I missed my mother-in-law last night. It was a Jane Austen evening, and there were few things she loved more than Miss Austen. She died in 1998, at age 66, of ovarian cancer. I miss her often, but never more than when I am among her pretty things and all her pretty grandchildren.
Could there be anything more charming than a family gathering to recite, to sing, to play clarinet and cello and (bravely, for Sweet Niece has been learning to play it for only two months) trumpet? And, as in a novel, there are the undercurrents of any social evening. The two families of Papa and his new wife, Delightful, socialize pleasantly, but wonder what they have gotten themselves into as they tentatively explore the edges of a combined family life.
Papa claims this is the 37th annual production, but there were many years when we simply sang The Twelve Days of Christmas, our parts distributed on little slips of paper. I always hoped for a low number, in order to get more singing! Starting about five years ago, it began to be more of a structured evening: some readings and a few songs followed by an adaptation of the smorgasbord my mother-in-law’s Swedish heritage inspired, as influenced by Papa’s gourmet predilections. The most important feature of the first year or so may have been the little ones singing “Christmas is Coming,” as their fathers and mother did long ago.
The program went on, perhaps, a bit too long, but I will share with you some high points, or rather the items that involved my little family. The evening began, as always, with #1 Son reading the gospel. I was asked to share some remarks about the Winter Solstice and added to them Susan Cooper’s poem, “The Shortest Day.” #2 Son and his father played a Mozart duet on clarinet and cello. The Princess sang “I Wonder as I Wander” with yours truly accompanying, the first time I’ve played the piano in front of anyone for many years-
-terrifying! And Pure Luck, in his second annual appearance, brought down the house with his reading of “How The Grinch Stole Christmas.”
The “production” ended with what Papa always mistakenly calls the “Twelve Nights of Christmas.” This year a family friend accompanied the singing, a great boon as we have a large contingent of off-key singers in addition to the good ones. The Princess and Brilliant Niece were an appropriate pair of turtle doves. Sons 1 and 2 were hearty in singing out Four Calling Birds. Pure Luck and I paired on those nine dancing ladies. TFoMC, who is the #1 Son in his family, was called on to sing the Partridge as a solo. He was a bit taken aback, but gave it a brave try the first verse or two, until I heard my #1 shout out, “We’re helping him.” By about the 8th verse, I could see the three of them, my boys on either side of their dad, arms around each other, the partridge solitary no longer.
I hope she knows.