Charlie, Alison, and the Best Concert I’ve Ever Heard — Part Two.

posted in: Day In The Life, Family, Paean 16
This (annotated) photo is a remarkably good facsimile of our property and provides a rough idea of the concert situation. Image: Wikipedia, with notes by me.
This (annotated) photo is a remarkably good facsimile of our property and provides a rough idea of the concert situation. Image: Wikipedia, with notes by me.


The picture isn’t big enough. I need an IT person. But nevermind that! There’s no time.

To begin with, if you haven’t read yesterday’s post, you must. You just have to. Go and read this, then come back. Trust me. Would I lead you astray? Are you back? Great.

So there we are, at the lake house. It’s like 2 p.m. on Sunday, smack dab in the middle of the anniversary of my birth. I’m already in a terrific mood because Claus sent me the most enormous bouquet of Door County field flowers and my sister Rebecca asked me before we left Chicago what kind of cake I wanted and I said “funfetti” (duh) so that Mother could make the cake before we arrived on Friday because, as she told us, and I quote:

“Why make a birthday cake on Sunday when you guys have to leave Monday morning? I figured I’d make it so we could have cake all weekend.”

Marianne Fons for president.

Okay, so it’s Sunday afternoon and I’m reading a book upstairs. It’s likely I had just had some cake, but I don’t remember. I do know that I was not planning to leave my comfy recliner until I was done with my book, so when Mom called up to me to “come downstairs for a minute” I was rawther displeased.

“Mom!” I yelled back. “I’m reading! This is vacation! I’m reading!”

La Marianne did not yield.

“Mary, I need you for five minutes. Come downstairs, please.”

In my best six-year-old whine, I replied, “Don’t make me dooooo anything! It’s my birthday!”

Then, from the kitchen, a firm, “Mary. Come downstairs.”After that, a pause — because the woman knows gifts are my love language: “It’s a birthday surprise.”

Greased lightning. Down the stairs.

Suddenly finding myself on the first floor of the house, my eyes darted around. What was happening?? Was someone coming to visit?? Claus’s flowers were there on the bar. A truly ridiculous thought popped into my head. I gasped and grabbed Mom’s shoulder.

“Oh my god. Is Claus here??”

My mother shook her head. “Come outside.”

She led me to the water and we took a seat on the table rock. On our beach, beautiful, wide, big, flat rocks separate the water from the land and you can run and leap across them and you can sit and bask in the sun on them and nature must love that line because she is always changing it, working with it, bestowing beauty on that line. We sat down on that very line and suddenly, I knew what was going to happen:

Charlie was going to play “Happy Birthday” for me.

And so he did. From far, far down the beach, almost too far to hear but not too far to hear at all, came the sounds of a world-class trombonist playing a world-class trombone.

“Happy Birthday toooo youuuu… Happy Birthday toooo youuuuu… Happy Biiiirthday, dear Maaaaary…. Happy Birthday tooooo yoooouuuu…”

Again, again!!

I flapped my hands and jumped up and down and chased my tail and indeed, Chuck played on! The tune came once more. I didn’t know if that was because he wanted to make sure I heard it or what  — I heard, I heard! Do it again, Charlie! Do it again. And now we know: If anyone out there has the ability to play “Happy Birthday” to someone on an island beach from a half mile away, take it from me: Play it twice. The first time you play it, the recipient is freaking out too much to even, like, understand her life. The second round is when it really lands.

When the second solo was over, I jumped up and down like a madwoman, waving like I was stranded on the rocks, hoping Charlie could see my flailing and understand it as ecstatic gratitude. Then, I scrambled up to the house to call the Vernon residence and thank them for making possible one of the most delightful moments of my entire life. I’m deadly serious about that. And if you think it’s odd to pair the words “the most delightful [moment] of my life” and “deadly serious” in the same breath, you have never had a Chicago Symphony Orchestra musician perform “Happy Birthday” to you across Lake Michigan on a perfect August afternoon on your birthday. (By the way, I know a guy.)

Thank you, Alison and Charlie. I love you.

16 Responses

  1. Karen Seitz
    | Reply

    Simply Awesome!

    • HelenMarie
      | Reply

      Totally awesome

  2. Jennifer Reinke
    | Reply

    What a moment! And it was done TWICE. How beautiful! I could almost hear it down here. What wonderful friends you have.

  3. Liz Flaherty
    | Reply

    Your best story yet. Happy birthday!

  4. Shannan Sabby
    | Reply

    I have the biggest grin on my face for you!! Brava!!!

  5. Anita Brayton
    | Reply

    Doesn’t get much better than this! WOW!

  6. Dee
    | Reply

    Truly an Amazing Birthday! Thank you for the vivid image of pure happiness. Happy for you & Happy Birthday Mary

  7. Michelle
    | Reply

    One of the best outdoor concerts I ever heard was 25 years ago. I worked at a bed and breakfast on Galiano Island.

    A guest had arrived by kayak the day before. Now keep in mind there is very little storage in a kayak. The day was not a picture perfect summer day. It was drizzling a bit and there was a fine mist over Montague Harbour.

    The hues stood under an ancient maple tree and played his bagpipes. Yes, he used half his storage in his kayak to bring his pipes! It was mystical, I love the pipes, but had never before heard them in such a setting.

    So yes, I can imagine how wonderful your birthday concert was.

    Happy belated birthday.

  8. Kathryn Darnell
    | Reply

    This birthday cannot be matched, bar none beyond a doubt. Now next time your Mom calls you to come own stairs get your bottom out of that comfy chair and hustle down the stairs. She’said got something good! This is definitely a rocking chair memory to store away for smiles.

  9. Deb Johnson
    | Reply

    How wonderful and a very happy birthday to you dear girl! All the best for a great year! Hugs, Deb

  10. Pamela Keown
    | Reply


  11. […] know, the place where musicians go to rehearse in the lake. And where I fell through the ice. The place where a certain wedding took place and where I […]

  12. Mary Lu Booker
    | Reply

    Love your story! Love Door County and love Washington Island even though I was only on it once!

  13. Jo Chalk
    | Reply

    Happy birthday,Mary! May the year ahead be full of joy, splendid health and wonderful adventures.

  14. […] know, or if you can’t remember, the ending of this book is like 90 times better than Charlie playing a trombone solo for me. Better than me squeezing avocados at perfect […]

  15. Neame
    | Reply

    Great story…well told. Thanks! Neame

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