''We must get together soon,'' a favorite relative of mine remarked last year when we met at a wedding reception. ''The only time we seem to see each other is at formal outings. It's a shame, isn't it?''
It was a shame. My relative and I shared a dilemma that is increasingly common among families and friends today, a tendency to wait until a graduation, golden anniversary, or other large function drew us into one another's company. Understandably pressured because of limited time and crowded schedules, we often put off seeing the people we most enjoyed, reasoning that another bridal shower was sure to come along eventually, and we could hurriedly catch up on each other's lives again.
However, a few weeks after our conversation, I received an unusual invitation from my relative. ''Our patio has finally been completed,'' it read. ''Please drop by on Sunday afternoon and help us celebrate.''
Intrigued, our family responded and found several old friends admiring the backyard construction and roasting hot dogs on the grill. ''I've never been to a New Patio Celebration,'' I teased our hostess.
She smiled. ''I know it's a silly excuse. But I decided that if I was ever going to see the folks I really like I'd have to create an event.'' And she did.
Since then, the create-an-event idea has been picked up by other people we know. It differs from a formal outing in many ways: the ''event'' is often spontaneous, with no more than a day or two's notice; food is minimal or of the bring-your-own variety; and those invited fall into a random pattern. The theme seems to be, ''If our family is going to experience this situation anyway, why not include a few extra people and make an 'event' out of it, a welcome opportunity to share time with those we love.'' And the events are as varied as the friendships.
Last summer, for instance, one of our neighbors sent a note up and down the block: ''Our kids' high school jazz band will be practicing in our yard this Saturday afternoon. Come over for a free concert!'' Dragging lemonade and lawn chairs, most of the neighborhood turned out for the occasion, enjoying the music and each other's company. As a sidelight, my husband and I became acquainted with a new family and the next day created another event, walking the children to a nearby park and sharing a supper picnic.
I well remember the note I received this past holiday season from a friend who lived near our most popular mall: ''If you're Christmas shopping this Saturday afternoon, take a break in my living room!'' I did, and was delighted to meet several old friends, all sharing mugs of cocoa and resting weary feet. What a wonderful pause in our hectic rounds, and a creative way to recapture the Christmas spirit.
Creating events needn't be restricted to adult socializing, of course. Almost anything ''different'' can become a special occasion for a child and provide him with the chance to deepen his own friendships. One warm autumn day, when the myriad of toys and game pieces had to be cleaned out of the garage, I told my daughter to phone a friend and invite her over for a ''Toy Wash.''
Wearing bathing suits, the girls happily hosed down all the playthings, discarding broken items and deciding what to pack away for next year. With minimal supervision (and homemade cookies) from me, the job got done, and the children enjoyed both companionship and a mutual feeling of accomplishment.
On another occasion, a friend and I who had spent the morning at a school committee meeting impulsively went to our sons' classrooms at noon and took the boys out for lunch. Our youngsters still talk about what an exciting and unexpected treat it was.
Job demands and busy schedules can rob us of the time we need to stay in touch with the special people in our lives. How much more rewarding to create a time and place - and a special event of our own - to celebrate friendship.