The late Julia Reed was as prolific a cook and entertainer as she was a writer. Throughout the pages of her numerous books, she often referred to the many treasures with which she surrounded herself: an antique Chippendale sofa she inherited from her great grandmother; a spectacular set of luncheon china in a brilliant yellow hue presented to her by her uncle; portraits of birds; maps of the South; enough sterling silver to sink the Titanic.
Beginning tomorrow at 1 p.m. Neal Auction Company will present a virtual auction of Ms. Reed’s Estate to benefit her trust, which will continue her charitable work supporting organizations dedicated to education, the arts, and the betterment life in general. The auction runs through Sunday.
I only knew Ms. Reed in a very peripheral, social way—I knew her parents Clarke and Judy Reed a bit better as I was an occasional guest in their Greenville, Mississippi home during my Katrinacation-exhile when my family stayed with the Reed’s close friends and neighbors, Bern and Franke Keating. The families lived on Bayou Road and were known to entertain frequently and in grand style.
Julia Reed died last August of cancer at age 59 while vacationing with friends. Throughout her life she wrote for a host of A-list publications—perhaps there is something in the tea-colored Mississippi River water that runs beyond the slave-built levee that separates it from Bayou Road—Newsweek, Vogue, the New York Times, Elle Decor and Garden & Gun, among others. She later went on use her irreverent and stylish voice to chronicle Southern life, food, and entertaining in a collection of books that merge the genres of memoir and cookbook (this mash-up is my absolute favorite style of tome as is evidenced by the piles of them throughout my home). She split her time between New Orleans and Greenville, so she wrote about my own hometown as much as her own, littering her works generously with characters whom I know or am at least familiar, making her work more enticing to me.
I learned a few things from her through her writing and stories the Keatings used to share about the mischievous woman who grew up next door. That she was vacationing with friends at the time of her death suggests that, despite living with cancer, her death was an untimely surprise to her loved ones. Ms. Reed espoused making every day a celebration. Let us use a few of these pearls of wisdom to enhance our lives this weekend.
- Use the good stuff to celebrate life every day. Why are you keeping the good china, sliver, crystal, linens and whatnot for special occasions or holidays? Toss a piece of toast on some Limoges and make any day special. No fine china, you say. That’s ok. Most millennials eschew the old family goods so thrift stores (Bridge House, Goodwill, the Salvation Army) are stocked with great finds on the cheap. Or, if you are so inclined, you may find something at Ms. Reed’s Estate Auction this weekend.
- Scatter vases (empty bottles if that is all you have around) filled with fresh flowers or cuttings of interesting leaves around your home to bring nature inside. It will make you feel good. You do not need any money for this, just a pair of scissors. My friends call me The Leaf Thief, but that is another story.
- Master the art of the dinner party. Right now, you will have to keep it at 10 or less and you should do this outside with plenty of space. There is not much going on in Julia’s native Greenville (save for Doe’s Eat Place), but it is made brilliant and exciting through dinner parties. One of Julia’s tricks: Mixing the high and the low. In Julia Reed’s South: Spirited Entertaining and High-Style Fun All Year Long (Rizzoli) she wrote of serving steamed okra in a chunky tomato vinaigrette with a high-tone rolled veal loin stuffed with green peppercorns and sage alongside her mother’s recipe for curried rice salad with marinated artichoke hearts. Do your own version of something like that.
- Fried chicken from Popeye’s, Brother’s Food Mart (my personal favorite, along with their meat pies) McHardy’s, or wherever, looks just fine on a nice platter and saves you a ton of time.
Just celebrate something, anything this weekend. Most of us are scared, stressed out, broke or going broke, and losing track of time. Just set that aside for a bit reach out for someone (that lonely neighbor, the enemy with whom it is high time to bury the hatchet, an estranged friend, a relative with whom you have grindingly different political ideologies), find something to be grateful for and celebrate that. Because life is short, you just never know, and, in the Grand Scheme of Things, how important are our petty differences anyway? Now ya’ll play nice.