Chestertown Follies by
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Our family never lived close to other relatives, my parents had some strained relations with their families of origin and no one organized big family reunions.  Perhaps because of that, I tacitly understood that once we kids crossed over into that fuzzy future of adulthood, we would have our own lives, with little connection to the old family.  But as it turned out, we did regroup after the diaspora of the kids’ early twenties.

There were songs for the sisters, the grandchildren, the in-laws, and the whole “cast”.  We thought they were pretty clever.

My father was the one who loved to have family together–holiday dinners and vacations (my mother was the faithful letter writer). When their fiftieth wedding anniversary came around in 1998, he invited us all to join them for the weekend.  He rented out a stately old house turned into a B and B on Maryland’s rural Eastern Shore, near their retirement community.  It would be the first time that parents, children, spouses, and grandchildren would all be staying together in the same house.

The sisters realized we had better do something to help celebrate.  Older sister had married into a more exuberant family that got together regularly, complete with corny T-shirts and camping adventures—maybe we should make shirts!  That was not a usual Hendry thing, but maybe a tasteful polo shirt with discrete crest in a classic navy?  Younger sister had connections through her work and it was done—shirts for everyone.  A secret though until the weekend.

Oh, and maybe we should have a cake.  Also secret until dessert after the dinner on Saturday night.  Effected with a little coordination with the proprietors of the B and B.  We also ordered up a case of Hendry wine—no relation, but a great wine from the Napa Valley, and my parents had visited the genial vintner George Hendry on a trip out west.

That all felt okay, but not quite enough.  Perhaps we could also sing a song?  Younger sister had experience organizing and performing in her neighborhood’s yearly parody shows and was a bit of a ham. She was all in. I could help write the words.

Soon the idea of a show blossomed, and we wrote songs and more songs until there were nine, all re-writes of existing tunes and touching on aspects of their lives.  There were songs for the sisters, the grandchildren, the in-laws, and the whole “cast”.  We thought they were pretty clever. I even practiced plunking out a few notes on the piano to accompany a couple of them. We printed up the libretto and had almost no time to actually rehearse, but the grand adventure was in play.  Still secret.

And so the weekend unfolded.  Arriving on Friday with surprise shirts waiting for everyone.  On Saturday people actually wore the shirts and had a relaxed day around the countryside. Then wine present before Saturday dinner, the surprise cake afterwards.  There were toasts; my father was emotional and gave a lovely tribute to his wife and “best friend” of fifty years.  My mother, typically, spoke about how proud she was that we were all contributing members of society.  We retired to the sitting room.

But wait, there’s more!  The parents were seated in a pair of chairs on one side of the room, with copies of the libretto in their bewildered hands, and it was show time for “The Chestertown Follies”.  We sang our parts, unrehearsed as it was, with voices barely in tune, but it was from the heart.  My parents were astonished and overwhelmed.  When we hit the final number, a straight-up version of “Love is Here to Stay”, we were all a bit teary.

The show was a success.  My parents later re-read the words and were still a bit in shock that we had pulled it all together, maybe because they had spent their lives giving to us and we didn’t always let them know we cared.  The grandkids sang a tune about how much they enjoyed spending summers with their grandparents (which had been stressful at times), and my mother remarked that she was touched to hear them say they had truly appreciated their efforts.  We don’t say thank you enough.

We might not have been great artists, but we still recall it as a truly great performance.

 

Profile photo of Khati Hendry Khati Hendry


Characterizations: funny, moving, right on!, well written

Comments

  1. Marian says:

    How sweet, Khati, that this performance renewed a connection and showed your folks how much you care about them. I’m glad it was memorable for you.

  2. Betsy Pfau says:

    Very nice, Khati! Warm, wonderful and heartfelt! The best kind of performance.

  3. John Shutkin says:

    What a wonderful, sweet family story, Khati. And I can totally understand why this event, though so happily memorable, did not come immediately to mind as a “great performance.” And yet, as we know, these things are in the eye of the beholder and, to your parents (and everyone else involved), it truly was. Your last sentence says it all perfectly.

    • Khati Hendry says:

      It was enjoyable going down that particular memory lane, locating the old pictures and libretto. There were a few special things we did for our parents that we never regretted, and that was near the top for sure.

  4. Suzy says:

    This was a wonderful story, Khati! Love all the surprises that went into the celebration – matching shirts (tasteful, subdued), a cake, Hendry wine, and then the piece de resistance, The Chestertown Follies. Your parents must have been blown away! Do you still have the libretto? That photo of it looks like it might be recent (taken on a beige carpet). Would love to know what the songs were.

    • Khati Hendry says:

      Yes, parents were really surprised and as you say, blown away. But of course I still have the libretto—that is a recent picture. Since you asked: “Who’s Next?”—Tom Lehrer song—about the daughters as they came along. “Amazing Grace” – about my mother not being called her given name Grace. “History” —Sam Cooke—about my mom knowing ALL about history plus. “Hunky Dinky Parlez-Vous”—about my dad’s language ability (with several languages used). “Crazy” — by in-laws referring to Hendry foibles they married into. “Take Me Out Fishing” – tune of take me out the ball game—sung by grandkids about thing they did with their grandparents. “Dry Martini” —tune of Scotch and Soda—about parents custom of having nightly drink and conversation with each other. “I Remember it Well” — various old memories mis-remembered. “Love is Here to Stay” — the real song.

  5. We don’t say thank you to our parents enough is surely true! But you surely did with surprise tee-shirts, wine, cake, and that original Chestertown Follies show.

    It sounds wonderful Khati!

  6. Laurie Levy says:

    Your story brought tears to me eyes, Khati. What a memorable performance for your parents. They must have been thrilled. Having had a 50th celebration 4 years ago, I can testify that the slide show my granddaughter put together, while far from professional as she was 12 at the time, was indeed memorable. As you so rightly say, “We don’t say thank you enough.”

  7. Fred Suffet says:

    What a terrific story–and great family–Khati. That performance would have, without doubt, garnered reviews equal to any bestowed on a hit Broadway show.

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