Monday, July 28, 2008

Two Causes For Celebration: A Birthday, And A Guest

Yesterday was a beautiful day. It was my father’s birthday.

Truly, I believe that my father would rather have celebrated his birthday weekend up at the lake rather than in town. However, Joshua and I had a party to attend on Saturday night, a farewell gathering in our honor organized by our friends, and we would not have been able to join my parents at the lake. My brother, too, was invited to Saturday night’s party, which meant that my parents would have had to go to the lake by themselves on my father’s birthday weekend. This they did not want to do. They wanted to celebrate my father’s birthday with my brother, Josh and me, so they stayed in town.

On Sunday morning, I made my father Eggs Benedict and apple pancakes and apple sausage for his birthday breakfast, and my mother made for him her special zucchini bread, which is to die for. My father likes Eggs Benedict, and he likes to eat apple pancakes and apple sausage for breakfast on special occasions (and so does everyone else, including the dog), and he likes to eat my mother’s zucchini bread at any time. Everyone enjoyed the treat.

Sunday Morning Service was sad, in many ways, because it was the final Sunday in Minneapolis for Josh and me, and we had to offer farewells—not permanent ones, happily—to everyone at church.

We spent the afternoon and evening at home. We had planned to take my father downtown to attend the Sunday matinee performance of Agatha Christie’s “A Murder Is Announced” at Theater In The Round, but the weather was so beautiful that my father said he preferred to spend the day at home.

None of us minded. We were all entirely happy to skip “A Murder Is Announced” because all of us had already seen two different television adaptations of the Christie material and we all knew precisely how the mystery developed and resolved.

I made my father a seafood soufflé for Sunday lunch. It is the single dish I can prepare as well as my mother, and for some reason it always turns out. I wish I knew the reason for this mystery. My mother says it is because I beat the mixture so vigorously that the soufflé ingredients are afraid NOT to rise as expected!

We spent Sunday afternoon playing with the dog, indoors and out, and joking around, and helping my mother prepare my father’s special birthday dinner.

She prepared a very special pork roast cooked in an apricot compote, accompanied by a special potato dish made with onions and three different cheeses. She also served fresh parsnips, fresh green beans, a tomato-cucumber salad and a special raspberry-nut salad. My brother and Josh and I provided assistance, on and off, all afternoon.

We also pitted cherries for my mother, because my mother made my father a cherry cake for his birthday, one of her finest cakes. It has a subtlety and piquancy of flavoring that has to be experienced to be believed, in large part because the cherry taste is highlighted by ground walnuts inserted into the batter, ground almonds inserted into the frosting, and minute amounts of fragmented orange and lemon rind inserted into both the batter and the frosting. It is a divine creation, capturing a trace of citrus that blends well with the primary cherry flavor, supplemented by the two different types of nut.

After dinner but before the cake-cutting, my father talked on the telephone to my brother and his family in New York so that they could offer him their birthday greetings. After we cut the cake, we presented my father with his birthday gifts.

Because the last year has not been a particularly distinguished year for book publishing or music publishing in the U.S. or in Britain, it was especially hard for me to locate books and compact discs for birthday gifts for my father this year. For the last month, I had searched and searched and searched, online and in shops, for interesting books and discs to supplement his collections. I could locate nothing inspiring.

A week ago, in panic, I had telephoned my brother and my sister-in-law in New York and had alerted them that my gift search had come up empty (I am keeper of my father’s book and music libraries, and I know what he has and what he does not have, and I generally make recommendations to my brother and sister-in-law so that they may order gifts online and have them shipped directly to Minneapolis).

My sister-in-law told me not to worry, and that she would come up with something.

And she did.

An hour after she and I had talked, she called me at my office and—without so much as a brief hello—very simply, very quietly but very decisively uttered two words: “Inigo Jones”.

Hers was a brilliant suggestion. My father has no books about the great Palladian architect and his work, and it had never occurred to me to search for books about Inigo Jones, a most suitable subject because Jones was the architect of Banqueting House, Queen’s House, The Queen’s Chapel and Saint Paul’s Church, all of which we had visited last September or will visit next month.

Within another hour, between the two of us, we had located three books about Inigo Jones that would serve as perfect birthday gifts from my brother and his family, and my sister-in-law ordered them online and had them shipped to Minneapolis.

My middle brother was the lifesaver when it came to the other gifts for my father. Since he has enjoyed lots of free time the last two weeks, he has been scouting out antique shops and visiting private antique dealers, looking for something intriguing. On a couple of these trips, my mother has gone with him, and on one of their excursions they found exactly what they were looking for.

First was an antique mechanical bank, in perfect working order, which my brother picked up as a joint gift to my father from him, Josh and me. The bank was cast in 1876. It is a commemorative bank, produced in conjunction with our nation’s Centennial. My father has always liked antique mechanical banks.

Second was a Three Weight Vienna Regulator Clock, also in perfect working order, made in Austria in 1885. This was my mother’s gift to my father. It is a wall-mounted clock, very beautiful and very distinctive and very elegant, of the very finest craftsmanship. My parents have yet to decide where to mount it, but I suspect that they will determine that it is ideal for the landing on the stairwell in the foyer.

My father was very pleased with his gifts. It was a wonderful birthday celebration for him—and for everyone else, too.

My father had to go to the office for a few hours today, and he must go to the office for a few hours tomorrow, too, but he has more or less already moved into full vacation mode. He is happy, mellow and content, greatly looking forward to eighteen days of relaxing but stimulating travel with his family.

My parents’ birthdays are six days apart. My mother’s birthday will be on Saturday, when we will be in London. She will have a wonderful birthday in London—a visit to The British Museum in the morning, a performance at The National Theatre in the afternoon, dinner in the Covent Garden area in the evening, a performance at Donmar Warehouse at night—and we shall all make a great fuss over her, but we will not officially celebrate her birthday until two days after we return to Minneapolis. Her special birthday dinner will be on Thursday evening, August 21, when we will give my mother her gifts. That will be the night before Josh and I leave for Boston.

We shall all have our eyes open wide for birthday gifts for my mother during our trip!

Early this afternoon, Josh and I picked up Josh’s sister at MSP and brought her home. Home for all of us, between now and Thursday night, will be my parents’ house.

Josh’s sister has visited Minneapolis once before. Last summer, Josh’s family had undertaken a two-week “baseball road trip” which involved a swing through Kansas City, Minneapolis, Milwaukee, Chicago and Saint Louis, all for the purpose of visiting baseball stadiums and attending baseball games. Last year’s trip brought Josh’s family to Minneapolis for four days. Josh’s sister had been an involuntary participant in that trip—it was not her idea of a perfect summer vacation, I believe—but at least she DID get an overview of the Twin Cities last year.

Josh and I plan to keep her entertained as much as possible between now and Thursday night, but we do not intend to run her ragged. We will save that for Britain.

Tonight Josh and I and my brother took her to a Twins game. None of us is much of a baseball fan, if truth be told, but my brother very much wanted to attend at least one Twins game this summer, and he very much wanted Josh and me to accompany him. Given everyone’s calendar, tonight was one of the final opportunities for the three of us to catch a game together. We took Josh’s sister with us because we thought it would make a nice evening out for all of us on her first night in Minneapolis. We arrived at the game early, we left the game early, and we arrived home early. Baseball may be America’s pastime, but it’s not ours. It was a nice night out, but it more than satisfied our appetite for baseball for the year.

Tomorrow Josh and I will take Josh’s sister to the Weisman Art Museum in the morning and to the Walker Art Center in the afternoon. Last summer, Josh and I took his family to see the key paintings and key antiquities at the Minneapolis Institute Of Arts, but we had visited no other art museums. We will make amends tomorrow, visiting two of the finest museums for modern art in America. We do not know whether my mother or my brother will choose to join us for our jaunt tomorrow to the Weisman and the Walker.

On Wednesday, all six of us will go downtown to attend the matinee performance of Nikolai Gogol’s “The Government Inspector” at The Guthrie Theater. Josh’s sister has never visited The Guthrie Theater, and she very much wants to attend a performance at the famed venue during her stay with us.

Other than these plans, between now and Thursday night, we will not do much other than prepare our traveling clothes for the trip, attempt to get as much rest as we can, and give the dog as much attention and affection as possible.

He will miss us during our absence, and we will certainly miss him, but the kindly friend of my mother who always keeps the dog when my parents are out of town will lavish attention upon him and treat him like a king—plus her neighbor’s boys will take the dog to the park twice a day and romp with him. He will be in the best of care (and probably be fed as lavishly as my mother feeds him).

For the first time since we planned this trip, I am starting to get excited. I have always looked forward to this trip, but I had not previously reached the excitement stage. The excitement phase has finally kicked in over the last couple of days. I believe that the pressure of completing my assignments at work may have prevented me from getting excited about the trip until now.

Josh’s sister IS in the excitement phase, and very much so. This will be her first trip out of the country, and she is completely thrilled about our impending journey.

Because of her excitement, we have decided not to spoil her great anticipation.

Consequently, we will wait until we land at Heathrow before we break the news to her that the British eat nothing but lamb’s liver every night at dinner.


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  2. Inigo Jones. Tonight's code word is Inigo Jones.

    Drew, I hope you and your family and Joshie and his sister have a swell vacation. You'll have a ball, I'm sure.

    Inigo Jones

  3. Hey, Inigo.

    Thanks for your kind wishes.

    Talk to you soon.