(My scanned image from: Town & Country, August 2008, pg. 82)
“That’s when it pays to live up there,” said the now thoroughly-domesticated Mrs. E. in reference to my mentioning that New York will celebrate Leonard Bernstein’s (pronounced like “Steinway” as my mother would invariably remind me) would-be ninetieth birthday by playing dozens of concerts.
“That’s when it pays to have lived then,” was my thought.
If you get a moment, please read “Life With Father,” a remembrance of Leonard Bernstein by his daughter, Jamie. Here is the opening paragraph:
When we were little and shared a room, my brother, Alexander, and I used to drift off to sleep at right angles to each other, listening to the steady waves of laughter, piano playing and singing emanating from our parents and all their witty, noisy friends downstairs. This is what grownups did: they drank and smoked and interrupted one another and played raucous word games and sang at the top of their lungs and laughed until they choked. We couldn’t wait to be grown-ups.
That pretty much sums it up doesn’t it? As a child, I was frequently enlisted to solicit drink orders and deliver the finished product to guests. My parents would drape a little white linen napkin over my arm and hand me a silver and melamine tray holding a martini to take to Group Captain Sinjin-Sinjin Smythe, RAF… . After having my dinner in the kitchen and saying my goodnights, I would be led upstairs to bed. More than once I would tiptoe to the top of the stairs and peer down to watch the shadows dance across the floor and hear the laughter and tinkling of ice in glasses. If it was late enough there would be someone playing the piano and a group chorus singing along (Australians love “Waltzing Matilda.”) “Do You Know the Way to San Josè” was popular that year. “What’s New Pussycat” was another crowd pleaser.
Like Ms. Bernstein, I couldn’t wait to be a grown-up.
Mrs. E. and I try to recreate the feeling of those parties. I wonder how well we succeed? No one wears coat and tie (well, regularly … we do specify dress sometimes) let alone a uniform. Women guests don’t jingle with bangles, leave the scent of “Chanel No. 5” lingering behind as they pass through the crowd, or abandon lipstick smudged Sobranie Cocktail Cigarettes in the silver and crystal ashtrays…. Those days seem to be gone.
Piano lessons are on Mrs. E.’s list of “must-learn-to’s.” And, on occasion, I still use the tray to pass drinks.
What are your fondest memories of the adult world downstairs? What are your secrets for (re)creating a grown-up party? Or is it even possible in today’s world?