I'm guessing that the inimitable Ellen started the tradition, as she is the regular instigator, of gathering together a last-minute, motley crew of willing singers to surprise an unsuspecting birthday celebrator, on the eve of their special day. As singers, we usually gather at a house close by, spend a too-short period of time learning a strange new interpretation of an historic madrigal tune, or a modernised version of a well known classic (such as the Beatles' "When I'm 64", or Elvis' "Love Me Tender"). After we have sufficiently realized we don't know the song, we pile into cars and snigger up to the person's front door.
At this moment, Ellen begins to play her accordian, a Spanish birthday song, that we've all heard a lot, but can't remember the words to. We sing it loudly, baudily, as we stream into the person's living room. We cheer, and sing our other numbers (which sometimes include theatrical antics), and then maybe the host opens some apple juice, or maybe their spouse is prepared with a secret birthday cake, and we all revel and talk, eat and drink, and go home glowing.
Such is life in a small community. We especially do serenades for people who are our elders, or folks who need extra cheering up. Seems they are mostly in the winter, when we all need an excuse to get together. It only happens because somebody decides we ought to, and that there is no one else to do it but ourselves.
Well, last night, we went to sing Ruth a serenade for her 86th birthday. Ruth is much more well known by many of my community compatriots, for some of whom she acted as house parent when a group of them went to high school in town, many others for whom she and her husband Rex provided their only telephone access for during the years before they had their own, in remote corners of our village.
We sang her a silly little round, whose words went like this:
"When dark winter's darkest dark is
And we're all in boots and parkas
Ruth, forsooth, our brightest spark is
In we come to park our carcass!"
Once we finished that, we did a two-part-harmony rendition of "Love Me Tender", complete with a trumpet and accordian musical interlude, as well as a two-tuba interlude. (Really!) And then we all shared cake and champagne, to celebrate not only Ruth's birthday, but also to celebrate Ruth's recent entry into the club of grandparenthood, at last. Her son, Dan, and his wife, Nieves, had their long-awaited baby last week, a little boy!
Moments like these, I often sit back a moment, and marvel at our unlikely community, nestled into the Humboldt hills...where else in America could I have the experience I have? It is such a lovely, caring group of collectively-minded people, I am proud to be a part of it.