Monday, April 12, 2004

Easter weekend in Iowa: all the highlights you're dying to know

• I timed my drive perfectly on Friday afternoon -- I pulled out of the Chicago parking garage to the first strains of All Things Considered, I cruised across the Mississippi to Marketplace and I pulled into my sister's driveway as the credits rolled for This American Life.

• My niece and nephew RAN to greet me when I pulled up and gave me the most satisfying hugs an uncle could ever get. They spent the rest of the weekend being fun and well-behaved and polite and charming and funny and everything else they could think of to make me get all weepy every time I looked at them.

• The nephew wanted me to sleep on his bottom bunk, which apparently excited him to no end. So each night after he put on his pajamas, I got to read four books to him, tuck him into bed and then eventually crawl into the roomier-than-I-thought little bed underneath his after spending the evening hanging out kid-free with the family.

• The Easter egg hunt at Brucemore was cold, but far more fun than I expected. The kids were still young enough to buy into the magic, the grounds were immaculate and the mansion was as beautiful as I remember (though its endlessly rambling Queen Anne architecture has never been my cup of tea). I even ran into Jim and Peggy and Janelle and got to catch up with them while we were there. Jim was my high-school drama director, and Janelle and I have shared the stage in everything from The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas to Starmites to Follies, and she's still every bit the diva (in the amazingly talented and force-to-be-reckoned-with-on-stage and respected-by-everyone-she-works-with sense of the word). She just released her first CD, which carried me well across Iowa on my drive home yesterday.

• We celebrated my birthday while I was home (a week early -- there's still time to buy me stuff before the actual celebration on the 18th), and I got socks and underwear, which I was in desperate need of, a ton of Gap gift certificates (because a man can never have enough opportunities to shop), and Arvo Pärt's Sanctuary, featuring his ethereal "Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten."

• I got to sit between the niece and the nephew at my birthday dinner. As I was cutting the niece's food for her, she leaned over and patted my arm with her little 2-year-old hand and said "Thank you." Bliss.

• I sang with the choir at my folks' church Easter morning, and I got to stand between a five-piece brass ensemble and the back ranks of the organ pipes as we belted out a stirring Vaughan Williams piece and Handel's glorious "Hallelujah" chorus. Best of all, I was right there among the pipes to experience the mighty "Toccata" from Charles-Marie Widor's Symphony No. 5 not once but twice as two congregations were dismissed.

• On the way home last night, I got to drive in almost 30 miles of stop-and-go traffic outside of Chicago. In a stick shift.