Fa La La: A Birthday Carol

Monday Morning Musings:

“Looking back, seeing far, landing right where we are

And oh, you’re aging, oh and I am aging,

Oh, aren’t we aging well?”

–Dar Williams, “You’re Aging Well”

 

“I am the ghost of Christmas Present,” said the Spirit. “Look upon me.”

–Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

 

On my sixtieth birthday, I wake,

and I feel fine,

the same as did when I was fifty-nine.

I’m Merril the same as I have always been

with the calm certainty that I am me,

and this is forever who I will be.

 

Celebrations take place over several days,

(like a Jewish holiday, you know)

each one with food and wine,

and I feel fine.

 

First my husband and I go to Monk’s Café

we’re bundled against the cold night

but still I appreciate the Christmas lights

as we scurry from our car to there

breathing bursts of frosty air

till we’re seated at a window table where we watch people

rushing and bustling, walking dogs of every size

we’re in a bit of a hurry,

as we have tickets to a show,

so we forego their famous mussels, but not the fries,

I have a glass of wine, and I feel fine.

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Pommes frite at Monk’s Cafe

 

The show is called The Carols,

set in a VFW Hall in New Jersey,

it’s 1944, the men are gone because of the war,

heartfelt, if not brilliant,

but their voices beautiful

much more than suitable,

there are Yiddish phrases and 1940’s slang.

We laugh though the jokes are old,

it’s kind of sweet, and we are sold,

the retelling of A Christmas Carol

with a Christmas brisket is very funny,

(and well worth the money),

and the Christmas tale, the Yiddish shtick,

the sister love, the examples of

reminds me of my family, too,

and all the silly things we do,

the ghosts of Christmases, past, present, and future

combine in memory,

aged in my mind, and I feel fine.

 

 

The next night, my husband and I see La La Land

like an old-fashioned musical

the stars sing and dance amidst the stars,

there is jazz and heartbreak,

snappy rhythms, and we hear the beat,

not of Forty-Second Street,

but of Los Angeles,

City of Angels, City of Stars

shining just for them.

We discuss the movie over Indian food,

I am in complete movie musical mood,

So when my husband says, “It was a Merril movie,”

he is right, and I feel fine.

(And the onion bhajia are divine.)

 

Another celebration, another day,

with one daughter and sisters,

more food and wine,

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more talk and laughter,

and it could go on forever after.

One sister brings some funny headwear,

and we take photos in the restaurant,

when I try on a hat

another says,

“You look so cute. Like a pirate. A pirate baker.”

We laugh because it’s all so silly,

but in these uncertain times, we run willy-nilly

and seek shelter in our love and family jokes,

these are the people I love, my folks,

and they give me the gift of their time–

and cheese, and chocolate, and some wine,

and yes, indeed, I do feel fine.

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At Tria Cafe Rittenhouse for my 60th birthday celebration.

 

Afterwards, my daughter and I walk to the Christmas Village,

she’s not seen it, and she snaps a selfie

with us in our silly hats–

and I think we’re wealthy,

my daughter and I to share this love and bond

that goes so far, and much beyond,

and later I read the poem she has written me,

cry a bit, at the beauty

of feelings that she has, and lets me see.

 

 

My other daughter sends me a text

that the end of the Sound of Music seems too real,

and it makes me sad to hear such fear,

and though we must fight, and though we ache,

still, there’s much to celebrate,

to climb every mountain and ford every spring

to find our dreams,

yet I think we are right where we are

and we are aging well,

though only time will tell.

And so, with family and friends,

I’ll hold on to love,

I’ll fit it closely like a glove,

and stare defiantly at fate,

raise a glass of blood-red wine

and tell the world, that I feel fine.

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Birthday card

 

It is rumored that more celebrating is on the way, so stay tuned!

Here is Dar Williams singing  “You’re Aging Well.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With Wrinkles and Mirth, Remember it All, Remember it Well

 Monday Morning Musings:

 H: We met at nine

M: We met at eight.

H: I was on time.

M: No, you were late.

H: Ah, yes, I remember it well.

We dined with friends

M: We dined alone

H: A tenor sang

M: A baritone

H: Ah, yes, I remember it well.

–Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe, “I Remember It Well, Gigi (1958)

(You can watch the clip here.)

 

“With mirth and laughter let old wrinkles come.”

–William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice, Act 1, Scene 1

 

The weekend began, a cancelled flight

a change in plans, arrival not in morning light

but dinner time instead

the arts and crafts afternoon postponed, but summer roll making takes place

dipping rice paper, filling, and rolling; no art or grace

perhaps,

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but we like to eat and talk and talk and eat

spicy, hot, crunchy, and sweet,

We say L’chaim, and toast with Sangria,

my girls and their spouses here together

we celebrate good news, now in summer weather

with cats under foot and spirits high

we laugh and talk, and so time flies.

 

With mirth and laughter

I remember it well.

 

The next day, for my mom, her birthday party

she’ll be 94, though not as hale, she’s still hearty

coming, too, her cousin S.

They live in the same Philadelphia building, on different floors,

they’ve both lived years, well, let’s say scores.

S. says at her age every birthday is a big one

(She’s just celebrated her 90th, but still ready for more fun.)

My husband and I drive them to my sister’s

our daughters and their spouses are in another car.

We pass a street, and S. recalls, a memory from afar

of a friend of hers that lived there once.

S. says, “They had a drugstore.”

and a husband who thought he was more.

He was not very bright, but rather full of himself,

 

With mirth and laughter

She remembers him well.

 

S.compares him to a current political candidate.

He thought he was so great,

he lost his business, a gambling debt

then became a maître d’ at a fancy restaurant

where he put on a fake British accent, no savant

that accent sometimes came, then went.

We pass an apartment house where S. once resided

my mom jumps in, with a remark, decided

a refrigerator S. mentions is like one they had in France.

 

(Now pause while I digress from rhyme

while Mom and S. discuss this time.)

 

“Where in France?” asks S.

My mom at first does not remember.

But then with triumph, announces, “Paris.”

“We were never in Paris!” says S.

“I don’t like Paris. It’s a big city like New York.”

“It was Paris,” my mother insists.

“You bought dishes,” says she.

“Oh, you’re right,” S. says. “It was Paris. I bought some dessert plates.”

“You bought a whole set of dishes,” my mom says, “You had them sent.”

“No, I bought some small plates. They tied them in a box with strings

and we carried them.”

Ah yes, they remember it well.

 

At my sister’s house, we arrive to celebrate

Generations eat, talk, laugh, debate

(Because we love to eat and talk)

We do so, then there’s cake with candles

My young great nephew expertly handles

this carrying it in with proud aplomb

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so for cakes, there’s more than one

because we need more birthday fun

My young grandnephew eats his—using both his fork and his hand

(because sometimes life is just so grand)

Then it’s time to share some cards and art

signs of affection, from the heart.

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Repeal Hyde Art Project, Megan J. Smith

With mirth and laughter

We remember it well.

 

There’s a movie of S. with a scene from one “real”

She was young, the movie quite “B”, a clip from the reel.

She tells us the story of how she was a director’s assistant

then became the line coach for actresses not gifted

with brains, as much as beauty, and lines they uttered shifted

or could not be recalled at all.

So S. was given a scene and sits at a desk, but she asked for pay first

no more work without being reimbursed.

My daughter-in-law tell of her analysis of a survey of teenage risky behavior

There are more stories that day, of middle school age problems and dramas

It’s the age, we all agree, nodding daughters and mamas,

Oh yes, we all agree, but they outgrow the drama.

 

With mirth and laughter

We remember it well.

 

We head out, S. says it was a lovely party.

(I am glad both my mom and S. are still so hearty)

Then S. says with a laugh

“It makes you want to get another year older, just so you can do it again.”

And so we set out then, set out then, driving in the rain

to take them home from this celebration

with food purchased and packaged in the trunk of the car

which I carry upstairs, thankfully not too far.

A day of stories and celebration–

We may not remember it all, but we remember it well.

“With mirth and laughter let old wrinkles come.”

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Indecision, or Sometimes I’m a River

Did you have those days when you can’t decide what you want? Salty or sweet? Comedy or drama? Work or nap? Years ago, the Peter Paul Cadbury candy company made use of people’s indecisiveness with a campaign telling consumers that they could have either Mounds (no nuts) and Almond Joy (with nuts)–or both! The advertisements also played on the word “nuts” as slang for crazy.

“Sometimes you feel like a nut / Sometimes you don’t / Almond Joy’s got nuts / Mounds don’t.”

(You can see one of their TV advertisements from the 1980s here.)

One of my favorite treats is dark chocolate covered pretzels—salty, bitter, sweet, and crunchy all in one bite. You might decide to watch a movie that’s classified as a drama, but that also has funny scenes. You might choose to write a work of fiction that’s based on a historical incident. You might plan to work for an hour, and then go out with friends or watch TV—and then eat sweet and salty treats.

“I don’t see much sense in that,” said Rabbit.
“No,” said Pooh humbly, “there isn’t. But there was going to be when I began it. It’s just that something happened to it along the way.”

I’ve been Pooh. Sometimes things happen. Icy streets force you to change your plans, but you end up watching a movie or reading a book instead and have a great day.

Discoveries are made when something happens along the way. You wander away from your usual route, and there’s a restaurant you never noticed before. You suddenly decide to make a pot of soup and add all those leftover bits in your refrigerator to it—and it’s the best soup you ever made.

You think you’re writing a blog post about one thing, and suddenly it’s something else entirely.

Hmmm. . .well, yes.

The other day in a spin class (have you figured out that I do a lot of thinking while in spin class?), the instructor played a song that began with the theme from the old TV show, The Munsters, but then went into something else–something happened along the way to the melody. I meant to write more about musical “mashups,” and other types of combinations, but then I started thinking about something that happened when my daughters were young.

One day I played a game with them that became known as “The Queenie Queenie Show.” I think it began on a cold day, perhaps there was bad weather, and I was looking for something to do with them. I really don’t remember. It was the spontaneous decision of a mom at home with the kids. I had them place their kid-sized chairs in the living room and sit as though they were the audience for a show. I was the queen, of course, so I became Queenie Queenie. The show started with me putting on a fake genteel air and telling them the Queenie Queenie show was very refined. I think I played part of a Bach minuet on the piano, and then I hummed and did a really fake dance with exaggerated movements—talking all the while about how cultured and refined it was. I may have been channeling the “Washington’s Birthday” number in the movie Holiday Inn. My tune changed and my movements wilder, but then went back to the slower “the minuet.” Gradually, the dance became sillier and sillier and faster and faster until they got up and joined me in dancing around, and we all shouted and danced and collapsed in a heap of giggles. I only did the Queenie Queenie show a few times, and only for the two of them. Even my husband has never seen it.

So what was the point? It was something that happened along the way, a spontaneous idea that became a family memory. It is something that never could have been planned. It just happened.

I’m between book projects right now. I’m trying to decide what I want to do. Encyclopedia or monograph? Fiction or nonfiction? Maybe some type of weird combination? I can’t decide yet what I want. Sometimes indecision is a good thing. I’ll let my mind wander and see what happens.

“Rivers know this: there is no hurry. We shall get there some day.”

A.A. Milne, Winnie the Pooh

Indeed, Pooh.

Memories and Imagination

An early memory. My sister, all big eyes and short brown curls, stares at a coffee cup on the kitchen table. The cup holds the cold dregs of one of our parents’ cups of morning coffee. My sister is about two, and I am about four. As I watch, my sister slowly picks up the cup and pours the contents over her head. I watch her, and then run and yell, “Mommmyyy!”

This memory is vivid, but is it real? My younger sister went through a phase during which she poured everything on her head: the aforementioned coffee, paint, Elmer’s Glue, and perhaps some other things. (She may have stumbled onto something as a toddler—because she has always had beautiful hair.) I wonder if my “memory,” is in fact the way my brain remembers the stories I have heard.

OK. So here’s the deal. I assume most people see images in their heads when they read books. But maybe not. There have been times when I’m not certain if I’ve seen a movie version of a book, or if the images in my head are from my own imagination. I’ve fallen asleep while reading and had vivid dreams in which I lived and took part in the story.

Maybe it’s just me.

I’m wondering about this because recently I was listening to a musical on a CD. I’ve never seen a production of Ordinary Days, but as I was listening to one of the songs, I realized I was picturing the whole scene in my head. It was so clear, as though I was watching a movie. I could see a couple standing on the roof, paper of all colors and shapes falling from the sky, and a crowd gathering in the street.

So I wonder, will this become a memory at some point, and will I think I was there?