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The Table is Set for Dinner and the Firemen Arrive
Dinner party with Firemen

The First Dinner Party and the Fine Nantucket Fire Department


Last week, I had my first dinner party on Nantucket.  From a centerpiece made by Flowers on Chestnut to the old Silver Palate standby, Chicken Marbella, I had everything planned days ahead of time.  I was nervous.  These were new friends, and I wanted everything to be perfect.  As I waited for guests to arrive, I lit the candles, decanted the wine, and checked to see that the fire in the fireplace was blazing.   Three couples were invited, but at the last minute, one couple had to cancel.  Now we were down to two couples and me.  I had thought of a number of conversation starters, but they all seemed rehearsed and flat at this point.

Luckily—or maybe not so luckily—we didn’t have to worry about a conversation starter.  Almost as soon as we sat down with a glass of wine, the alarms went off:  “Carbon Monoxide.  Evacuate the House; Carbon Monoxide.  Evacuate the House.”  The voice coming from the alarm was insistent and sounded slightly panicked even though she was only a recording.

This was not, however, the first time I had heard that voice.  The alarm had gone off a week ago at 1:30 in the morning, five days ago at 8:30 in the evening, and only two days ago at noon as I was arriving home from shopping.  Each time the Nantucket Fire Department had responded with alacrity and grace.  They had found that the carbon monoxide levels were elevated—and increasingly so with each subsequent call--and they made sure that all the carbon monoxide had been banished from the house before they left.  They were unfailingly professional, kind, and generous in spirit despite the numerous calls.  After each incident, our caretaker assembled the furnace repair crew who worked diligently to alleviate the problem. 

But, no matter what, the problem returned a day or two later. 

So, here we were, with every door and window open, trying valiantly to avoid standing outside for too long, and laughing at the absurdity of the situation.  We talked about other dinner party disasters we had experienced.  We compared notes about hard winters, rainy summers, and wildly dramatic storms.  We chatted with the firemen as they worked to discover the source of the problem.  It turns out that conversation was not a problem.

Once the firemen left for the night, we resumed the dinner party.  Things were not quite so elegant as I had planned.  Some food was overcooked, some was cold, the salad was a bit wilted, and the service was not smooth or seamless.  Nevertheless, stimulated by the event, we ask each other wonderfully provocative and risky questions.  We explored what might put each of us “over the edge” both literally and metaphorically, and we got to know each other in ways that I don’t think would have happened had we not had the dramatic moments that preceded dinner.   Clearly, we did not have the Martha Stewart dinner party that I had imagined, but it was a true Nantucket dinner party where one can expect the unexpected, relish living a little bit on the edge, and get to know each other on a deeper and more meaningful level in one evening than often happens in years in another place.

Good friends, a fantastic Fire Department, and a warm house on a cold winter evening--I am pretty sure that it doesn’t get any better than this.

*Photo Credit--Beverly Hall