Part uno of duo. (Originally posted at FMCA.com on December 26, 2013)
Before I started writing this, I was sitting at my computer browsing recipes online. I am planning my menu for Christmas Day brunch with my family. I have narrowed my entrees to Blackberry French Toast Casserole, Lump Crab Meat and Shrimp Quiche and a fresh fruit and honey yogurt salad. Diane plans on making some oatmeal and date muffins. They are a tradition every Christmas day.
This party will be for eight adults including my parents. Not as much preparation will be needed as the last party that I co-hosted. That one took place back on the first weekend of this month at an RV resort in Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina. The attendees, all thirty of them, are all members of the Colonial Virginians, our local FMCA chapter.
The planning for this Christmas Rally started last December at the very end of last year’s rally which happened to be at the same location. Diane and I, along with our close friends Gary and Janis, decided then to host this year’s event. The Christmas rally is the one rally that is catered, at least in part. We told ourselves it would be a lot of fun and less work to take charge of the biggest party we have all year if someone else does the food stuff.
I am not sure how we came to that conclusion because it isn't true. Our party turned out to need a lot of labor to pull it off.
We started planning the two nights, three days, rally with three things in mind.
We wanted it to be fun and meaningful so we had to come up with a theme.
We wanted people to attend and bring only their beverages to each night’s festivities. No need for plates, utensils or a pot luck dish. We wanted to provide lots of food for Friday night, a full country breakfast on Saturday morning, full traditional Christmas meal on Saturday night and a good continental breakfast on Sunday.
We wanted to do all this for around twenty five bucks a person. (That is what added to the work).
I had to get myself a Fedora. Okay that’s the fourth thing I had to keep in mind.
First thing was to work on number 2 and not forgetting about 3. Janis started looking for a caterer the first week in January. It took a couple of weeks and a lot of phone calls but she found one that would provide two meals, the country breakfast and the Holiday dinner. If we, meaning the four of us, sat up the buffet, the price was really good per person. That meant that we would have to take care of Friday night ourselves and Sunday Breakfast ourselves. We could shop for some things ahead but most of it would have to be done same day. Diane and Janis planned the menus, made some trips to BJs and the Dollar Store.
I came up with an idea for number 1. We were sitting at our chapter business meeting this summer at the Holiday Travel Park in Virginia Beach when it hit me.
I leaned over to Gary and Janis and said “We can make this an “It’s a Wonderful Life rally! We can show the movie on Friday night, I can set up my IAWL village and we can decorate the room with movie posters and snow flakes.” We also came up with the idea of having a trivia contest.
They liked the whole idea. We added one thing. We decided to make it a costume party as well. Come dressed in 1940s style or as a character from the film.
Now we had a plan. Over the next two months we worked out the details.
Let me tell you all something. I gave this rally a lot of thought about how we could make it special. I really wanted all our friends who attended to have more than a good time. I wanted them to feel something while there. I wanted them to feel close to their other members. I intended for this rally to use the Christmas season and the It’s a Wonderful Life story to reinforce the need for friends and family. I wanted to emphasize the Family in Family Motor Coach and have fun doing it.
I knew that was not going to be so easy.
The decorating became really important to me. The decorations had to be inspired by the movie. My village was all about Bedford Falls but we needed more. Together we came up with ideas that were simple but good.
Another trip to the dollar store and a trip to Andy our fearless leader’s house took care of it.
The rally officially started on Friday. Diane and I knew that to get everything done we needed to do we would have to leave on Thursday. That included emptying a lot of bays of chairs, grills, kites and loading lots of boxes of Christmas stuff including a whole miniature village, a tree and other items.
On Wednesday night at 8:10 pm I received a call from one of my customers. They are a telemarketing firm that makes calls to Las Vegas. Their office phones were dead.
I was supposed to leave the next morning by ten at the latest. The office had two separate phone systems and I was going to have to move all the lines and phones from the dead one to the one that was still working. There was no way I could do that before Monday unless I did one thing….drive forty five minutes to the site and fix them tonight.
That is just what I did.
I crawled into bed at midnight exhausted, but couldn't fall asleep for a couple of hours. I lay thinking about all that we needed to do including packing up the coach.
The next morning Diane and I started making the first of many trips from the house to the coach. After about an hour I lost count. I also lost count of the phone calls I received. It was one of those mornings after a not so easy night.
We backed out of our driveway at 9:50, pulled into the church parking lot next door, hooked up the car, checked the lights, said a prayer for safety and at finally made it on the road at 10:45 am.
We pulled into the Carolina Crossroads RV resort just before one. While I was setting down jacks and hooking up all the things that needed to be hooked up, a Monaco Knight pulled into the campground. Gary and Janis had arrived right behind us.
Now the real fun would begin.
I loaded up the car and delivered a bunch of containers to the meeting room. Not long after that the other three arrived and we started pushing tables around. The ladies decorated the tables including candles and silk rose petals, while Gary, using my ladder, started hanging snow flakes. We picked out a corner for the village. Gary and I successfully connected my DVD player to the large screen television, and hung movie posters in such a way they would not try to roll back up and fall off the wall. This last bit was very critical to the whole effect.
The decorating went pretty well. There was one that that didn’t. I forgot to pack the light bulbs for the 21 village buildings. Light bulbs went on our shopping list. That trip would take place early in the morning.
It had been a long first day. We all met at our coach for a one pot meal and some strong drink.
During dinner we planned the rest of our attack.
Early the next day it was off to Wal-Mart. We divided our shopping list and hit the aisles.
It took a couple of hours to load up our carts, go thru the checkout lane and load up the Vue.
Back to the resort we went, off loaded and then finished the decorating. A few more snowflakes, a bit more painters tape to hold up the posters, lights installed in the village, a bit of snow, decorate our little tree, and then it was done.
The place looked pretty good. We found out later that the owner of the resort, who lives in Asheville, thought it looked so too. He saw it by way of his online remote security camera, called the managers and told them they needed to go take a look for themselves.
I guess we chilled out for a couple of hours. I don’t remember if I went back to the coach and watched television or read a book. I remember that it was really warm, windy and humid. I wished I had not unpacked all my kites and left them at home.
I spent the part of the afternoon walking around the campground handing out my printed itinerary for the weekend.
Four o’clock and we were back at the room. We sat up a serving line, started the coffee pots perking and made up trays and crock pots of goodies. We lit the candles on the tables, and dimmed the lights. I turned on a special CD of 1940s Big Band Christmas music.
The only thing left to really get this party started is for our friends to arrive.
By a quarter to five our members started to arrive with anticipation knowing (in part) what was in store for them.
Almost everyone who walked in the door took a look at the ceiling, hard to miss all the snow flakes hanging from above, and then gravitated toward the Bedford falls village with the chugging little train moving in a noisy circle.
I forgot to mention that our Christmas rally is also a Toys for Tots event and as such every coach provides at least one toy. Those items began to fill up a couple of tables placed on one side of the room.
The mix of drink and talk began. There was a month of catching up to do. For some it was even longer. I milled around and said hi to as many people as I could and then at five after five, I rang a bell (a sound they would hear a lot over the next two days) and when silence came, I officially opened the “It’s a Wonderful Life” Christmas Rally and Party.
I reviewed the itinerary:
Movie tonight at seven…popcorn will be served
Breakfast will be served at 8:30 in the morning including our Toys for Tots presentation.
Breakfast would be followed by our annual business meeting.
Everyone will be on your own until happy hour at 5:00 pm tomorrow night, followed by our Holiday Dinner with ham, turkey and lots of other things.
Also don’t forget that the hardest “It’s a Wonderful Life” trivia contest will take place during dinner as well as voting for the best dressed.
Following Dinner is our traditional “Don’t get too attached Christmas gift/steal exchange.”
“Now Come Eat!”
They did. They had a lot of choices, chips and salsa, mixed nuts, raw veggies and dip, spinach dip in a bread bowl, meatballs, spicy wings, (chicken not angel), b-b-qued cocktail whinnies (my favorite), crab dip, (my very favorite!), cheese and fresh grapes, pickles, green and black olives, cake, creme puffs, really good cookies, and other things I can no longer remember.
There was plenty for all.
The tables filled up, lots of talk, lots of smiles, a few trips back to the serving tables.
At six forty five I announced that the movie would be starting in fifteen minutes. It would be a special colorized version of “It’s a Wonderful Life”.
“Concessions, including fresh popcorn, will be served at the back of the theater.”
Janis had purchased a mini antique popcorn machine which she was already heating up in the back on a table set up just for that purpose. We had popcorn bags, cookies and cake, and a special lamp to illuminate it all during the showing of the movie.
We cleared the banquet tables, which were located under the large screen TV, and placed all the goodies on the kitchen counter.
At seven I turned off the lights and rolled the DVD.
I suppose with any plans there can be technical glitches. I had one…audio too low. I was forced to push pause and halt the movie during an early critical scene. It took me a couple of minutes to find a way to up the sound from the max it was already at. There was a TV equalizer setting that, once all the sliders were moved to the right, increased the sound to a comfortable level. I continued the show.
Almost everyone had stayed to watch the movie. They all became really quiet. I could tell they were listening and watching it closely. During my chit chat and milling about earlier, I was surprised to discover that a lot of people there had not see the movie at all. The rest had seen bits and pieces of it. Not like me at all.
This would be my 100 and something viewing of the film.
Just before I started the movie, I took a few minutes to explain how important this old little film was to me.
I told them how “It’s a Wonderful Life” had saved my life.
I wrote about it here about a year or two ago I think.
I like to think my little story was the reason for the total attention that the movie was receiving from all there. Maybe in part that was true….but a trivia contest could have had something to do with it as well.
The movie played….Young George got his ears slapped back, grew up, bought a suitcase, got married, had kids, yelled at some nasty old guy in a wheel chair, lost a bunch of money, thought he was going to jail, thought about jumping off a bridge, changed his mind, helped an angel get his wings, THE END.
The audience attending, like many others over the last seventy years, clapped at the end of the movie. Some, like me, wiped away a few tears.
Well, I can’t help it, I cry every time.
The party’s first night ended on a great note. I was told by many, as they filed out the exit, how much they enjoyed the movie. There was a chorus of good nights and see you in the morning.
The four of us cleaned off tables, threw away trash, swept the floor, put away leftovers, and swept the floor some more.
By ten we were on our way back to our coaches. We were all dog tired.
Part Duo (Janurary 1, 2014)
On Christmas night, Diane and I met Gary and Janis for dinner and a movie. We got together at the Commodore Theater in Portsmouth for smoked chicken salad and fruit, ice tea and popcorn. We had not seen each other since the rally so we chatted about that before the show started. We all came away from the rally knowing that everyone who attended, including us, had a good time. Many, including Gary, learned to appreciate “It’s a Wonderful Life” more. Gary watched it again when it was aired just last week on NBC.
We talked for about an hour about our families and how our Christmas day had been.
Gary and I headed upstairs for some popcorn just as the theater lights were dimming.
We watched Saving Mr. Banks. I really enjoyed the movie. I think we all did. I like a Disney ending. Isn’t that what we all want in life…a Disney Ending?
Eight o’clock Saturday morning found me back in the meeting room along with Gary getting things ready for our full breakfast. The first thing I noticed on the way over was that the weather was starting to go south. In other words it was beginning to get cold. I didn't mind. It is Christmas time; it is supposed to be cold.
Gary started the pots of coffee while I made sure the tables were in order. Janis arrived next and Diane not far behind after taking Teddy Bear for a trot around the campground.
The caterers arrived at just after eight with lots of aluminum trays of food.
I was surprised at how much. There were cheesy scrambled eggs, bacon, pork sausage links, turkey sausage patties, really flaky biscuits, and some of the best buttery grits I ever ate. There was plenty of juice and coffee of course.
By eight thirty the place was full. Everyone seemed very cheerful, and ready to get this part of the festivities going. I heard very positive comments about the previous evening.
Once again I rang a bell. As soon as I had everyone’s attention I announced that we would be eating, the Marines had arrived and once the Toys for Tots presentation was over our business meeting which included installation of our new offices would commence.
We held hands, one our men said Grace and then the line formed.
Breakfast was good. The two Marines, in their dress blues, sat with us at the host table and we chatted for awhile. Then they stood in front of the toy table, which by now was quite crowded with all kinds of toys and told us some history of the charity. They gratefully accepted the toys, packed them up and were on their way.
We cleared the breakfast item and reset the buffet tables to work as officer tables and then the meeting began.
Once the meeting was over I took the floor to announce that dinner would still be at six, happy hour at five.
I also announced that the trivia contest would be a team effort.
“The contest will be by table so I advise you to not sit by someone stupid!”
That got a laugh…one of many before this day was over.
The morning ended and every one headed out, some to go shopping (some for gifts, some for vintage clothing for some reason), some to one of the local bar-b-que spots for lunch, and some just decided to hang around in their coaches.
The four hosts decided to go vintage clothing looking as well. Diane needed a 1940s hat. I didn’t need anything.
I had my hat and along with that a brown three button suit, brown button up sweater vest, burgundy cap shoes, white French cuff shirt (with 60 year old cuff links!) and a burgundy striped tie it yourself bow tie. They all looked like they could have come from the movie wardrobe department. I tried the ensemble on a couple days before the rally. Along with the gray Stacey Adams fedora, I added some old wire rim glasses. I walked into the living room where Diane was sitting on the coach. She looked at me with a surprised expression:
“You look like my Papou.” She said.
We headed out to a place called the Old Mill shops in Weldon. There was a big flea market/consignment area there and who knows we might get lucky.
We did get lucky. I found Diane an old 1940s black pillbox hat with a big side bow and gold beads around the crown. It reminded me of the style hat a stewardess would wear on the Pan-Am flying boats of the late 1930s or early 40s. It cost 14 bucks. Best of all it fit.
“If this makes you happy, I will wear it” she said. It made me happy.
We bought a couple of other things including a really cute animated snow-man baby (it plays peek-a-boo) which I wanted to buy for Diane to add to her collection, but she said no, “I have too many of them already and we are planning to downsize.” I bought it anyway with the plan to give it away that night.
We traveled back to our coach where not much happened the rest of the day. Around three we started getting ready for the biggest event of the weekend.
I let Diane go first and gave her lots of space. She refused to wear a dress or heels because that was too much trouble while hosting this party. I think she had a legitimate point. Earlier, I bought her a forties style black and white dress which I found at Macy’s but she didn't want to keep it both financially and logistically. She is a wise lady.
Diane took her new hat and combined that with a Fuchsia suit jacket, a wide black belt and old style slacks with black round toed shoes. She finished it off with some antique Christmas marguisite jewelry. The whole effect was pretty darn good.
I couldn't tie my own tie it yourself bow tie so Diane took care of that for me and she also helped with my cuff links..
“Well now, George.” She said as she fastened a cuff and helped me with my jacket, “I think you look pretty good.”
I put on my hat, a gold pocket watch in my left pants pocket, hooked the chain to my belt and looked in the mirror
I thought she was right again.
The final touch was a large light brown leather suitcase with straps that could have been a movie prop. It was provided to me by Janis, she brought it to the rally, and it looked like the real deal. I was thrilled with it.
I looked forward to seeing what the other party goers would look like. I was hoping for some good competition. I didn't know it yet, but I was going to get just that.
I went back to the meeting room first with some items to put in my suitcase which included printouts of the trivia contest, pencils, and prizes for all the winners.
I made sure the room was in order, then returned to the coach to help Diane carry our drinks and presents for the party.
Gary and Janis caught up with us on the way back. Gary had borrowed a black bow tie and suspenders from me. He was dressed like a bartender with a white shirt and black shirt sleeve bands. Very appropriate for Gary to be Mr. Martini for the evening.
Janis told me I looked like George Bailey. Well, that was the whole idea.
We went in, and I shed the jacket while I set the banquet table with the leftover goodies from the night before for people to snack on during happy hour.
About five fifteen our guests arrived including a very convincing Mr. Potter in his wheelchair, George in his football uniform, Carl and Dot came as a Gangster and his girl and others dressed for the forties. The best dressed contest now had a good number of candidates, I was glad to see.
The caterers brought a ton of food, all of really good. While it was being set out on the table, I pulled out my suitcase and distributed pencils and copies of the Trivia contest, all six pages of it. One went to each table. It looked like a high school final exam. The surprising thing was, everyone dug right into it, even to the point that when dinner was announced no one wanted to get in line. They all kept on working at it.
Of course everyone did finally help themselves to ham, turkey, stuffing, real mashed potatoes, Mac and cheese, green bean casserole, and peach cobbler.
During diner the black and white version of the movie played silently on the TV. I informed all that when The End came up on the screen, the contest would be over. The contestants learned that some of the answers to the quiz could be seen, if they watched close enough and could read lips. People were huddled together discussing the questions; a lot of phones were out with Google being accessed. I never said that was not allowed. The very back table was using a couple of books about the movie that were on display on the table with the village. That was cheating, but pretty smart at the same time.
I sat and chatted with Gary, Diane and Janis as they tried to answer as many of the trivia questions as they could. I was disqualified from playing, as I knew all the answers.
At times the room was so quiet with just the hum of whispers and big band music playing (not too loudly) in the background.
There was one interruption required during all this time. I needed votes for the best dressed. Once again I opened George’s suitcase and removed my pre-made ballots.
I instructed all to vote for the top two people who fit the criteria. It didn’t take long for the votes to be turned in.
My table did the tallying. Once the votes were counted first and second place were obvious.
We had a tie for third. I had not voted yet so it fell to me to break the tie, which I did.
I stood up to announce that we had our winners and that Mary Bailey would be presenting the prizes.
Diane (who received a couple of votes) asked for Betty to come forward. Betty, who wheeled Mr. Potter into the room, came up front.
Diane opened the suitcase and then said to Betty:
“You have won third place and so I present to you…”
She handed Betty a sea salt grinder full of sea salt.
“Salt! So that life may always have flavor.”
There was applause.
Diane then turned to me and announced that I had won second place. She removed a long French Baguette from the case as she said.
“I give you bread that this house may never know hunger!”
There was laughter and more applause and by this time everyone had to know what the prize for first place would be.
Diane asked for Frank to roll forward.
“And to Mr. Potter I present” and then there was a chorus from all in the room as Diane lifted a bottle out of the case.
“Wine! That joy and prosperity will reign forever!”
I looked at Frank and said “Merry Christmas Mr. Potter!” in my best George voice.
There were a lot of cheers as Frank, aka Mr. Potter, rolled back to his table.
Even a warped, frustrated old man deserves first place sometimes. I didn't mean you Frank.
A few minutes later as dinner continued and folks went back to the trivia questions they had passed over, THE END appeared up on the big screen.
I rang my bell to announce the Hardest “It’s a Wonderful Life Trivia Quiz” was now over. It was time to review all the answers and determine our winners.
I quickly read the questions followed by the answers, all fifty seven of them. There were a few “I knew it, why did we change it?!” responses along with some “We should have had that one.”
The winning table had correctly answered fifty two. Mr. Potter was sitting at that table. I guess it was just his night.
I carried my suitcase to the table and before I opened it I told the room I had one more question to ask of the winners.
“What did George say when he hit the cigar lighter?”
The table answered as one:
“Wish I had a million dollars!”
“Correct! You have won and here are your prizes” and then I opened my case, pulled out an old measuring tape and threw it at Mr. Potter as I said:
“Except for you, because you don’t measure up!” That got a huge laugh.
“For the rest of you here you go”
Then I handed them all, including Mr. Potter, a chocolate bar wrapped in a million dollar bill.
I also gave one to the oldest person there. We all call her Mom and she just turned ninety.
“I think that anyone ninety years old who last night watched “It’s a Wonderful Life” for the very first time, unlike me who saw it for the hundred and something time, deserves a million dollars!”
Everyone agreed with that.
The rest of the night was a blast. We had our gift exchange and there was some stealing which created a lot of laughter, shouting and applause. Billy, our resident Santa made sure no one got too naughty. I had my gift stolen twice, I stole one from Mr. Potter. Why not? He owned me eight thousand dollars. I ended up with a bottle of Bailey’s Irish Crème and matching glasses. How appropriate is that?
Diane, Mary, the light of my life, took home a box containing three gorgeous electric candles.
When the last present was unwrapped, and my peek-a-boo snowman in the plain brown bag, was one of the last, the evening was officially over.
No one wanted to leave. Everyone milled about or continued to sit even while all the hosts cleaned up and prepped for the next morning’s breakfast.
I figured that was pretty good evidence that so far the rally had been a success.
Tomorrow it would be breakfast; goodbyes pack it all up and then home for Christmas.
The morning found us there early, hustling around making fresh fruit salad, ham biscuits, laying out trays of Danish and heating up leftovers from Saturday’s breakfast. Our efforts presented everyone with a good looking spread.
A lot of our people leave early on Sunday. They skip breakfast to do so. Not this time. Everyone came. They prayed, they ate, and they talked. We heard so many good comments about how much fun the last two days had been. It really did my heart good.
No one was in a big rush to see it end.
When finally Andy closed it, we had lots of people stay and help us clean up. A special thanks to Grover and Margo for helping me box up my village, they saved me a couple of hours at least.
Diane, Gary, Janis and I were the last ones to pull out of the park. We were all tired but we knew it had been worth all the work. The only thing left to do was to hug goodbye and say
Now I know that this blog entry has gotten a bit long. I don’t apologize for that. The length is necessary to convey to you what I said at the beginning; I, we, wanted to make it possible for all my friends to really enjoy themselves. Many of our group had gone through some very tough times during the previous year and I believed they needed this weekend to reaffirm their faith in friends and family and something even greater than that.
We did our best to create a Disney Ending.
I wanted them to remember it, long after this rally was over.
Now I am thinking about the next one the four of us will host….
I already have a name for it.
How does the “LIFE IS LIKE A BOX OF CHOCOLATES RALLY” sound?
PS if you want to take the IAWL quiz here it is: