by Dr. Jeffrey Lant.
Author’s program note. Aime’ Joseph never ceases to amaze me, and of the
foundations for lasting friendship that felicitous agility is surely one of the best.
Knowing my habits, the need to have everything about the new tale, the current article
readily at hand, even old napkins, smudged and ripped, valuable artifacts notwithstanding so long as they contain a single indecipherable letter, for my handwriting has never risen above the abashed level of execrable; given these habits, I say, I shouldn’t have been surprised that he had dropped over with a paper in one hand, a question in the other.
It’s the kind of good deed he does and why I permit him to raid the refrigerator with
impunity, leaving me to wail from time to time, “But I was saving that ginger beer…”,
giving the strongest possible impression that my bite is indeed worse than my bark,
but even I don’t believe it.
He knows this and at the earliest possible moment restarts his researches
into and acquisitions from the food and wine which I always purchase in far too
ample quantities for the amount I eat and the nullity I drink.
This, of course, provides the rationale he needs for raids which would impress a
Viking, though in truth the fact he is my constant helper and friend provides all the
reason he’ll ever need… although I do wish he’d ask before gallivanting home with the
last morsel or drop of any much craved delicacy.
“Do you need this?”
And, of course, I did… for this tale of Independence Day 2013 would never
have taken place — for me — without it and the grande dame who mailed it
and so literally made my day. Here is what it looked like. Here is what it said.
“Generations, Friends, Families. Please join us!”
There then followed explicit directions of what these generations, friends, and
families must do in the matter of furnishing food (“your favorite and a little extra
to share”), and drink (“Also your favorite and a little extra to share”)… with further
detailed instructions on such critical matters as “places to swim, eat, sit, chat,
rest, sing, ice, cups, plates, knives, forks, spoons”, and the most important directive
and admonition of all… to bring your crucial holiday spirit and so increase its already
ample measure stemming principally from our hostess, Diane Neal Emmons.
Distinctive right from the start.
Did you pronounce her first name DIE ANN. Of course you did. I did when first
introduced. The world does, but you, me and the wide generality of the planet,
all of us, are mistaken. For she pronounces it DEE ON and woe to thems who gets
it wrong, for as every Eskimo knows, a name is totemic, the thing that holds your
spirit and first tells the world who you are, where you have come from, and where
you are going.
In this way, with this subtle variation, Diane (did you pronounce it correctly this time?)
announced that she was not and would never be of the humdrum, prosaic or everyday
variety of mere Dianes, much less (horror of horrors) of the Dee Dees who derive
therefrom; that she was instead something quite different, distinguished, unique; though
as a lady to the manner born she couldn’t possibly tell you this. You’d have to find out for
yourself, if only you had the good sense and good manners to do so. And so are the real
gems separated and higher valued than the baubles who, at first, seem the same.
The happiest girl in the neighborhood, maybe the happiest girl in the world.
I don’t have any proof for what I am about to say, no proof at all. However, people
like me, called commentators are given wide latitude and what is called “the benefit
of the doubt” in advancing their cases; in other words so long as what we write is
not specious in the extreme or wildly implausible we may dream, wonder, ruminate
and speculate to our heart’s content. I am about to use that privilege here….
There is something larger than life about Diane, and this is especially true when
she first glimpses you. There is in that moment the ghost of Ezio Pinza singing
“Some enchanted evening.”
You sense rather than see that her eyes light up and she is no longer that woman of
a certain age, but a girl in flying dance slippers with bright pink ribbons in the much
considered hair of a twelve year old; the twelve year old who greets you like a favored
child greets her favorite relation with nothing more troubling on her youthful horizon
than who to ask to the Sadie Hawkins dance in just two weeks.
When you are the boy who receives this high energy treatment, you think, no you know
that you are the boy she’ll invite… and that you’ll have a spiffing good time, because Diane
knows to her fingertips how to make sure you — and everyone else — leaves happy and
recalls each event with a smile. It is her special secret, and you are glad she is lavishing
Fashionably late and better so.
People who run 24-hour-a-day Internet enterprises learn to be approximate in the
matter of time; technology, after all, is a capricious mistress, smooth running one
minute, causing mayhem the next, even on holidays when one is expected out of
town at a particular time. “Technology is great when it works.” Thus my party,
Mr. and Mrs. Joseph and I left late… and arrived as my grandmother used to say
“fashionably late.” This proved to be a good thing, since many guests having
partaken of luncheon under a tent most often used at weddings and anniversaries
went home to laze the blistering afternoon away dozing in the shade. And thus both
Josephs and I were able to spend more time with the hostess, a happy result of
But first I had literally to sing for my supper.
“Songs to Sing When Two or Three or More are Gathered Together.”
Open upon my desk now is a thin volume of the name above, a volume compiled
by Diane and providing numerous clues to the lady and her metier. It is her personal
song book, and it is both curious and touching. Diane, you see, is of the generation
where people entertained each other by each being responsible (particularly young ladies
of good family like Diane) for an enjoyable rendezvous, with and for only the right people,
which for this lady and her friends, meant prep schools like Winsor and Groton,
colleges like Radcliffe and Harvard, social clubs like Chilton and Somerset, and
above all the Mayflower Club always remembering that if you must inquire about it,
you were most decidedly NOKD, “not our kind, dear.”
The Kennedys, not yet with a postal code in Camelot were in this category, and in the
Irish way their revenge was thorough and hurtful, not least because they soon shunted
the old families of the Commonwealth (called Brahmins) aside and to the rest of the world
portrayed themselves as Bay State aristocrats, which caused society matrons on
Commonwealtlh Avenue to fume… and plot revengeful motifs they no longer had the
money, power or unquestionable social position to dictate.
Diane Emmons was caught up in this sea change in Boston. She was born to
adorn a particular universe and that universe was changed beyond recognition.
It was a world into which you were born, where acceptance was automatic and
life long for those with the right surname and genetic code. Never mind It was often dull,
dowdy, smug and insular, none of which mattered to the people who wanted entree they
would probably never get until club revenues fell and provided a compelling reason
for new members mere equity could never provide.
“In” could only be valuable in relation to who was “Out”, a fact which social novelist
Frances Parkinson Keyes (1885-1970) captured to a nuance, in books like “Joy Street”.
This street on Beacon Hill was cut in half, the top socially acceptable; the bottom mixed
and dubious. I wrote my first book in an apartment well down from the acme, yet adored
for all that.
She must have regretted at least some of the changes, but her Fairy Godmother
made sure she had the one essential feature she needed to live through such
massive change and come through it smiling, albeit saddened by the loss of what was
after all her birthright and cherished reality… now just so much ancient history, gone with
the wind. Her great attribute? She liked people and people liked her. In the truest tradition of real ladyship, Diane took pains to help when she didn’t have to; assisted beyond the call of duty so many charitable endeavors; and always, always had time for
that far-flung and heterogeneous group, her Friends, of which I proudly call myself
With a song in my heart… and nowhere else.
Ever since I was a child at church, I have been rebellious and adamant on the matter
of group singing: quite simply, I hate it, not merely because I am unable to carry a tune
in a bucket, but because when one sings in any venue even remotely public one is
expected to boom out the song in question, your role (happy, amorous, joyous, sad,
whatever) determined by just what you’re singing and always overdone.
Instead of entering into the spirit of the enterprise, I did everything imaginable to ensure
that any such involvement would only be by force and after a masterful display of temper
and high volume obstinacy.
Diane, of course, loves to sing, never mind that her voice is reminiscent of a species of
frog found only in the swimming pools of the well heeled. She is awful… However, she
believes in the social utility of what she is doing… and, as hostess, she is unrelenting in
“persuading” her guests into her unyielding view that group singing on very hot holidays
is a privilege, not cruel and unusual punishment to be avoided at all cost, which is my
abiding take on the matter.
But I am a guest, I aim to please, even if I transgress against my core beliefs… and
so I sing… about 15 words or so of “If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands.”
It is one of the most insipid tunes ever composed, therefore popular with people for whom
their inexhaustible jauntiness and perkiness is a gift from on high, to be celebrated
whenever possible around those of a sarcastic and insufficiently civic spirited demeanor.
That would be me, and it is a measure of how highly I esteem my hostess and her chipper
orientation that I sang and clapped at all, never mind with tepid demeanor. I knew my rights and obligations as guest, and calibrated my finger movements and strain on my vocal chords accordingly. And so, obdurate, I listen to — but do not sing, warble or chant — the eccentric litany in the song book that jumps from “Blue Moon” to “Chattanooga Choo Choo” to “Good Night, Irene.”
Diane was zealous but she had long odds against her, the day sultry, the repast generous,
delicious, ancient guests drowsy, eyes determined to close, collective nap time at hand.
Then there it was… the perfect song for the day, the hostess, every visitor and even
for me, hardened city dweller and professional scoffer determined to stay an anthropologist, watchful but disengaged.
“What would you think if I sang out of tune/Would you stand up and walk out on me?/
Lend me your ears and I’ll sing you a song/And I’ll try not to sing out of key”…
And then the words that define us all:
“Oh, I get by with a little help from my friends.”
Better because of DEE ON.
As I looked around the backyard of her rambling colonial-style home just blocks
from the well-known Singing Beach in Manchester-by-the-Sea (officially incorporated
in 1645) I saw it populated by her friends, old, young, some vibrant and running over
with high animal spirits, some for whom moving at all, especially on such a stifling
day, was a labor… I thought of how lucky the human is who can conjure so many
and make them sing this song first written in mid-March 1967 by John Lennon
and Paul McCartney.
Just click on the link below and hear it all over again and ask yourself if you’ve
been a good friend today, the kind of friend you’d like to have, the kind of friend well
deserving of your esteem and high regard, the kind of friend I am so lucky to have in
Diane Neal Emmons… the one person I am prepared to sing for, out of key of course,
but completely sincere… and grateful.