I don't know, Internet. You think you've had your parents all figured out for the last 32 years, and then you go home one weekend and they own a croquet set.
It was my dad's birthday last week, and we'd been planning for a few months to show up and surprise him with an impromptu family reunion. My brother Tom flew in from New York on Wednesday and freaked him out by answering the door when my dad got home from band practice—brief pause so we can collectively giggle that my dad goes to BAND PRACTICE—and then Luke and I arrived on Friday night in a move so stealthy that it took all five of us to pull it off. Needless to say, though, we did it. And suddenly all six of us were home together, which was cause enough for a celebration.
Now, you may think that I like to throw parties—and you'd be right about that; my goodness, we know each other well—but my mother is the ultimate entertainer, and as soon as she knew she was going to have her whole family together for the weekend, she started planning what we should do. And what we should do, she decided, was drink Pimm's, eat cucumber sandwiches, and play a rousing game of croquet in the garden.
In other words, we should pretty much British it up to the max.
Somewhere along the line, though, this turned into dressing up like the characters from Downton Abbey. I'm not sure how it happened—my mother had sent me an email with the subject line "Dress Code" and a message to wear a large hat, which I had unfortunately dismissed as a joke—but at some point that morning "hey, it might be kind of fun to dress like we're going to a garden party" morphed swiftly into "hey, it'd be even more fun to dress like we're going to a garden party in an indeterminate decade between 1890 and 1950," and before I knew it, there we all were, standing around in costume in our own backyard.
Well, you know what they say: the family that dresses up in period costume and looks snooty together...
I rather let the side down on the costume end of things—if only I'd taken my mother's email seriously and asked to borrow Leah's cloche hat!—but I did manage to filch a strand of fake pearls from my sister, plus my mother's straw boater from her old school uniform (too bad my head was a little larger than the average 9-year-old's), so if anyone suspected the $19.99 Valerie Bertinelli from TJ Maxx wasn't period-appropriate, they were kind enough not to say so, at least. Also it helped that we hadn't really picked a period. The prevailing feeling, as we all scurried to our rooms to change, was "eh, just wear something that makes it look like you wouldn't know what a computer was."
My mother, who is excellent at celebrating people with food, outdid herself with the menu, and my sister Susie made a wonderful sous-chef—or Su-chef, as I pointed out to her just one more time than was strictly funny. I pretty much just showed up and cut the crusts off the sandwiches, but those two went to town with everything from the decorations to the menu, which—in addition to some very English things like sausage rolls and Eton Mess—included fries doused in vinegar and served in newspaper cones, and cupcakes topped with my dad's initials.
My mother borrowed this tent, and we hung some Union Jack bunting left over from the Diamond Jubilee.
I know it's a little dorky—what's next, joining a local Civil War reenactment club? Do you think they have a family rate?—but our time together is so infrequent, and so precious when it happens, that it's lovely to be able to create such indelible memories. In fact, we've already decided that we're going to do it again next year. In the meantime, however, I'm going to need to brush up on my croquet. Lady Mary would have been appalled.
More photos here, if you're into that sort of thing.