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Dinner Conversation With Lisa Jasper & Jim Ritts

Lisa Jasper Tribeza

Family Dinner

Dinner Conversation

An annual dinner party began as a lark. Now it’s a life-giving gathering.

by Lisa Jasper
Photograph by Casey Chapman Ross

My husband, Jim Ritts, and I have been together for 15 years. Early on in our relationship we hit the DINK (dual income, no kids) button, so our dinners are often the two of us, or five if you count furry children.

Jim and I enjoy food and love to entertain. We are a well-oiled machine in the kitchen, with a divide-and-conquer approach to getting it done efficiently. I plan the menu with an emphasis on creatively hiding green vegetables in the meal, shop and prep; he grills, we cook and he is on KP duty.

We agree that dinners at our home have less to do with the menu and more to do with the people. One of those nights when the mix of people at the table far outweighs the menu is our annual Christmas Gang dinner that has been going on for 23 years.

“It was a magical night and we decided that we were going to do it every December.”

The Christmas Gang is comprised of friends that have known one another since our school days at Casis and O.Henry. Our first Austin dinner with these three other couples was during the holidays. One of the couples just had a son and he became the centerpiece on the dining room table. (He is now 6’4” and in law school.)

We were all in our mid-20s and on budgets, so we decided to do a potluck. Everyone was assigned a part of the meal and all of us brought (very cheap) wine.

My memory of that first dinner is only about the company. I have no memory of the food (maybe it has something to do with the cheap wine!). I remember laughing and telling funny stories about one another. Lawrence, my eighth grade prom date, is particularly good at recalling some bad dating decision one of us might have had or an unfortunate sartorial choice. (Personally, I thought I looked good in that beret). It was a magical night and we decided that we were going to do it every December.

In order to get the Christmas Gang dinner on the calendar, Kimberley, my soul sister who comes from my school of micro-managing, initiating the process. She sends out an email in October to find a date in December for the dinner. There will be an exhaustive number of emails flying around with very little do to with the dinner date – jabs about some ancient history item, witty responses, more comments and then we will finally settle on a date.

Originally these potluck dinner conversations were free-form and light, reliving who hosted the best parties in high school while his hard-of-hearing grandmother “chaperoned,” but then life started happening and there was a shift in the conversation. Kids’ schedules became more complicated, work schedules more demanding and the times we saw each other during the year decreased.

In order to bridge the gap of time, we came up with the idea of going around the table and each person talked about their highest and lowest moments of the year. It is a way to reconnect after the absence of months, a mechanism to talk about something we might not know about each other and a way to reaffirm that we are always there for one another, no matter the good or the bad.

The highs and the lows have evolved from struggling with a career choice, issues with children, getting divorced or dealing with the death of a parent. It is part of the dinner that can turn very serious until you have a group like this that has known each other for so long and one perfectly delivered comment can lighten the mood.

When tragedy struck one of our group last November, we all got a call in the middle of the night to let us know. We met early the next morning to find out what was going on and what we could do to help.

Our beloved Julie spent six weeks in the hospital and was released in late December. True to our rhythm, in October we had already locked in the Christmas Gang dinner date for December 6th. As our friend improved, we committed that we would not have the official dinner until she could join us. Instead, we came together for dinner at our house, upgraded the wine, made some bad jokes to keep the mood light, and then Julie’s husband surprised us and called Julie in the hospital and had her join us for the unofficial dinner via speaker phone. She was on the mend and getting out of the hospital in a couple of weeks. Not to get too kumbaya, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

There was no need to go through the highs and the lows that year. We already knew. Julie was going to be okay.
Lisa Jasper and Jim Ritts live in Clarksville and have been married for 13 years. They have one dog, Guffey, and two cats, Hank and Walter Croncat. Jim is the CEO/Executive Director of the Austin Theatre Alliance and Lisa, formerly the General Manager of Ralph Lauren, is the Chief Operating Officer of the house.

Read more from the Arts Issue | November 2016