Allyson Johnson

Pieces of my Mind

Archive for the category “TOWN CRIER”

A Piece of My Mind: How Much Do You Need?

I recently spent time with several different friends who have “downsized”.

One couple is selling their four-bedroom, three bath house with the aim of cashing out the equity, buying a smaller home in a less expensive location, and using the extra cash to follow some lifelong dreams. 

Twenty five years of accumulation now fills the two car garage from floor to ceiling, except for a narrow aisle to allow access to the building inspector. It includes furniture inherited from grandparents, portraits of ancestors, and many beloved books.   They plan to consign the dining-room furniture and donate the sofa, the piano and half the book cases to an NGO, but still worry about how they will fit the things they really love or need into a mere two-bedroom, one bath house with a one-car garage.

A second friend has moved into a two-bedroom one-bath house with a one-car garage after a divorce.  His home is filled with art and artifacts related to his life and interests, and he does have bonus space: a basement stairway leads to a fully equipped wood shop and foundry where he can hone his woodworking and brass-casting skills.  Every corner, every bookcase, every picture (and there are a lot of them) holds a story relating to his life.  It is the perfect home— for one person.  Yes, he has downsized, and wrapped his life around him.

My third set of friends have left a home that  accommodated a family of nine, including two natural and five adopted children, now all grown and gone.  They moved to a three-bedroom 2 bath house. The new house is smaller, but it feels big, as it is perched on a bluff overlooking the ocean with  270 degree views from the living room, study and kitchen. Every wall, every nook, every cupboard is filled with items salvaged, discovered, given, or retrieved – a thousand stories.  It is the home of two people but it feels as though it also comprises a small art gallery and museum.

I also visited a younger friend whose business is taking properties that scream “Scrape me!” and turning them into attractive AirBnB one-month rentals for young professionals.  His prospective renters need an attractive and functional bathroom; a kitchen with a stove, oven, sink and microwave, and the minimal necessary pots, pans, and utensils;  a bedroom with good reading lights and a comfortable bed for two people;and a sitting/eating space near the kitchen with a large screen TV and internet access.

I made these visits with my sister who owns a small teardrop-shaped trailer which includes a king-sized bed, lots of storage nooks under the mattress and above the bed space, a small TV screen and DVD player, heat and AC, and a kitchen with a two-burner stove, a microwave, and a battery-powered chest refrigerator.  We traveled comfortably for 11 days. I had enough clothing to keep comfortable from the cold foggy shores of Washington state to the searing summer heat of California’s Central Valley.

A one-bedroom Air BnB or a traile, give you a simplified life, but a life with no sentiment, no memories, no past. 

So how much of your past do you want to bring along when you “downsize”?  How many memories do you think you will need?

A Piece of My Mind: Hallowed Ground?

Louisiana Monument

A Millennial friend of mine, touring the Gettysburg battlefield, asked “Why are there all these memorials glorifying people who fought for such a terrible cause?”  It was a question I had never considered despite many visits to the battlefield. 

Yes, Gettysburg is a historical site. Yes, the statues and memorials mark where generals actually stood and watched the battle, where particular battalions fought, and what contribution they made to the course of the battle.  Some of the Confederate monuments, such as the one designed by Gutzon Borglum, the sculptor of Mr. Rushmore, have artistic merit in themselves. But some are cringe-worthy.

The scripture on the Mississippi monument, for example:

            On this ground our brave sires fought for their righteous cause; In glory they sleep who give to it their lives

Who can read this today without gritting their teeth?

Mississippi monument

“I read that most of these Confederate monuments were put up in the 30’s at the height of the Jim Crow era, funded by the Daughters of the Confederacy,” my Millennial continued.  “What kind of euphemistic name is that?  If they called themselves “Daughters of Slaveholders”, would they have been allowed to put up monuments in a national park?  Does Germany put up battlefield monuments funded by Daughters of Nazis?”

My Millenial friend went on to wonder “Why is the monument to General Lee the largest on the battlefield?  He was supposed to have been such a great strategist, yet he sent his army to attack a stronger force in a fortified position uphill.  I’m told the professors at West Point use Lee at Gettysburg as a textbook example of what not to do strategically.

“Why does he get a giant statue when he basically did what Tennyson condemned in “Charge of the Light Brigade,” sending his forces into withering artillery fire in the Valley of Death?  Only there were a lot more than six hundred who died for his hubris. And Longsteeet – the only general who had the guts to stand up to Lee and tell him the charge was a bad idea – he only gets a 1/4 life- size statue hidden away from the street in a thicket.”

Virginia Monument

I tried to answer.  “Lee was supposed to be the best general in the Army at the time.  He was offered the leadership of the Union Army and agonized over turning it down. His uncle signed the Declaration of Independence. He symbolized the agony of having to decide between Country and State loyalties.”

“Yes, I know he graduated at the top of his class from West Point,” countered my Millennial. “But what did he learn, except to believe his own hype? He betrayed the oath he took at West Point when he defected to the Secessionists.   Yes, he was descended from Revolutionary War aristocracy.  But he was a still a slave holder, and defended slavery.

My millennial friend went on to ask “Why set aside all this land to commemorate warfare and dying?  The National Military Cemetery and the monument to Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address up on Cemetery Ridge say everything one would want to say about the men and boys who died to eliminate slavery in the US and to keep the country together.  The cemetery is what Lincoln called “hallowed ground”, not the battlefield.   These Matthew Brady photos of dead soldiers at Devil’s Den, and the informative signs about the Bloody Angle and the Slaughter Pen –  it’s like a theme park for carnage.”

Confederate sharp shooter at Devil’s Den

We continued along Confederate Avenue, then drove across the valley to the sites of the Union lines from Little Round Top down to Cemetery Ridge.  I was trying to think of a good counter to my Millennial friend.  I’m still working on it.

Life in a Covid-19 Hot Spot – Week 37 – What’s the Point? (LATC 12/9/20)

Setting up for Thanksgiving was difficult this year.  I brought out my late mother-in-law’s harvest-red paisley tablecloth and the bin full of Thanksgiving cornucopias, fake fruit, and fold-out turkeys for decorating the table.  Since we didn’t need to put any leaves in the table, I had to fold the cloth under at both ends to keep it from dragging on the floor, and we only had room for one cornucopia and one turkey.  What’s the point of polishing the silver and setting out my grandmother’s crystal  candleholders if it’s just the two of us?

But the two of us are important.  I realized how thankful I was that I wasn’t eating Thanksgiving dinner alone.  I got out the silver and the candleholders.

The day after  Thanksgiving we usually start decorating for Christmas.   I dragged the artificial tree out of the attic and found the outdoor lights in a box behind them, buried under a year’s worth of odds and ends.  We have this light-stringing business down. The lights are put away in orderly coils labeled “Garage”, “Kitchen Window”, “Front Porch Swags”, “Porch Eaves”, “Living Room Window”.  The cup hooks which hold the strings are painted white to blend with our trim, so they become invisible out of season.  My husband has taken apart my garden shuffle hoe to devise a tool which enables him to lift the strings onto the cup hooks with minimal trips up and down a ladder. This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 20201211_164842web.jpg

As we arranged five over-size  lights on the lemon tree in front of our picture window, I mentioned “The only trouble with these big lights is that they block the view of our tree inside from anyone passing by. “

“We don’t do it for the neighbors, we do it for us,” he answered.

Just then our neighbor, who happens to be Jewish, walked by.  “Putting your lights up again!” she called out.  “It always lifts my spirits when I see your lights go up each year!”

“Mine too!” I called back, trying hard not to smirk at my husband.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 20181220_170501web-1.jpgThe lights and the tree are for us, but they are also for others.  At least a few times a week during the holiday season I know we will be driving around different neighborhoods looking at holiday light displays. And each  display tells us something. Whether  it is the flickering candles of Dewali,  blue and white lights surrounding a menorah, old-fashioned multi-colored incandescents strung along the eaves, dazzling LED displays zigzagging up and down the tree branches, or even Darth Vader and Yoda wearing Santa hats and battling with red and green light sabers,  someone in this house is reaching out to let us know a little bit about who they are.

In this difficult time of separation, custom and tradition are comforting.  So we will put up our Christmas tree, even though  our four- year- old granddaughter can’t come to help  us decorate it.  I’m hoping someone else’s granddaughter might walk past and see our tree, and that it will make her smile. 

A Piece of my Mind: 100 Years of Expectations

suffrage

A century ago the 19th amendment was ratified by a margin of one vote in the legislature of the 36th of 36 states which were needed for approval.  It’s hard to believe now that the decades-long struggle of women to gain political equality with men was ended by such a narrow margin.  At the time, there were many worries and hopes tied to the prospect of women voting.  Let’s see how it worked out.

An early  argument against giving women the vote was that they would simply vote as directed by their husbands or fathers.  Having grown up in a politically divided house I can personally testify that this is not true.  My mother idolized Franklin Roosevelt;  my father said that “I always vote for the best man, but he always happens to be a Republican.” Our dining room discussions were lively.

Many expected that women would vote in a bloc, with a focus on “women’s issues”, including education, health, religion, and other domestic matters.  But it turns out that women, like men, have differing ideas about what should be done regarding these “women’s issues”, and the bloc melts away in the face of such divisive proposals as unrestricted abortion access,  school busing,  and federal vouchers for private schools.

Some felt that the “gentle sex” was unsuited to the rough-and-tumble world of politics, while others hoped that the feminine influence would calm that world down and make it less hard-edged.  It’s true, as an immediate effect of the addition of women to the voting rolls, polling stations moved out of bars and into churches and schools, making the whole process cleaner and quieter.

But anyone who believes that women politicians are  gentler in negotiation, or more willing to find common ground with the opposition, is invited to sit in on some of our  City Council meetings, with our five women council members as frequently and vocally at odds as any group of men could be.

The long-term consequences of the 19th Amendment are still making themselves known. In the past 100 years women have become more and more visible in public, commercial, and political areas, but there are still many issues which are considered “women’s natural interests” and others where women are viewed as interlopers.

Even in education,traditionally a “woman’s area”, progress for women has been slow. When my mother worked at the local high school in the early 70’s, her appointment as Vice Principal of Curriculum was headlined in the local paper as “First Woman becomes Senior Administrator at LAHS”.  Whenmy sons attended the same high school 20 years later, the school finally appointed its first woman principal.  Twenty-eight years later, the district hired its first woman as superintendent.

The early suffragists recognized that the 19th Amendment fell short in many ways.  It states that “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex” but it said nothing about giving women equal protection of the laws in other ways.  The Equal Rights Amendment first proposed by early US suffragist Alice Paul in 1923, was finally ratified by Congress in 1972, but has yet to be approved by the required ¾ of state legislatures.

Wouldn’t it be amazing if in three years we could celebrate the 100th anniversary of the introduction of the Equal Rights Amendment by actually enacting it?womens-suffrage-gettyimages-514700294

Freeway-Free in France: Ceremonies (LATC July 3, 2019, for our Veterans)

20190606_102633docI had the good fortune to be among the 12,000 + invited guests at the 75th anniversary ceremonies commemorating the D-Day landings in Normandy.

All 12,000 + guests were brought in by shuttle buses from staging areas in nearby towns (except for the VIPs, like Presidents Macron and Trump and their supporting cast, who arrived by helicopter). The security lines were long, but we passed the time checking out the helicopter arrivals, and applauding the mostly wheelchair-bound, heavily be-medaled D-Day survivors as they wheeled past on the way to the VIP tent.

20190606_114147cropWe were among the last 4000 to arrive at the American Cemetery, and the stage and podium seemed several football fields away in the distance.  But giant Jumbotron screens gave us close up views of Air Force One (both jet and helicopter) and its occupants as they landed, and of President Trump’s ceremonial greeting of guests President and Mrs. Macron onto what is considered American soil.

When we took our eyes from the screens, we looked out over a sea of white crosses, each decorated with a  American and a French flag,  stretching beyond the audience area for even more hundreds of yards. So many dead buried in tidy rows, as if drawn up for a regimental parade. An occasional Star of David marked a grave instead of a cross. A rare cross with gold lettering indicated a Medal of Honor recipient. An occasional soldier is “known only to God.” It seems right that all the soldiers are equal in death, except for those singled out for their valor.  The son of a US President has the same marker as an unknown soldier.

Before the speeches, national anthems were sung.  During the speeches, 12,000 people listened quietly.  President  Macron thanked the veterans who were present in English, and presented four of them with the French Legion of Honor (including air kisses on both cheeks).  President Trump told stories of the heroics of two D-Day soldiers, then turned to shake their hands personally on the stage.

Afterward, the ceremony continued.  We heard taps played by a distant trumpet, followed by a 21- gun salute, delivered by three mighty howitzers aimed out over Omaha Beach. Five fighter jets flew over in the missing man formation. A platoon of other military aircraft filled the sky, emulating the flocks of fighters and bombers on D-day.  Finally, a second squadron of nine jets, trailing red, white, and blue contrails, roared across the sky.20190606_130439doc

The whole event was both humbling and satisfying.  We had paid appropriate homage to those who fought for us, and in doing so honored those who are still fighting.

Our French guide had told us that, in France, the D-day landings are never referred to as an invasion.  Instead, they were the forces of liberation. Tomorrow, if this piece is published on schedule, will be Independence Day.  Let’s celebrate our own liberation with due ceremony, while remembering those we owe it to.

[Article first published in the Los Altos Town Crier this summer;  still appropriate as Veteran’s Day approaches.]

A Piece of My Mind: Tradition (Los Altos Town Crier 11/7/18)

 
P1020475docJust finished with Thanksgiving, just starting to get my mind set for upcoming Christmas, so it’s no wonder I’ve been mindful of traditions.

In my family, Thanksgiving has always been a holiday of hospitality, with assorted family members from near and far, old friends and some new ones, significant others and random dorm-mates, all sharing around a table or two or even three.  Over several generations, some of our traditions have morphed or been abandoned, while other new ones have been added.

When I was a girl it was my job to polish the silver in anticipation of any holiday gathering.  My mother would bring out her wedding silver, together with silver plated serving platters, a gravy boat, and covered casseroles, all needing considerable elbow grease to bring them up to her sparkling standard.  I was also in charge of making place cards and arranging the seating, preferably alternating men and women with no one from the same family sitting next to each other.  Later I became the hostess, and my granddaughter took over polishing my wedding silver as needed, as well as making and arranging place cards.20151125_182234web

Growing up we always shared Thanksgiving with another family we had known since I was a toddler.  They always brought candied yams in a casserole and a couple of kinds of pies.  Decades later those friends had passed on, but meanwhile I have secured a husband who is a master hand at mashed potatoes, and my brother-in- law prides himself on pies.  No chance of a carbohydrate shortage here!20151126_195352web

 

After Thanksgiving dinner had been cleared, we would set up the table for a game of Michigan (aka “Tripoli” in some circles) using a game cloth that had been hand-stenciled by my grandmother, and some poker chips which were as old.  This game depends mostly on luck and can be played by anyone old enough or young enough to hold a fan of playing cards.  My mother took delight in cheating, and we all took even more delight in catching her at it.

More recently, my husband added a tradition of offering champagne or sparkling cider to all before sitting down to eat, together with an obligatory group sing of “Over the River and Through the Woods” to the faltering accompaniment of my recorder.  (Having drunk a glass of champagne in advance helps everyone to participate with gusto).  The wearing of pilgrim hats or other costume items is optional for this performance, which  is a great ice-breaker for any of the new significant others or recently met friends.

All great traditions.  But this Thanksgiving our minds were also aware of the wildfire victims who had lost so much of their traditions to inferno, and the migrants at our southern borders and  around the world who had abandoned their traditions in hope of finding a new home free of hunger and fear.

I thought a lot about the American tradition which has seen our country as “a nation of immigrants” , as “a melting pot”, as “a shining city on a hill.”  I remember the poem which I memorized for school as a girl,  inscribed on the base of the Statue of Liberty:

Bring me your tired, your poor
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.
Bring these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me.
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.Bronze-plaque-of-New-Colossus

This is a tradition of hospitality that is more difficult to stick with in challenging times, but more important than turkey, more American than apple and pumpkin pie.  As a nation I hope we can live up to this traditional vision of our best selves.

A Piece of my Mind: Homecoming Parade (Los Altos Town Crier, Nov. 7, 2018)

20181019_133643docHomecoming Parade – Now and Then

My spouse and I biked up to our downtown in mid-October to watch the High School Homecoming Parade. 

20181019_132743webMain Street had been blocked off between State Street and First Street.  Both sides of the street was lined with people, some who had brought chairs for better viewing.  Many of the spectators wore T-shirts with the “HOCO” Home coming Logo, overlying a large candy-swirl sucker honoring the Candyland parade theme. There was a lively mix of parents, grandparents, younger siblings, and fellow students of the marchers. Lots of hugs were being exchanged.

Here they came!  First a couple of motorcycle policemen, then one of the  Fire Department ‘s white trucks, lights flashing. Then the parade proper, led by the high school’s eagle mascot. with the 20 members of the Homecoming Court riding in sports cars or on the back seat of antique convertibles in mixed or same-sex couples. 

In between the members of the court marched delegations of the different Fall sports teams –football leading the way in  T-shirts and sweatshirts, followed by Field Hockey, Water Polo, Girls Volleyball, Tennis, Cross Country, Culinary Arts, Golf, Basketball, and FUTSAL (a kind of combination of football and soccer, a young bystander explained to me.)

 

Also marching were members of different clubs – the Latino Students Union dressed in ethnic garb and carrying pinatas on poles, the Black Students Union, Gender and Sexuality Awareness carrying rainbow banners, the Broken Box Theatre company,  Model United Nations, electronics club, Students for Haiti Solidarity, One Dollar for Life, and others I didn’t catch.

Each class had put together a float in honor of the parade theme – there was a candy house built of giant Necco wafers, a gingerbread house, a forest of lollipops surrounding a giant green M&M, and a giant gumball machine  (the gumballs were balloons.)

The band did not wear T-shirts and jeans or leggings. They were dressed in double-breasted  woolen uniforms despite the warm October weather, with military shakos and caps.  The spirit squad marched in blue skirts and white blouses, ready to sit together in the rooting section, where white shirts or blouses were required dress. 

I couldn’t help looking back to the  High School Homecoming Parade during my graduate year some decades ago.  At that time the Homecoming Court consisted of six girls nominated by the class, escorted by the young man of their choice.  There was no such thing as a Homecoming King. The Queen nominees were all Caucasian.  That was no wonder, as our high school at that time had zero African American Students, and almost no Asian or Latino students.

The band did not wear T-shirts and jeans or leggings. They were dressed in double-breasted  woolen uniforms despite the warm October weather, with military shakos and caps.  The spirit squad marched in blue skirts and white blouses, ready to sit together in the rooting section, where white shirts or blouses were required dress.

The football team rode in cars.  Because it was Game Day, they wore shirts, ties,  sports jackets, and dress shoes – not suitable for walking even the few blocks along Main Street.

I remember working on the spirit squad float – a giant cube covered with tissue paper flowers spelling out rally slogans in the school colors. 20181110_161512web

The 2018 version of Homecoming Parade was not the same as what I remembered.  There was a lot more diversity in the shapes and colors of the homecoming court.  Some of the sports and most of the clubs were new to me. There was a lot less formality in dress. But bystanders and participants were all smiling.  Despite the many changes  over the years, I feel that our community character has been preserved.  

20181110_162003doc20181019_133938doc

 

 

A Piece of My Mind: Smog – the Sequel (Los Altos Town Crier, Sept. 5, 2018)

  

When I was growing up on the southern San Francisco peninsula,  smog was the norm.  Many a morning  as I walked to school, the air was so full of dirt that the foothills were invisible – I might as well have been living on the prairie.

 Later when I was the age for making decisions about where to go to college, I was accepted at two excellent schools in southern California.  I visited both campuses and decided that it would be impossible for me to attend either – the air pollution was so severe that I could not go outside without suffering painful eye irritation with my contact lenses.  

People depend on their cars.  How could we have a modern civilization with the flexibility and mobility we needed if we restricted auto travel? But how could we avoid strangling ourselves by breathing  our own waste?

 Time passed.  Regulations and people demanded change.   Human ingenuity got to work.  Auto manufacturers learned to build more efficient cars which used less gas with no lead.  Petroleum plants learned to make gasoline which burned cleaner.   A problem which had seemed insoluble was nearly solved.  After a decade or so of effective regulation and innovation, the foothills reappeared.  When  I moved back to Los Altos after a ten year absence, I marveled at the consistent clarity of the air.

 But this summer I have seen a huge relapse.  The air quality day after day has been miserable, due to the uncontrolled wildfires burning to the north and east, and the prevailing winds which suck the smoke down into the Santa Clara and Central Valleys.  My sister posted photos on Facebook from trips she had taken to Ashland, Oregon and back .  Three years ago her photo showed snow-topped Mt. Shasta dominating  the valley, as pristine as a Japanese print of Mt. Fuji.  This year, from the same vantage point, on the same calendar day, nothing was visible but a brownish smear of polluted air.

 PG&E, among other entities affected, argues that the unusual severity of the fires is a result of global climate change, not human agency or corporate carelessness.  There are those who say that climate change is an act of God, beyond human repair. I believe, though, that God gave us brains and ingenuity in order to solve problems.  We have been able to shape our world in many ways to make it easier for us to live in it.  We have lowered the infant mortality rate.  Fewer women die in childbirth.  Smallpox, polio, and yellow fever have been conquered by vaccines.  We cleaned the air before.  With some inspiration and much determination I believe we can and must make the changes necessary to do it again.  I want my children and grandchildren to see our foothills.    

 

 

A Piece of My Mind: Let’s Have Fun (LATC July 2018)

 

I’m sitting on the balcony of our hotel room overlooking the beach. It is a beautiful day, warm enough to tempt children and teenagers into the water without wetsuits, and the beach is dotted with colorful umbrellas and sun tents and beach towels and beach toys and sand-castles in the making. Up near the steps leading down to the beach is a small playground, with a twisty slide and two sets of swings, six swings in each set, all occupied by kids and pre-teens industriously pumping back and forth.

But I notice something odd.  Here we are at the beach with yards of soft sand in front of each swing, but no one is bailing into the sand at the peak of their swing, landing on their knees laughing after flying through the air for a magical few seconds. I watch and wait for the first adventurous child to go sailing through the air, but it doesn’t happen.  It seems no one knows how.  It seems that jumping out of a swing has never occurred to them.

Maybe these kids have never bailed from a swing into soft sand. Maybe their playgrounds have always been grounded in AstroTurf or wood chips or outdoor carpet – nothing you could trust your knees to. And maybe the flexible U-shaped seats cling to the children’s rear ends and make it hard to slip off the swing at the right moment.

I really wanted to go down and show the kids on the beach how to fly, but my knees might not have been  up to it. I did start  thinking, though, of other playground learning opportunities that may have been lost to safety and insurance and ecology concerns..

What about see saws? (AKA teeter-totters in some areas) The universal street sign for a playground is a see saw, yet how many of today’s children have actually played on one? There is risk of injury.  You might fall off. You might crush your foot underneath the board. You might get a finger caught between the board and the support. You might get a sock in the jaw if you tried to get on one end just as another kid was pulling his end down.  And yet this simple playground toy is one of the best ways to convey the ideas of balance and leverage that ever was.

What about the merry-go-round? Not the thing with horses and a calliope, but a round metal platform with handles, mounted on ball bearings. You ran as fast as you could while pushing to get it going, and then jumped on. A mysterious force tried to tear you off the platform. You clung to your handle. You held on. That force that wanted to tear you off was defeated. You had strength you hadn’t known. And you learned that if you crawled into the center of the platform, the force mysteriously lessened; at the center you could stand up no-hands!  Later when you learned about centrifugal and centripetal force in physics class, you recognized them immediately.

And the jungle gym – that network of metal pipes assembled with plumbing joints which seemed to soar impossibly high when you were in the primary grades, but which could be conquered bar by bar until you reached the apex as an upper-grader.  Yes, you could fall. But mostly you didn’t.

I look at the brightly colored plastic play structures around town and feel a little sorry for today’s kids.  Yes, I guess you can learn about centrifugal force by going down a twisty slide, and you can learn to do a perfect dismount from parallel bars in a well-supervised gymnastics class – but you won’t get sand between your toes.

 

A Piece of my Mind: That’s Entertainment (Los Altos Town Crier February 7, 2018)

20171108_153025crop

My mother loved to entertain.  By that I don’t mean she would sit at the piano and sing torch songs, or tap dance around the living room.  Hers was the old-fashioned idea of entertaining, where one invited a mix of people to enjoy good food and drink in an attractive setting, and hope to generate lively conversation, a good bit of laughter, and some warm memories.  The mix would include some old friends who could be counted on to maintain the conversation and the party mood, and some interesting new acquaintances who might become friends (and usually did, after attending my mother’s parties).

When we have friends over, it is almost always a potluck where everyone brings a platter and a bottle to share. We are working people, we think, and can’t take the time to entertain the old-fashioned way.  My mother would have scorned this limited idea of hospitality.  Whether it was a bridge party, a ladies’ lunch, or a party for the entire faculty of the school where she taught, her parties were carefully orchestrated from appetizer to dessert, sometimes with a theme, always with an eye to what new acquaintance would add spark to the mix, what combination of people would ensure a lively gathering, and who should sit next to whom.

20180122_100648.jpgHer cupboards were full of party equipment.  Her dining table could be extended to accommodate 6, 8, 10, or 12 people.  She had tablecloths and napkins to accommodate each size, plus pretty crystal place card holders to let people know where they should sit.   For bridge parties and ladies’ lunches she had smaller table cloths with matching napkins.

She had high-ball glasses and champagne glasses and wine glasses and martini glasses.   For larger parties she had a glass punch bowl with two dozen matching glass cups, a ladle, and a special mold for making an ice ring full of frozen fruit to cool the punch.

For winter parties she had a soup tureen for serving bouillabaisse or curry, scallop shells for baking coquilles St. Jacques, and abalone shells for helpings of shrimp creole.   For summer parties she had individual trays with paper liners for eating outdoors, and parfait glasses for serving raspberry ice cream parfait.

 

With my father’s help she would choose and tape appropriate  music to be playing in the background for each party.  A few weeks ago I found a cassette tape in my mother’s house labeled “Party tape – Once a year day!” 

As I played the tape through I remembered that party.  It celebrated my father’s 60th birthday, my parents’ 35th anniversary, and the  ceremonial burning of the mortgage for the house in Los Altos, and also served as a wedding reception for my younger brother and his wife. The sound track was full of happy tunes: “Once a year day” from “The Pajama Game” , “Happy Days are Here Again”,  a New Orleans jazz version of “When the Saints go Marching In”, jazz piano, and dance music (“Edelweiss” for the bride and groom who had married in Germany, “Always”  for Mom and Dad to mark their anniversary) There must have been more than fifty people flowing in and out of the house and back patio.  The punch bowl was refilled again and again. It was a wonderful day.

My mother and father are both gone now.  As I look over the items I am packing up from my mother’s house, I’m remembering the good food, good conversation, and good times associated with each jello mold and baking tin.  I’m also thinking I’d better start issuing more invitations, or the only party of mine folks will remember will be the wake. 

 

 

Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: