Normally planned well in advance, although on occasion, within a few days of the event, Hawthorne Place witnessed indescribable evenings of musical and culinary feasts. As many as sixty people crowded into the living room and entrance hall, their conversations absorbing and animated. Always there were the regulars, always there were newcomers, musicians and artists, people from universities, the worlds of medicine, science, business and law, and most significantly for me, teachers from my school, something that was often a trifle perplexing. It was one thing to answer the door and greet my parents' insurance man and his wife, but it was another thing altogether to see my social studies teacher who, two days before, had given me a low grade on a paper, standing there with a date and utterly delighted to see me.
Packed into the house, people sitting on the stairs practically all the way up to the second floor, they settled themselves into position as the music began: chamber music in which any number of musicians might sit in: Nathan Milstein or Gregor Piatgorsky or Vladimir Horowitz if they were in town, their presence in Chicago usually the reason for the soirée in the first place. Then would come the sonatas, trios, quintets, sextets, octets, my mother having joined the other players by this point. Then another movement of a violin sonata, Milstein wearing his glasses, bending over as he concentrates on the music; Horowitz sight reading and shrieking with delight when he narrowly gets through a thorny section; members of the Fine Arts Quartet, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, or my father and his chamber music colleagues joining in or turning pages for their illustrious colleagues; Nathan suddenly playing a slow movement of a quartet on the cello.
At the end of each piece the audience explodes with applause; they beg for more, and they get it. Having arrived at seven or seven thirty, the encores go on until well after midnight, and still the audience clamors for one last piece. Horowitz plays a Chopin waltz, my mother a Scarlatti sonata, Milstein a section of a Bach Partita. The people crammed together on the stairwell, their knees pushed in to the backs and shoulders of those on the steps directly beneath them, reveal not the slightest sign of discomfort. Given their location, there is no way they can see what is happening in the music room, but the acoustics of the old house are unusually fine.
Well after midnight, the handsome five foot wide oak pocket door separating the music room from the dining room is rolled back into its wall envelope revealing the blond dining room table covered with platters of food. Filled with the joys of music, the center piece of it all being my mother, people take their plates and silverware and line up all the way back to the entrance hall for the buffet repast that turns out to be as glorious as the music. The apprehensions and agony now vanished, my mother moves about the crowded spaces accepting compliments, embraces, and kisses. Eventually she approaches me: "I got rare roast beef 'specially for you. There's more in the kitchen." She turns to my date: "Pretty boring, huh, all these old people with their long hair music?"
Deep into the morning hours the revelry continues, people resisting the notion that the evening must ever end. Finally, my mother is standing at the open front door making certain to touch and kiss each guest as they depart. Her comments are quick, clever, amusing. Yet, as a teenager, I begin to detect the sadness that will return after the party ends, just as the song says, when the music stops.
"What do you look so sad, Georgina? This won't be the last time we'll do this. As soon as I'm out of the hospital we'll do it again."
"Gitta, darling, no, you're going into the hospital?"
"What, you think all that food I just ate in there isn't going to give me cancer?"
"Gitta, may I tell you that I have never heard you play as well. Ever!
"Lotte, can I can tell you that your ear for music is getting worse. I assure you, it wasn't that good."
"Gitta, if you don't record the Schubert sonata with Milstein then you're absolutely crazy."
"It actually wasn't too bad, was it, for two alte cockers (old crappers). And what's more, you're right: I am crazy."
"Bless you, Gitta. A million thanks for this generous and positively scrumptious concert and dinner."
"Sy, you still going to feel this way when you get the bill?"
"Darling, Gitta, how do we thank you for such a precious night? I'm calling you first thing in the morning."
"Thanking me is easier than you think: Don't call me in the morning!"