When I moved to Santa Barbara in 1963 I was honored to be befriended by two of the most wonderful people I’ve ever known, Adele and Leighton Wilkie. What fabulous parties they gave! What glorious times I had traveling with them on occasion. How marvelous it was to become great friends with their children. Then sadly in the way life goes, they were gone……..
But fortunately their lovely daughter Bonnie and her Australian Olympic gold medal swimming winner husband Jon Henricks have carried on in the same gracious generous style of Adele and Leighton. This was proven on Valentines Day when Bonnie hosted a ladies luncheon for a very large group of their Santa Barbara friends and from the moment I entered the grand old estate they inherited from Adele and Leighton a song was going through my head — a favorite song. Charles Aznavour was serenading me with Dance in the Old Fashioned Way. This song I love has always reminded me of a world now past, a gracious world where attention was paid to detail, where guests didn’t arrive in their exercise suits, where beauty and delicious were the theme.
Jon was at the door greeting guests as they arrived and led them into the beautiful living room that is totally unchanged from the first time I entered long ago. Many guests were out on the terrace and in the vast gardens but I never got that far. The floral arrangements were beautiful. A collection of Victorian Valentines decorated the grand piano. The fine wood paneling shone with a special light that only age and care can produce. As I looked around I thought, old can be better. And Charles sang on in my head.
Before we went in to luncheon everyone was assembled in the living room where Jon stood behind a chair in which Bonnie sat and with special music playing he sang a song he’d written about love. And Valentines Day is about love. About loving Bonnie when she was young and loving her even more now. Old fashioned? Maybe. But a rapper couldn’t capture the warmth of that tribute I can tell you. And I quite like some rappers.
Memories of parties past flowed when our group who were dining inside entered the dining room. There was no question of what holiday this was. Red flowers, old lace, red Valentines everywhere. The marvelous dining table with a fountain in the center was where it has always been, making musical water flowing sounds as background for our luncheon chatter – reminding me of so many great parties from the past.
The first course of fabulous lobster bisque filled with chunks of fresh lobster was served in antique demitasse cups on floral china that shouted spring time. I have a collection of those cups I remembered! Beautiful little cups hidden away forgotten as I too have fallen into a safe in the dishwasher state of thinking. “Dance in the old fashioned way,” Charles was humming in my head.
Guiltily I thought of all this beauty and graciousness about which I’ve grown so careless. Things have to get done the easiest way because I have to spend hours on the computer. Do it quickly and get back to the computer. And I console myself with the fact that Valentine’s wasn’t always flowers and chocolates and pretty cards with red hearts. In 5th century Rome the Romans practiced a pagan celebration in mid-February commemorating young men’s rite of passage to the god Lupercus. It wasn’t all religious seriousness however. The boys drew names of teenage girls from a box and each girl was assigned to each young man who drew her name to be his sexual companion during the remaining year. That’s certainly not flowers and soft music romance!
It took Pope Gelasius to clean up this pagan festival. He ordered that instead of the names of young women the box would contain names of saints. That’s quite a switch! And women could now draw from the box as well. The idea was that for the rest of the year the participants were to emulate the ways of the saint whose name they drew. St. Valentine got his top man status because the Roman men were so unhappy with the new game the Church was forced to seek a suitable patron saint of love to head up things. However Emperor Claudius determined that married men made poor soldiers so he banned marriage from his empire. But Valentine, defying him, was secretly marrying young men. Claudius ultimately had him imprisoned and while in jail he fell in love with the blind daughter of his jailer. His love for her and his great faith miraculously healed her eyes before his death. As he was taken off to his beheading he left a farewell note for the girl and signed it “From Your Valentine.” Now you can all take it from there…….
As I drove off it wasn’t feelings of guilt that I felt from the piece of cake covered with freshly grated cocoanut and a piece of chocolate fudge cake or the darling little Chinese take out box covered with red hearts filled with chocolate hearts on the front seat next to me. It was feelings of warmth having lived in the gracious world of days past for an afternoon. As I drove Charles was there singing again. And my body was moving with the melody and I could almost feel the arms of a man I loved around me, while we danced in the old fashioned way……………
Dance in the old fashioned way.
Won’t you stay in my arms
And let me feel your heart
Don’t let the music win
By dancing far apart.
Come close where you belong
Let’s hear our secret song.
Dance in the old fashioned way.
Won’t you stay in my arms
And we’ll discover highs
We never knew before
If we just close our eyes
And dance around the floor
That fine old fashioned way
That makes me love you more
Sing on Charles Aznavour, sing on……………….
Kathleen Fetner, Technical Advisor and Friend