It all started in 1996. I met Chuck just a few weeks earlier and found myself now taking him along as my guest to a foodie friends’ holiday party. This particular friend had been hosting his sit-down holiday dinner for 40 since long before I met him and that was somewhere around 1985. So perhaps you could say this all started in 1985…but that would be stretching this into way too long of a story!
So, back in 1996, with full bellies and lots of empty bottles about, someone asked the question of “Where do you want to be for Y2K?” We discussed the pros and cons of being in or out of the US on that potentially fateful day. After all, if the world as we knew it was going to come crashing down, did we want to be stuck in Chicago? Las Vegas? London? Bora Bora?
Ultimately, 14 of us decided the City of Lights was our hypothetical destination of choice. Before the evening was done, we were contemplating the merits of flying the Concord (as if we could!) versus flying economy. Again, someone piped up and took a poll from the group asking who was in and who was out for turning the blue sky dream into a reality. Of course, we were all in! It was four years away, we were on a party high and why would any of us say no?!
Amazingly enough, a few in the group stepped up to planning the event and making it happen. Four years later, we did make the trip. It was full of food, wine, friends and fun that started after Christmas in Munich, wandered across the Alsace by train and ended in Paris for a grand New Year’s. It was a trip that strengthened friendships and made memories that will last a lifetime…and it started a mysterious tradition.
By this time, Chuck and I were married and my in-laws thought it quite apropos to give us the How to Host a Murder game entitled “Last Train From Paris” as our Christmas gift right before we headed off to Germany and France. Little did they know what they would be starting!
In the spring of 2000, we gathered eight willing members from this group of travelers together for the first murder mystery party. It was a black tie affair. One room in our house was staged as the crime scene – a disheveled cabin #9 on the private train car named Desire. Over the course of six hours, we dined on a seven course menu and partook of our fair share of wine although I kept no record of any of it! Being our first ever murder mystery, there were enough analytical thinkers in the room that, by golly, we were out to solve this mystery; the food and drink was just a nice compliment to the task at hand. By the end of the evening, there were a few lucky guesses as to who the murderer was but, ultimately, the conclusion was that the story line was so comical and convoluted that you weren’t supposed to be able to solve it…just have a good time!
The murder mystery party returned the next year by popular demand with ‘The Wall Street Scandal’. Again, we wanted to see if we could solve it. After all, we had learned a few things from last year’s event. Again, I kept no record of what was served but I do have a photo with a caption that says we consumed seven bottles of wine before we had our murderer. Seven bottles for eight people over six hours? That’s it?! Knowing this group today, that still surprises me!
Every year thereafter, the mystery tradition continued. The group aged like a fine wine while the story lines got more and more far-fetched. The staging and costumes got more and more professional. We even won a decorating contest hosted by one of the game’s publishing houses for a life-size horse that Chuck and I cut out and painted for the ‘Fame, Money and Murder’ mystery (by Merri Mysteries) set on a horse ranch.
The meals got more extravagant and wine duty was turned over to the friend with the most wine knowledge to pair a fine selection with each course. Because I had to provide him with the menu in advance, I produced a restaurant-style menu for each evening along with the wine pairings…now leaving me with records of the events.
The annual murder mystery evening became a great excuse to giggle together over good food and great wine. In fact, by this point we felt we were such pros at mystery that there was some talk about writing the next one ourselves! Even from the start, the suggested menus that came with the games were just too simple for this group of foodies. But even so, we had progressed from dining on a simple coq au vin to the likes of crown roast and caviar.
We were going through 21 bottles (seven courses at three bottles per course) for 12 people over the course of the evening, plus some bubbly that helped get us all into character as we gathered. And, so no one had to concern themselves with driving home, a limo delivered everyone to our doorstep at the appointed hour and returned at midnight to take everyone home. The mystery tradition was an absolute hoot!!
It came to an end though the year when we relocated to California. It was hard enough to find an evening that could fit into all of our schedules when we lived within 50 miles of each other but trying to coordinate things cross-country proved a bit daunting. Not to say we won’t try again one of these years.
I have to say Chuck and I are itching to do a California-winery-themed mystery if we can talk the gang into all paying us a visit at the same time. Will we be able to pull it off? Who knows?! What will we serve and what wonderful California wines will we select as the pairings? It remains to be seen. Who will prove to be the guilty party? Your guess is as good as mine. For now, it’s all just a mystery.