announce it first thing. If that makes sense....

Makes perfect sense to me.

Erobintica said...

Gee, like Marina, I think my comment got eaten. I left it about the same time I think. Hmmm. And I have NO idea what I said.

This was such a fun evening. I'd met Jeremy & Helia before, but it was such a pleasure meeting everyone else and look forward to getting together again (and already have with Emerald).

Isabel, I know you didn't ask me that question, but I realized that I'm in a shifting place right now re: letting folks know. My grown daughters know, but my sister doesn't. A good friend doesn't know but I'm going to have to tell her soon (and knowing her, I'm not sure how that will go). But I agree that not shoving it in someone's face but not hiding it either is a good way to go. At least if feels most comfortable to me.