back about a year ago, i got a note from a colleague alerting me to the fact that a well-known lesbian writer from the UK was moving to alberta and wouldn't i like to befriend her. i wrote immediately to valerie mason-john to say hey let's get together when you're next in town and don't worry, it's a dry cold.
she hasn't moved here yet, but she emailed in september to say she was coming to visit her partner who lives in ponoka. we bandied about various ways of getting together (how about lit fest on thursday night? no, can't do that -- but i'm going on friday? no, that won't work for me, etc) until she said, "look, we're having a dinner party on saturday night. if you and another person wanted to come, we'd love to have you." i demurred politely -- we were supposed to be working on my sister's new house all day, so we'd be tired, plus i know how precious visiting time is, you don't necessarily want to share it with strangers, and is it really environmentally, which is to say socially, acceptable to drive all the way to ponoka for dinner? -- and picked up the thread of other possibilities: tuesday afternoon? breakfast on wednesday?
she stopped emailing and immediately phoned all three of my numbers, from london, to insist we come for dinner.
i'll confess, i agonized a little. for one thing, what to wear? i've seen valerie's photo online and in the tellingly-entitled femmes of power, so i knew she'd be nearly six feet of gorgeous, from boot-tips to hair. all i knew about her partner was that she's cleaning up in alberta's oil patch -- "cleaning up," i took it, in the metaphorical sense, not like some kind of ecodyke. so, once i was dressed, there was the question of wine. why, oh why, am i such an oenological dunce? in my mind's eye, i had us spending the evening in witty repartee around a formal dining room table trimmed with this season's accoutrements. i thought: it will be a new-built country estate. i wondered: will there be servants? from what i hear, oilpatch people burn bricks of money to warm their cold, cold hearts.
of course, i was completely off base. it wasn't oil people, it was country people. there were ten or eleven dykes, all smart and creative and edgy and intriguing and warm. we came from various places -- BC, massachusetts, UK, edmonton, ontario, the michigan womyn's music festival -- to this sweet '40s bungalow in ponoka. the house, it turns out, was built by an architect who saw a magazine picture of a california bungalow and set out to recreate it. cheryl has been restoring it by hand since she bought it a few years back. among her friends were ranchers from nanton and some sheep farmers en route to nova scotia. another couple there had just returned from running a wilderness outfit in the chilcotin. everybody was a writer and a reader; everybody was friendly and funny and sexily self-possessed. the food was tasty, by which i mean: it tasted like food. the smoky beans were cooked with fresh young coconut chunks and .... mmmm, are those artichokes? ours was the only wine, since everybody else opted for valerie's fresh-squeezed carrot-and-ginger juice. there were no clamshell greens. instead, tiny cherry tomatoes fooled around with seedy figs on a bed of hand-torn leaves.
there was a forthrightness to the evening that even this morning fills me with wonder. imagine inviting total strangers to an intimate dinner party. it's not that we might have been axe murderers -- that's unlikely -- but we might have been awkward, or pretentious, or dull. next to my sense of wonder is a sense of ... well, happiness. i love those women. i'm totally committed to the exposure brand of queer, but there's nothing like a lesbian of a certain age to really make me swoon.
the dyke dinner party in ponoka made my world a little bit bigger. i'm not quite ready to stop dyeing my hair, but i am seriously considering michigan this year.