A joyous boxing day dinner at my theatre mentor’s New York apartment was the cap to the perfect second stop in my holiday romp across the country.
I’d begun a week before with a trip to Tahoe, armed with a fresh negative PCR test from my university, to celebrate my granddaughter’s sixth birthday, an event I’ve only missed once, I think, since her actual birth. Six is so mature. One who is six knows that lipstick on the wall is wrong, and yet, it is unbearably seductive to leave one’s mark. At six, we already know that when someone comes asking “Who did this?” that we must be prepared with an answer that doesn’t look too rehearsed. “I have no idea!” with the appropriate expression of shock and disbelief. If one is lucky, and my six year old granddaughter is very lucky, one has the utility player in her smaller sibling, on whose development such an appropriate gesture can be blamed. At six, we know that lying has consequences, and are able to weigh the loss of screens against the punishment of wiping the lipstick off the wall and make a responsible choice without too much fuss. This, as you might remember, is what it feels like to be six.
I arrived on Saturday, with the birthday on Sunday, and we managed to eat dinner, do the dishes, and begin to make the birthday cake, a chocolate chiffon cake all together, the three of us, the almost-six-year-old, and the two-and-a-half-year old little sister, they on matching stools facing Nana, the well-dusted Joy of Cooking open to the recipe, and only marginal squabbles about who got to beat the eggs, pour in the vanilla, add the flour. It was a joyous floury flourish to the end of the travel day, and when the cake finally went into the oven we all collapsed on the big sprawling sofa, that faces out toward the towering trees and watched a little TV together. It was pretty much my idea of heaven, after a long semester of teaching and learning. Just what the doctor ordered.
The next day brought the actual birthday, sledding with her tiny friends, and Nana renegotiating her relationship with snow. We drove to the meadow, where the snow was deep enough that making a new path involved hip deep steps, a bit of crawling and eventually riding the sled down the 15 foot hill to the bottom. The birthday girl did not think that pulling the sled back up the hill was part of the gig, but soon capitulated and Nana found a spot at the top where she could cheer and clap under the fir trees that ringed the meadow.
We tromped up the hills, some snow was thrown, and we worked up an appetite.
At a certain point in any adventure with tiny participants, hunger kicks in and melting down occurs (not the snow). We made our way home and had hot tomato/pepper soup and grilled cheese sandwiches.
Nana, NOW can we make the icing for the cake? I’m going to put the sprinkles on the cake. (Try and stop me…..)
Soon, the once full sprinkles container was empty and Nana was making the most complicated icing known to woman, involving egg whites, heating them and whipping them, and then chilling them and whipping them some more. Again, my helpers were dusty with sugar, the teaspoons dropping and dripping into the icing. The floor was gritty with everything, and Cupid the dog dashed around licking up everything he could find.
Finally, the cake was iced, and sprinkled and truly ready for prime time. Just in time for the arrival of our sledding pals, who had been invited for pizza and cake. The pizzas arrived, ludicrously large and suddenly were having a party!
We all fell on the pizza and before long we were sated and it was time for cake! Nana oversaw the use of the scary kitchen knife, while the birthday girl carved slabs o’ cake for all of us. The reviews were mixed, with her tiny friend Enzo remarking “I hate the inside of this cake.” Nana did a spit take because she had just been thinking the same thing. It was a joyous birthday. The trickiest part of having a birthday right before Christmas is how and when to stop opening presents. The line between sanctioned and not sanctioned opening is not evident at six. Or even sixty for that matter.
The next day, older and wiser, we headed off to do some snow-shoeing. The birthday girl was in the lead without really understanding what being a leader is. There was a lot of this….and it was divine.
The last day of my visit, we went to the plant store to have a planting party with some of the six year old’s old friends. We potted succulents, then went for hot cocoa and then lunch. A second full-on birthday bash.
The last night I was there, the local fire truck/boombox blaring Christmas tunes came around the neighborhood, and I captured it from the warm safety of the house while super Mom took the girls out to get candy canes from the firemen, scooping up Cupid from the road before the Safety Santas went on their way. As if we didn’t owe enough to the fire fighters for their valiant efforts this fall in saving so many homes, now we had so much more to be grateful to them for.
I just got out of Tahoe before the Storm of the Century. Or that was how it was billed by the weather service. I have learned not to worry about things beyond my control.
Stop #2 – New York City!
At the risk of antagonizing those friends whom I didn’t see while in NY, it was a whirlwind visit with my dear friend, Bob. Lunch at Morandi with dear friends Jackie and Frank. That evening, we took in a Broadway show, Clyde’s, a production I heartily recommend not just because of the spectacular design collaborations by Takeshi Kata (scenic), Jennifer Moeller (costumes), Christopher Ackerlind (lighting) and Justin Ellington (sound), but because of the outrageous direction by Kate Whoriskey, and the fearlessly comedic performances by the cast, led by Uzo Aduba, including Ron Cephas Jones, Edmond Donavan, Reza Salazar and Kara Young. Not only was the show thought provoking and moving, but genuinely funny and really provided an escape from worries about COVID and all the rest we’ve survived over the past two years.
Christmas was low key, but important to be with Bob at a crucial time of change in his life. Brass Ring comes to mind as the image. Wisdom words #1: Know that you deserve the Brass Ring and go for it, and once you’ve caught it, hold onto it! We went out for a festive Christmas Eve dinner with Bob’s friend Rick, made matzoh ball soup for Christmas and worked on Marie Kondoing his New York apartment for an upcoming life change. We had brunch with our mutual friend, Barbara at the Empire Diner, another festive social outing.
My last night in NYC, we were invited to come for dinner at the home of my boarding school theatre mentor – I’ve described him for years as the one who “lit the flame” for me with my life long passion for the theatre. You can read more about him and his beautiful wife, Sally and the importance of our impromptu tutorials here. Of course, any invitation these days revolves around the question:
Have you been tested?Sally before confirming our dinner
This invitation was no different. After all, I had just come from visiting with my grandchildren, both of them too young for the vaccine. I’d been on two planes from Tahoe to NYC. I’d been to a potential super spreader event (the Broadway show) – though of course they checked our vaccination cards and IDs before allowing us to enter and we remained masked the entire time…
We want to see you of course but we are anxious. Being anxious, we have ten rapid tests here. What if you and Bob rapid test before coming into the apartment?…Sounds weird but it could make for good comedy material in plays for years to come!Sally’s conditions – Seems reasonable to us
Bob and I arrived for dinner and Bob thrust the Binax Two Pack out the door, followed by Sally handing us a champagne goblet filled with sparkling cider, a white wine, a small travel alarm clock, and a bowl of savory Italian snacks shutting the door firmly but lovingly behind her.
During the fifteen minutes of terror-filled anticipation of what would happen were our tests or one of our tests to come up positive, we talked about what our COVID plan B would be. First, no dinner, and no catch up tutorial. That would have been devastating.
Then, it would mean Els staying another five days with Bob, eating more of the yummy vegetarian matzoh ball soup we’d made, aborting the next leg of my trip to visit my Dad and his Sally. It was all too grim (except for the prospect of the soup and more time together), so we laughed instead and reported our progress to our patient hosts.
At precisely 15 minutes, the door swung open, we removed our masks, and entered the apartment. It was bliss to have Bob meet Bob and Sally, all of us feeling safe and sanctioned.
We laughed a lot that night, at their festive Italian table, a dinner of sausage and white beans and spinach, and Molly’s lemon cake with espresso. The laughs came easily, the good kind of deep belly laughs that restore you, clean away the stresses of everything.
New Year’s Resolution #2: Belly laugh at least once daily. Even if you have to fake it.
One of the silly things I’ve always loved about Bob was the way we had all forty two years ago, incorporated a love of all things Fred Rodgers into our tutorials. The concept of the tutorial hatched one morning at breakfast in North Upper a dorm/dining hall. I suggested to my friend Will that we go upstairs and knock on Edgar’s door. This was both naughty and nice – naughty because his apartment was in a boys’ dorm which I was shouldn’t be entering and nice because he didn’t slam the door in our faces, but invited us in and made us each a hot mug of good coffee. I don’t know how we got on to MisterRodgers, but it turned out we all appreciated his goofy charm and lyrics. We would discuss world events, listen to classical music, and occasionally put on a record of MisterRodgers’ music and sing along (see link in paragraph 1).
It was fitting that his Christmas present to me was perfection and made me roar. A bar of soap emblazoned with one of my favorite song titles. You can never go down the drain.
Wisdom words #2: Wash away your worries every day.
Wisdom words #3: Keep things in perspective.
Wisdom words #4: Keep your friends and family close to you, in mind, body and spirit.
Wisdom words #5: Don’t be afraid of change and keep your eyes open for that brass ring.
Off to Washington, D.C. for my final stop on this whirlwind of holiday celebration. I have one more rapid test in my bag…