“Honey… There’s a Piper in the Parlor!”

by Debra Chappell

View from my mother in law’s entry way on her 90th birthday (Amersham, England):

 Mood Reading: ZZZ’s:  Had a decent night’s sleep after staying up late to watch the Olympics, my new and I hope temporary obsession!  (How the heck am I going to get anything done over the next 17 days?)

I thought it only fitting to conclude my travel journal and our time in England (after a fabulous 5 days in Barcelona) to coincide with the Summer Olympics opening in London.  The Games officially launched two nights ago and I’m glued to the TV already on the second day of competition, watching sports I’d never normally pay any attention to. But you gotta love it!  Here I am yelling like a maniacal, die-hard fan of the US Men’s Volleyball team when only two days ago, I thought “dig”, “dink”, and “dive” were intricate dance steps on the ballroom floor!

When we were in England just over a week ago, we could see the extensive preparations and mounting national excitement for the London games. From the city’s Heathrow airport to the local tube stations, all had been cleaned, tidied, and spiffed up, sporting new cheery flower pots, freshly painted walls and benches, and yards and yards of red, white and blue patriotic bunting.  But despite all these meticulous arrangements, nothing compared to the eager anticipation building at number 34 The Drive, in the picturesque countryside of Buckinghamshire, the site of Steve’s Mum’s 90th birthday party celebration – the occasion for which we had come!

We arrived to a party/tea hosted by the neighbors on The Drive featuring the finger sandwiches, cakes and  sweet treats the Brits are so famous for.  The guest of honor was toasted, feted, and otherwise honored with a photo book of favorite neighborly memories, and over tea, champagne and anecdotes, we sipped the afternoon away.  Concluding with a superb, lavish cake made by one of the very artistic neighbors, it was a fitting celebration fit for the “Queen of The Drive”, as she is now known.  After 2 hours of sleep the night before and our early morning flight from Barcelona, the champagne and celebration caught up to us at about  9:30 p.m. and we crashed into bed quite unceremoniously  for the first decent night’s sleep since leaving home.

The celebratory weekend continued with the entire family the following day featuring a pre-arranged elaborate lunch in the old town at one of the trendy new restaurants that had recently received rave reviews.  Afterwards we all (including the 90 and 91 year old matriarch and patriarch) took a little walk-about in the old-town market – poking around the shops and braving the typical English drizzle. Then it was time for a collective nap, and much later, the hubby and I snuck out for a pint at the local pub.  It gave us the opportunity to text and call Steve’s brother and sister-in-law, who had left our company only an hour earlier, to coordinate and confirm the clandestine and somewhat elaborate plans for the following day – the piece de resistance — a surprise party for Mum.

The following morning began typically, cups of tea around the breakfast table and lots of chat about the previous day’s activities.  Like a youngster on Christmas morning, Steve’s mum got up early to open the more than 60 birthday cards she’d received — and later in the morning I helped her string them up  through the entry way and living room.  She was looking forward to an intimate family birthday “lunch” catered by her grandson Aidan (an aspiring young ‘chef’), and had no idea there was something quite “more” in store until several of her friends of a lifetime started arriving.  Having thoroughly enjoyed the “surprise”, she settled into animated conversation and more champagne flowed as stories were shared and memories revisited.

Midway between the second course of shrimp pasta and the presentation of dessert, the room fell silent to hark the strange sound that was now emanating from the direction of the street outside.  The hubby had opened some of the windows moments earlier to alleviate the growing “stuffiness”, and now an undetermined “whining” could be heard above the jovial conversation. As the guests and birthday girl clambered around the front windows to get a better “listen”, the exotic tone grew in decibels, closer and closer, louder and louder, until the unmistakable wringing sound of Scottish bag-pipes burst through the front door and into the now shocked living room belting out “Scotland the Brave!”

Now, my mother-in-law, whose maiden name is the very Scottish “McKay” (pronounced Mac-Eye) has claimed for as long as I have known her,some 40 years, that anytime she hears Scottish bag-pipes, her “Scottish heart stirs!” Apparently they stir her 90 year old tootsies as well!  After she had recovered from the shock of it all, it didn’t take long before she and my husband were doing their best rendition of the Scottish jig in the middle of the living room and out into the back garden! Even the sun came out to celebrate and the burly and talented piper played an extensive repertoire of British favorites, graciously adding a few old Yankee standards in deference to some of the “attendees”.

Needless to say it was a splendid and fitting climax to a wonderful weekend of 90th birthday celebrations that will be remembered by all for a long time to come.  I have to admit, when I turn 90, I can only hope I’m able to walk-about in town, poke around the shops, rise early for a special day and dance the Scottish Jig in the back garden.  If I want at least a fighting chance at it, I guess I’m going to have to turn off the TV, Olympics not withstanding, and get off the couch!