Today is the Twelfth Day of Christmastide..... “twelve drummers drumming” and all that. Shakespeare wrote a play Twelfth Night… and I’ll get around to it eventually. Tonight is also a time for feasting.
I have always eaten food too quickly. Of course, my Mother, Ibby Bell, was probably one of the slowest and most agonizingly careful eaters I ever encountered.
In the third grade I started piano lessons, but the only time my teacher could fit me into her schedule was on Monday— during lunch. So Mother would pick me up in the car and give me a sandwich and a thermos of soup, which I devoured on my way to the lesson. And Mother wondered why I ate so quickly. (After eating a few times with Gary Murakami, he asked me if I came from a large family).
My Dad was quite a hearty eater. When he first courted my Mother—or at least was a guest in Woolrich— he demolished a cake my grandmother had baked. She was not pleased. Mother said that Goggie had planned to have the cake last at least several days, if not a week. (This was not the case of a prospective mother-in-law inviting a possible future son-in-law to “Eat, eat. Help yourself. You’re too thin. Have some more.” That was not part of Mother’s tradition. On the other hand, the Rich’s had four daughters. Grandmother Rich simply didn’t know a young man’s appetites.
As a pastor, Dad made house calls. These invariably included something to eat. This meant that Dad came home already full. But he ate a second dinner anyway. That was easier than explaining to Mother.
Dad said that when he retired he'd like to be a short order cook. I think he really meant, he just liked to talk to people.
Everybody loved Sherry Bell.
I’ve inherited some of Dad’s appetites. One of my nicknames with Chanticleer was ‘Piranha.’ And Dennis loved the time I ate at the Bohemian Club with some fellow choristers on a Thursday night. There were ten of us at a round table. I ate as usual, and carried on an extensive discussion about economic or political matters. When I looked up, everybody was staring at me – and at their watches. Alex Hargrave—from my jazz quintet –had placed bets. I finished ahead of even their fastest projections.
At times, this has been an advantage. When Chanticleer sang at an early music competition in Bruges, Belgium in 1981, the choir of Kings College Cambridge gave a concert at one of the major churches. The ticket line was horrendous and our group had not yet had dinner; so I volunteered to wait in line for all of us. After getting the tickets, I ordered – half an hour after everyone else— and finished first.
Nine years ago, on a Sunday in April, I signed out of Vespers to hear a performance of Mahler’s Ninth with the San Francisco Symphony. I left Saint Francis right after the motet and before the hymn, and managed to get a taxi to Davies Symphony Hall. But it wasn’t until intermission that I remembered I had not eaten any breakfast--only three cups of coffee. So I waited in line at Dress Circle. Just as I ordered a chicken Caesar salad and a glass of champagne, the bell rang. I managed to eat all the chicken—if not all the lettuce – and to gulp down the champagne. That was probably a mistake, because halfway through the symphony, I desperately needed to go to the loo. But I waited until the end. I thanked my friend, Joan, for her extra ticket, and promptly excused myself.
(When I wrote that, I hadn’t realized that that afternoon's service would be my last performance with the Schola Cantorum for several months. I had had a mild case of bronchitis since our return from Italy in 2003, and my Nurse Practitioner at Kaiser recommended a reduced schedule through the summer in order to recuperate completely. While away from the Schola a few months, I worked on some art projects.)
My Dad’s great friend Helen Heisey had taught art at the Harrisburg Academy on the river just a few blocks from our house in the middle fifties.
The Harrisburg Academy then was the old Wallower family mansion, a beautiful brick Georgian revival house... now replaced with three office buildings and a bank. Mr. Wallower, a publisher, had been on the board that had hired Dad to come to Grace Church back in 1951. He was a Princeton grad, who encouraged my brother Sherry to go to Princeton. Mr. Wallower lived in a handsome stone French-Normandy-style house on North Front Street by the river.
As a teenager, I went there with Dad to several meetings of the Eclectic Club (a men’s club of college presidents, judges, bankers & other local VIPs, who got together several times a year to read papers on historical, scientific and esoteric matters). Dad later inherited several mahogany bookcases (destroyed in the ’72 flood) two pair of unusual mahogany chairs, and a tall centennial Philadelphia highboy, which Julie had refinished for Mother, and that Cynthia now has in Florida.
Edgar Zollinger Wallower went by his initials E.Z. When Cynthia saw a black and white cocker spaniel at Edelhugh kennels in Dauphin, she asked Mr. Wallower to buy him for her. He said he would, if she would name him. So Cynthia named the puppy “Edelhugh E.Z. Dandy.” We called him EZ. He became Dad’s dog, when Cynthia went to Northfield. Even Mother eventually grew attached to EZ. She had always been the disciplinarian and had refused to allow any dog on the bed. Dad would simply wait for her to go to sleep, then signal for him to jump up. Dad was more direct in feeding EZ under the table, which, of course, annoyed Mother even more. EZ eventually accompanied me to California.
Back to my eating …I don't blame my culinary habits on my Father, or my Mother. It is my responsibility— my choice, my joy— to eat more slowly, to appreciate food— the sacrifice that is a gift of life. (I can still hear Dennis say that I’ll never change. And Deborah Sweeney has commented that I’m rather patrician……except for my table manners.) [Occasionally, I have managed to eat as my Mother would have preferred. Check out my 10/03/08 posting "Memories of France in 1980."]
Sometimes it can be a question of time. Old habits can be difficult to change. For five or six years, I had an outrageous schedule on Thursday evenings. I sang at Grace Cathedral. We had rehearsal at 5:00, Evensong at 5:15 –generally over at 6:00— then another rehearsal after dinner from 7:00 to 9:30. Only, I didn’t eat dinner. I left after the anthem, changed clothes, and dashed down the hill to the Bohemian Club— quickly munched some hot hors d’oeuvres— & then was usually a few minutes late for the required rehearsal.
As an associate member, I had to attend these rehearsals during the choirmen's dinner break in order to qualify for the privilege of membership. It was my choice. I was just grateful that the buildings were in close proximity; even if the return trip was all up hill. This crazy schedule allowed me many opportunities to perform in several groups.
My Dad was certainly a gifted performer, particularly in community theater productions. I think the first play he did with HCT, the Harrisburg Community Theater, was G. B. Shaw's The Devil’s Disciple, in which he played a patriotic New England preacher during the American Revolution. That role certainly fit, and was produced sometime in the middle 'fifties.
He was considered too old for another favorite role he had wanted to play. Dad was bemused when later they cast him as Feste the Clown in Twelfth Night, when he had to romp all over the stage and down the aisles in tights. Several people commented that he had rather nice legs. (See, I got to Twelfth Night eventually.)
The second Mrs. Wallower laughed and laughed with Dad around her kitchen table and regaled his performance as Feste the Clown …. the night before she died in her sleep. What a nice way to go!