At the Bar: When the Last Guest Leaves

There's an emptiness to this type of silence

By Mark Hinds | Updated May 19, 2021

One of the hardest things for me and I’m guessing for other people who like to host things is when the last guest leaves and you’re left with an empty house.

This past Fourth of July I was reminded in a deep way of what this is like.  The way my Fourth came together, I was able to take two full weeks off work, with the week leading up to the Fourth as vacation and the week after as some much need quiet writing time, before having a second group of friends join me at the lake for the final weekend.

Since college, I’ve spent almost every Fourth of July at my family’s cabin in western Wisconsin with passels of friends.  It’s chaos at its best, people coming and going, friends camped out all over the cabin, huge meals, boating, swimming, cocktails, games, fires, fireworks, early mornings, and late night boat rides.  It’s everything I could want in a Fourth.  It also can be exhausting.

Over the years I’ve figured out a few things to help keep me sane, the first is to take the whole week of the Fourth off every year, that way I can balance my need for hammock time with the amount of time I spend playing cruise director.  Since most of my friends are gainfully employed and don’t treat a week off in July as a religious holiday, it means the craziness builds over the course of the week as everyone starts to arrive.

As people come through the door, you can feel the energy start to build.  It’s the same thing that happens at a party in between the moment when there are only a few people loitering around the edges of a room and the moment when you can’t move and wonder how all these people managed to magically appear.

The week always ends with two of my favorite Bone Lake traditions – the boat parade and a big fireworks show on the lake.  The boat parade is where people from all over the lake decorate their boats, usually with some tongue and cheek reference to the lake’s name and tour the whole lake showing off their work; this past year our theme was Game of Bones.  It used to be a huge deal with forty to fifty boats a year in it and people lining the shore and their docks to watch the boats pass by.  The parade has been smaller the past few years, but it’s still a fun tradition and something that helps create a sense of place.

This is followed by the Sunday morning who has to get back to town the earliest dance; also known as I’m tired, this place is a disaster, I want to go home, goodbye.

In most years this means I’m heading home as soon as cleanup is done to try and find some sleep, before getting up and heading back to work on Monday, both completely exhausted and refreshed.

There were a couple of things different about this year, the first is a good friend was moving out of town for work at the end of July, and I knew this was probably the last time she’d be at the cabin and while I’m excited for her there are times when I get tired of watching good people go.  The second of course is I didn’t go home, I stayed, which meant I got to watch everyone go, one by one, out the door and down the driveway they went and as each person left everything got quieter and quieter until there wasn’t anyone there but me and the pup.

There’s an emptiness to this type of silence that always leaves me feeling hollow inside.  It’s more than just missing the chatter and excitement of a good time in progress; it’s almost as if a part of everyone still lingers and that all I have to do is turn the corner and there they will be.  There is also something about the loss of possibility when what could have been becomes what has been that stings the planner the hardest.

As someone who spends an inordinate amount of time planning dinners, events, projects, programs, etc…I find that a big part of my life is about anticipation and when something ends there is a sense of loss and focus, nothing like when you really lose someone, but there is still a hole that needs to be filled.

In many ways I’m lucky, in the world I live in there’s always something around the corner that needs to be planned, there are always people to invite, and there’s always time to start thinking about what’s next.  I think those of us built this way need to have one foot in what’s ahead to be happy, to thrive, and without something down the road, we lose our way.

So just know that when you’re the last guest out the door that your taking something with you that’s not so easily replaced.

Mark Hinds is the Founder and Publisher of Umami, his “At the Bar” columns are his excuse to spend time in great bars “conducting research” and writing about what’s happening with Umami and in life.

Mark is an experienced food writer, recipe developer, and photographer who is also Umami’s publisher and CEO. A passionate cook who loves to cook for friends, he can often be found in the kitchen or by the grill testing new recipes.

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