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.