There is a wonderfully strange party phenomenon here in Mexico. After experiencing it for several years, I have finally come up with a name for it. I call it "Party in a Box."
In advance of all sorts of occasions, nothing happens, nothing happens, nothing happens and then, whomp...a full-fledged, wonderful party materializes.
The first time I witnessed Mexican actually create a party was in my own garden, and I couldn't believe my eyes. About three weeks before the event, my Maria asked to use my garden for her child's fifth birthday party.
"Of course," I said, secretly flattered that the family wanted to have the party at my house. I asked Maria what I could do to help, with a machine gun rattle of questions:
- Should I rent tables and chairs?
- Do you need my gardener to move some of the garden furniture?
- What are we going to serve?
- Where should we put the rope and pulley for the piñatas?
- How many people will there be? What time will the party begin?
- Do we need to put up the white miniature lights?
- Will my coolers be large enough for the drinks?"
I wondered why sweet, quiet Maria looked a little frightened; surely it wasn't my barrage of questions. Good heavens, if she didn't have all those details organized, I was glad I had brought them up so she could get the party planned. Maria ducked her head and quietly said, "Vamos a ver." (We'll see).
Two weeks before the party, I stopped in to see Maria to find out why she had not been in touch with party details. I asked most of the same questions plus, "What are you going to do for decorations? What size tables are you going to use? Do you have enough tablecloths? What is the theme?"
Maria looked worried and touched my cheek as though she was checking a child for a fever. She patted my hand and told me she would let me know what I should do. At least now she was concerned about all she still had to do before the party. As I closed the car door, I heard her say, "Vamos a ver."
A week before the party, we played out the same scene, but with some new questions. Now, though the conversations occurred every day – after all it was the last week. Meanwhile I became more and more worried about the outcome of this obviously unplanned party, Maria seemed more and more concerned as well. In those daily calls after I asked about the party, she asked how I was feeling. Then she quietly reassured me, "Vamos a ver."
On the day of the party, I was totally stressed out. I had a horrid headache, my feet hurt from walking to the door multiple times to see if anyone was coming to begin preparations. When I stopped in at Maria's house I saw no bags or bundles of party supplies. Maria even turned down my offer of a ride into Guadalajara to find matching tablecloths, napkins, paper plates and cups, centerpieces, party hats and favors, saying, "Vamos a ver."
By noon, my pulse throbbed in my temples. I called her. "Maria," I spoke perhaps a bit loudly and sternly. "What about this party? Are you still going to have it today? Nothing is happening. When do you expect to get things going over here? Guests could arrive before you are ready. What time are the guests expected? What are you going to do to entertain all those kids?"
You know what Maria said? She said, "Don't worry, Señora Judy. The party isn't until three or four this afternoon. The guests won't come until then. Vamos a ver"
The birthday boy's older sisters arrived at 2:45. Each carried a small bag from the papeleria (stationery store). Two cousins followed them in the door carrying slightly larger bags. More girls showed up at the door and the next time I looked into the garden, they were working in pairs, blowing up multicolored balloons and tying them onto strings to make a canopy across the garden. Other girls strung lines of intricately cut tissue paper, papel picado between the rows of balloons.
The next time I answered the door, I found Maria with three of her sisters, each carrying a huge brown clay pot. One sister carried potato salad, another beans, and the third chile con carne. Maria struggled with a black garbage bag of tostados in one hand and a bag of white Styrofoam plates, stacks of plastic glasses and a quart bottle of hot sauce in the other. Mama, bringing up the rear, clutched bags filled with heads of lettuce, tomatoes, some onions and of all things, a tiny food processor. Mama set up shop in my kitchen, chopping and shredding condiments for the tostados.
By the time the sisters had organized my garden tables into serving areas, other women arrived with giant plastic bowls of jewel-toned gelatin, (Mexicans serve birthday cake and gelatin, probably a reflection on how few homes have freezers to keep ice cream cold until serving time). A teenaged boy carried in a 5-gallon water bottle filled with strawberry agua fresca and his little brothers brought an enormous package of napkins, a small stereo and cassette tapes.
The six piñatas were whisked into the front bedroom of the house, along with the bags of oranges, tangerines, balloons, candy and tiny toys to fill them. I didn't see all of the piñatas in my weakened state, but when I peeked in, the decorating girls were stuffing treats into a boat, Spiderman, a donkey, and a huge yellow Big Bird.
Two of the teenaged aunties set out adorable little paper bags onto a couple trays and filled them with popcorn and candies. These clown-decorated bags were the "bolas" or favors. Before they finished putting in the last lollipops, the men arrived with the biggest cooler I had ever seen. Its six-foot length amply held bags of ice for the children's agua fresca and still had space to cool several cases of beer for the adults.
While the men carried in stacks of folding chairs and tables, I glanced at my watch. It was just after four. I looked up in time to see Maria's husband struggling through the door with a giant decorated sheet cake and an even larger grin. I was starting to feel really good about the whole event we had planned here. I turned to Maria, "Do you think that will be enough beer? There are a lot of people here."
Maria just smiled and said "Vamos a ver."