“Let’s do an article on your summer solstice party,” my former boss, Linda Ligon, suggested.
“Yes, let’s,” I said, trying to hide my panic.
This annual party in my family’s backyard had become a rite of summer for my friends and neighbors, always fun and often unpredictable. (Shakespeare’s take on midsummer madness remains valid in our modern world.) But was it magazine-worthy? I was the editor-in-chief of Natural Home & Garden at the time. I had grand illusions of competing with Martha.
I certainly didn’t have Martha’s staff or resources at my disposal, but my team rallied to help with cooking and lending me photo-worthy props. I spent a manic week baking sunshine cakes (the first two weren’t pretty enough for photography but tasted delicious), gathering up serving vessels and cajoling my kids and husband to help make a paper maiche sun pinata and a straw wicker man. It was one of the rainiest springs that Boulder, Colorado, had ever seen, and it poured right up to the minute our party started. And then, miraculously, the sky cleared and gave us that soft, diffuse light that forgives all imperfections.
I just found the photos from that party, shot so long ago that they’re on film. For me, these photographs of the home I’ve since left, my intact family and friends I don’t see often enough since I’ve divorced are bittersweet reminders of life’s impermanence. About half the couples at the party have also since divorced (we match the statistics), and many of us have left the neighborhood.
Back then, we were a tribe—at least for this annual celebration—and we could count on Neil Kolwey showing up with his sax to play “Summertime” year after year. We marked the blazing sun’s demise in a ritual that called for writing down anything we wanted to get rid of, wrapping the little papers around flowers, and pinning them to the wicker man—a symbol of the sun god, who dies on this day as the sun sets. We found huge satisfaction in watching our troubles burn. One year I got my invitations out late, and my neighbor Allison O’Neal responded immediately. “I was afraid you weren’t having it this year,” she said. “And I have so many things I need to let go of.”
I haven’t had this party since I left the old house. These photos make me want to revive it, in a new iteration, perhaps in the field behind my townhouse. It won’t be as elaborate as this one was, but I’ll certainly rely on the good basic ideas, decorations and recipes that made this one shine.
Keep checking back this week as I post citrus-infused recipes in summer hues, paying homage to the sun’s magnificence. Whether you throw a bash or quietly mark the Solstice with a family dinner, the longest day of the year is certainly cause to celebrate—lavishly or lazily.
We served citrus-infused cuisine and other foods (such as deviled eggs) that evoke solar magnificence in my collection of flea market enamelware and old silver platters. Photo by Povy Kendal Atchison
Libations included organic wine and sangria for adults and sweet iced tea and “sunshine punch” made from citrus juices and sparkling water for kids and non-imbibers. Photo by Povy Kendal Atchison
It took me a few tries to get the Lemon-Rosemary Cream Cake ready for its 15 minutes of fame, but we enjoyed eating the less-pretty versions of this delicious cake. Fresh fruits, at their summertime best, are easy and elegant solstice fare. Photo by Povy Kendal Atchison
An old egg basket holds jelly jars used to serve drinks (a great alternative to paper cups), and my old rusty wheelbarrow offers up ice. Photo by Povy Kendal Atchison
Decorating for a summer solstice party couldn’t be easier, as fresh flowers are abundant. I used an old scap of cloth to cover the table and cinched the corners by tying on daisies. (This way I didn’t have to trim the cloth’s edges.) Photo by Povy Kendal Atchison
It makes me happy and a little bit sad to see my old friends gathered in this yard that’s no longer mine. They’re eating off of compostable disposable plates, which were cutting-edge at the time and are no longer in production. Photo by Povy Kendal Atchison
This rock pile—my final, desperate solution for eliminating the Japanese knotweed that plagued my backyard—provided a perfect platform for the wicker man. We hung the tapestry to hide a chain link fence for the photograph and removed it, as it was a fire hazard, when the man burned. Photo by Povy Kendal Atchison
My friend Bill Giebler, who’s now in India, attaches his flower, with whatever it was he needed to get rid of that year, to the wicker man. Photo by Povy Kendal Atchison
I can’t recall what I burned with the wicker man that year—although it was always something like doubt or resistance, the issues that plague me. Some people wrote long lists of things and rolled the papers into tight fat wads around their flowers. Occasionally a guest would grumble and try to resist the ritual, but we always convinced them to take part. They were usually the ones with the longest lists. Photo by Povy Kendal Atchison