Irene Robinson Smith is moving away from Covington. Not too far, she says. She can be back in 30 minutes, and she and her husband are keeping a small space in Covington they can call home.
If you don’t know her personally, you probably have seen her on Charter Cable of Newton County, where she is the star. She cooks and visits restaurants and chats with local chefs.
She also is the author of several cookbooks. The recipes are inventive and usually not too difficult. But more importantly, the cookbooks are filled with running commentary about various episodes in her life. Some of them are not too flattering to Irene, but all are hilarious. (Never trust a person who can’t laugh at herself.)
Spend more than 20 minutes with Irene and she will make you laugh more than once with her outrageous comments on life, particularly her own life.
She is also known for her dinner parties. Not only is the food inventive and fun; the decorations are, too. Table settings have place cards attached to Christmas ornaments or something representing whatever the season dictates. I went to one dinner where she had decorated and printed menus of her planned dinner at each plate.
She is always generous with her time and culinary reputation. I don’t think there is a charity in Covington that hasn’t auctioned off one of her dinners. The recent roast of David Waller featured a champagne brunch by Irene. And she said she’d bring the champagne.
She is a party-thrower and a partygoer.
So, I was somewhat surprised when she called me and invited me to a tea at her house to say goodbye to friends. Since she’s the one leaving, it seems as if the party should be thrown for her.
But no one does a party like Irene.
She said she was just inviting a few friends. And she did just that. About 15 of us were there.
The food was typical Southern tea party fare: cucumber sandwiches, cheese straws, cookies and iced tea.
What wasn’t too typical is that, Irene admitted, she had forgotten the movers were coming that day and time. While we sat in her living room and reminisced, men were muscling furniture out the front door. She would get up occasionally and tell the men how to handle a certain piece of furniture, and then laugh and come back to the party.
Absolutely nothing fazes her. And there is absolutely nothing that she can’t laugh about, eventually.
After we had nibbled on the goodies, she asked each one of us in turn to share a memory of her. She then shared one about that person. There were lots of laughs and giggles, and some alluded to stories that shouldn’t be mentioned. Some stories touched on when Irene was a child or taught school for a brief period before she got married.
Others recalled her work with the Newton County Historical Society. I believe she was the force behind the cemetery tours. Again, with the Historical Society she was always generous with volunteering the house she once lived in, Dixie Manor. Many meetings and Christmas parties for the society were held there.
One woman recalled her husband coming home to tell his wife he had been hired to restore an outhouse.
There was an outhouse at Dixie Manor, a four-seater, Irene claims. She says one for every bear and one left over.
My husband and Irene were in high school together. When the two of them get on the phone together, the gossip flows. They have a good time. And, if it’s not gossip, it’s "Do you remember when?" It’s nice to have a friend with whom you you can share memories.
I’m not from Covington, and I am glad Irene and my husband have this bond.
Covington will have a little less laughter and fun without Irene.
And a little less philanthropy. Behind her laughter is a heart that is always willing to help.
But the speculation at the tea party was how long it would take for Irene to organize and run the place she will now call home. The guesses ran from four days to one month.
Paula Travis is a retired teacher from the Newton County School System. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.