I couldn’t have imagined a sweeter or more fulfilling way to draw my extended 80th birthday celebration to a close.
I began celebrating in October by taking my daughter and daughter-in-law to Vermont to revisit my old teaching home at Vermont College of Fine Arts.
In November, my actual birth month, my daughter gave me a party, and various friends invited me to smaller celebrations. My daughter hosted a family party, too. (She was busy those days.) My birthday gift was the surprise of finding my grandson Barrett home from Tampa, Florida, for the occasion. Then on the actual date my partner, Barb, and I had a delightful just-us evening at a restaurant we hadn’t explored before.
But the climax came on December 9th. Barb and I traveled to Providence, Rhode Island, for a musical performance of my picture book The Longest Night, created and performed by Community MusicWorks. The program, Songs of Darkness and Light, included a folktale from Brazil, “How We Got the Night,” along with my winter solstice picture book.
Community MusicWorks is a community-based organization that uses music education and performance to build lasting and meaningful relationships between children, families and professional musicians. Thirteen resident musicians perform concerts throughout Providence and surrounding communities and offer a free after-school music education program. This is the third year they have performed The Longest Night. It was my first time to be able to attend.
I was utterly charmed! Storyteller Valerie Tutson read, no, she performed my text. Ted Lewin’s stunning watercolors filled a screen. And various musicians, some wearing half masks of the animals in the story—crow, moose, fox, chickadee—played Schoenberg and Bach and Haydn, carrying the story forward on wings of song.
Ted and I were asked to join the musicians on the stage at the end of the performance to talk about our work on the book, so I had a chance to explain my inspiration for this small story.
The Longest Night, I told them, began with a question: Why, I asked myself, does the longest night fall at the beginning of winter, not in the middle? Wouldn’t the middle make more sense?
The answer when I went searching for it turned out to be simple. As the days grow shorter and colder, the ground freezes and snow falls and stays. Once the ground is covered with snow, the sun’s rays reflect and bounce back into space, leaving behind little warmth for our air. And so the longest night becomes the beginning of winter because the climb out is harder and slower than the drop in.
I was delighted to know that, because it tells me more than why winter stays. It tells me also that with every day growing longer, the beginning of winter is also our first step toward spring!
What a heartening thought, especially for us winter-locked Minnesotans.
And what a life-enhancing experience to hear a piece of mine that I particularly love come to life through another artistic medium
I’ll confess that when I rose at the end of the program to step up onto that stage, Valerie, the storyteller, had to reach down to give this old lady a helping hand. I’m 80 now and 80 showed. But oh . . . I am 80 and so blessed!