I obviously survived the family function and the event was actually rather nice, even though I’m not a party person at all. The venue was one of the nicer hotels in town and the menu was a step up from the usual chicken soup and sliced meat fare. We even got the house specialty, green pepper cream soup.
There was arranged seating, but luckily I ended up sharing a table with my cousin the politicians and my cousin the teacher and their kids as well as a female pastor and a very speedy toddler. The little fellow kept running off every chance he got and then someone had to chase him through half the hotel. At one point I caught him about to slip into the kitchen after one of the waitresses (one of my other cousins used to be a chef at this hotel, so I knew where the kitchen was). Though it was nice to see the speedy little guy doing so well, considering he was born extremely premature and it was touch and go for a while.
There were the usual speeches and recitals that are common for bigger family parties (this one was an 80th birthday). I always find those recitals quite fascinating from an anthropological point of view. The texts always rhyme and the rhymes are more or less (usually less) creative. Most of the time, no one knows who actually wrote them, because these texts are photocopied and passed around from person to person. It’s almost a sort of folk poetry. They can make the rounds for a long time, too. There’s one that is still occasionally heard (though not at yesterday’s party) that refers to several celebrities that have been dead for decades, which gives a hint at how long that one has been circulating.
As a teenager, I once helped a friend to compose a birthday poem for her aunt. I don’t remember much about it, except that there was a reference to milk quotas (a highly controversial topic in the 1980s, particularly if you came from a farming background like my friend), and that it contained the immortal lines: “…kam sie schließlich auf die Welt – Tante Christa, kopfgestellt.” (And so she came into the world – Aunt Christa, standing on her head). Alas, that one never made it into the canon of popular birthday folk poetry.
There was singing as well. First the traditional “Hoch soll sie/er leben…” (Long shall he/she live), which is always sort of triggering for me, because I can never hear that song without remembering my sixth birthday, which also happened to be my grandma’s 76th birthday. And suddenly all of the adults got up and started singing very, very solemnly a song that sounds more like a funeral march than a cheery birthday song. And if you’re six years old and suddenly surrounded by a forbidding wall of adults singing a song you don’t know (my parents and I were all blessed with awful voices, so we were never a singing family), it’s bloody scary. I have never been able to hear or sing that song without triggering that particular memory. In fact, some years later as a teenager (I don’t remember if my grandma was still alive at that point or not) I first broke out in embarrassed giggles and then begged the assembled party to stop singing, because I didn’t like that song.
There was also another song, a very long song, assembled from the first lines of many religious songs. The juxtaposition of lines created some not quite intended (at least I hope so) meanings. My favourite was “Do it with me, God”. I bet that one makes the kids in confirmation class snicker.