Because Ole Miss has the reputation of having one of the best college tailgating experiences in the country, and my husband is a sports writer, football season brings a lot of visitors to our house. We have guests pretty much every weekend there is a home game.
Now, it's important in the South to be a gracious hostess, so admitting this in print might make my mother-in-law cringe, but I spend a considerable amount of time internally dreading all of the company. Not the people themselves, but all of the things that "having company" means.
There are the mundane worries, like getting the sheets and towels in the guest room laundered and stocking the house with plenty of coffee and cream, booze and snacks. I fret about the weather and working out the Saturday logistics in advance, like what we'll do about breakfast if it's an early kickoff, or negotiating with my husband about who has to stay sober to drive home after tailgating.
And there are my larger, more deep-seated fears. I'm actually pretty shy, especially when it comes to big groups, so I worry about making conversation with people I don't know well, or how our guests and our Oxford friends will get along.
This week we had an especially large group visiting for the Auburn game. They're some of my favorite people, and while I always look forward to being with them, all of the usual fears started bubbling up.
Before I knew it though, we were at dinner telling stories and laughing. We were reminding them the words to the "Hotty Toddy" cheer and seeing the Grove through their eyes, which made me appreciate how special it actually is. We marveled at the odd deliciousness of candied bacon and toasted with Old Charter. Ole Miss was even victorious, an added bonus.
It made me realize tailgating is sort of like planning a wedding reception. You spend so much time debating between cymbidium orchids and calla lilies, or the color of the table linens, that you forget that it's actually going to be one heck of a shindig. And it just wouldn't be the same if you eloped. It's the guests themselves -- family, friends, co-workers, your drunk uncle -- who make football weekends what they are.
At a big party we hosted Friday night before the game, I overheard two of my friends talking. "How is Sonia holding up?" one asked. "I think she's actually having a lot of fun," was the reply. And I was. Now I'm on my couch, our friends are headed home, and I'm already looking forward to their visit next season.