The carolers left the hall in single file, softly humming the chorus of "Silent Night," each one carrying a lighted taper through the darkened room. They walked with measured tread, their voices finally dimming in the distance as a sort of after-hum, like a softly plucked viola string.
They were wearing medieval costumes, Tudor court dress of jewel-toned velvets and tapestries. The singers were the Caltech Chamber Singers. The young men wore those marvelous squashed-pillow hats and the young women wore either those triangle-shaped headdresses that center over the forehead or the ones like pointed halos with sheer chiffon falling to the shoulders.
Patsy and I were at the Valley Hunt Club, the delighted guests of Madeleine and Clifford Anderson, who moved from Pasadena to Monarch Bay in Orange County. I don't see them nearly enough anymore. You can't just drop by Monarch Bay for a cup of tea or a sustaining noggin on your way home from the store.
It was a delightful dinner and the ending of the evening with the Caltech kids singing brought Christmas right here. Knowing they were all terrifyingly bright and that they could sing and have fun with the rollicking songs of wassail and wenching as well as the beloved carols did absolutely nothing for my morale. I am hard put even to remember the words, let alone stay on key. Knowing that they could, and then sit around the old lecture hall and have a good laugh over quarks and their ilk made me feel that "The Cat in the Hat" by the deftly daft Dr. Seuss might push me to full capacity.
(The handsome and dignified Athenaeum is the faculty dining club of the California Institute of Technology to which an upper stratum of Pasadena citizens have special access. A friend, John Sadler, a brilliant and witty man and good judge of wines and fine horses, says: "It's the only place I have dinner where I know the waiters are smarter than I am." The waiters are Caltech students.
(Ever since he said that, I am so aware of my homey, mediocre little Intelligence Quotient that when I am a guest at the Athenaeum and a waiter approaches, I stare at my napkin and avoid his eyes. Then I order something I am sure I can pronounce.)
However, almost all of my Christmas decorations are up and that is no idle boast. I have more holiday lights, garlands, swags, elves and stuffed animals to drape, hang and entwine than many average-size department stores. That's because I love Christmas and all of the glittery adornments with which we welcome it. Also it is because Christmas Eve is my birthday and I always have the niggling knowledge that I have been slightly left out as far as birthday parties go. Thus, I think if I get another ornament, it will make up for my birthday. And it really does, almost.
The ceramic carolers are on the mantle, and Jean Erck's aunt's marble Madonna is on top of the old organ, wreathed in holly and sparkling with pindot lights. I am her keeper because she is so heavy and hard to pack that when the Ercks moved to Houston from Orange County, Jean asked me to keep her. That was more than 20 years ago. Every two or three years, I ask Jean if she would like to have the Madonna in Houston, but then I quickly say something adroit like, "Do I smell smoke?" When we have determined that I do not, she has forgotten my question and I'm set for another couple of years. Actually, I am to give it to her oldest son, my special delight, Marty, but, by Henry, he's going to have to come to my wake to get it.
Have a merry Christmas with those you love. I wish a foamy cup of eggnog when the day ends to everyone who has to work on the special day. To doctors and nurses, to veterinarians and first violinists who have a performance Christmas night--a late supper of crown roast of pork with a ruby-red candied lady apple on the tip of each rib. To waiters and waitresses who are serving the holiday special to people who would rather be somewhere else--a crackling fire in the grate, a pair of bunny slippers and someone to tell them they are special and much loved.
A weekend in the Caymans with golden sand to warm the toes of those who have been driving a snowplow all season, so that emergency vehicles and grandmothers looking for the perfect doll can get through the snow-walled roads.
Holiday finery and new shoes to the choir who did such a great job on the Messiah, including the kid in the back row on the top step who really didn't sing a note because he knows he has a voice like a toad-frog on a lily pad, so he'd just move his lips lest Sister Celestine catch him. Alleluia, Alleluia.
May the brightest rays of the Star of Bethlehem shine on whoever has the watch at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory to keep a prideful eye on the spinning globes in space which were launched by the men of NASA.
And a happy birthday to the Son of Mary and Joseph, born in a stable with the sweet breath of the farm animals for warmth. And to all of you who write to me and get no answer and still read, thank you. I'll mean to do better but I won't, I'm afraid. Happy holidays to everyone.