They love playing games at the Oyster Party. I think their all time favorite was the Obstacle Course Race, but they enthusiastically participate in any contest. Last year we had a zip line for them and I don't know why, but I didn't get any photos of the kids on the zip line. There's lots going on at the Oyster Party.
There's also dancing.
More cowbell please.
We always sing lots of songs at these parties and we always end it with "The House of the Rising Sun". It's also traditionally sung at midnight on New Year's Eve.
Some of the kids don't make it until midnight until they are older.
Which brings me to this beautiful story written by one of our "kids", who has grown up into a very beautiful and talented young women,
Lyndsie's story, written for her English class.
24 February 2015
My House of the Rising Sun
At nine years old it occurred to me that it might be strange that my family gathered around a piano at the end of every social gathering, and it wasn’t until twelve that I realized it was even stranger that we passed around handmade lyric booklets with a list of contents ranging from “American Pie” to “Big Rock Candy Mountain” to “The Weight”. I was fourteen before I realized my cousin Jensen wasn’t really my cousin at all, and when I was eighteen I asked him how long it took him to realize the same about me.
“See, it was different for me, because I thought you were my sister,” he said. “I mean, I knew you didn’t live with us and that was weird because most of my friends lived with their sisters, so I asked my mom. And when she said I only loved you like a sister, and you weren’t really my sister… Yeah that was a weird day.”
We were sitting with my sister Leslie in folding chairs on the dimly lit lawn, barely twenty feet from the porch where Jensen had pilfered a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon just minutes before. The three of us passed it back and forth, the warm, putrid fizz in our mouths making us feel just the slightest bit rebellious. The porch light cast shadows across the grass – tables full of empty potluck dishes, a child’s toy lawnmower tipped onto its side, folding chairs in haphazard circles – all remnants of another successful August party at Jonny and Connie’s mountain home. Jonny and Connie were not my grandparents, but this I didn’t realize until about 3rd grade.
Muffled but still audible was the jubilant party continuing inside, away from the mosquitos, the summer’s nighttime chill, and us teenagers with our pathetically defiant beer. We could hear laughter intermingled with conversation, our younger not-so-cousins thundering up and down the basement stairs, and Jensen’s father shouting in his happy way, encouraging someone to drink or dance or join him behind Connie as she sat poised at her piano, flipping through pages and pages of possible tunes, her unfailingly neat silver hair flowing down her strong back. Suddenly there would be a collective hush, and even from out in the yard we knew what was about to happen.
I thought back to a photo of all of us “cousins” – my sisters and I, Jensen, his little brother Mathis, Uncle JP’s kids Collin and Riley, and several others – squished against one another on the rich wooden piano bench, some of us falling off while others climbed toward the keys to avoid the impending rug burns of a tumble onto the floor. I still remember how powerful the keys sounded to my small ears back then; how mysterious it was that when I touched the keys they made nothing but arbitrary sounds, but when Connie touched them they made pure magic.
Now, the three of us too big to even consider sharing the bench, we remained silent, holding our breath in anticipation of what song Connie had chosen. The notes did a familiar rise and fall, and through the summer air came the voices of our massive patchwork of family singing, “Celia, you're breaking my heart; you're shaking my confidence daily.” It wasn’t until age fifteen that I knew it was originally a Simon and Garfunkel song. I’d always requested it because of a memory of my dad saying it was his favorite.
I sipped the Pabst slowly, remembering all over again why I hated the bitter liquid, and passed it to Leslie.
“I wonder if our kids will get to come to Jonny and Connie’s and sing,” Jensen pondered while glancing toward the house. I could see my mom through the large windows, rocking back and forth while clapping and throwing her head back at the beginning of every new verse.
“I don’t know. What do you say Les? Do you think you and Jensen’s kids will get to come to Jonny and Connie’s parties?” I raised an eyebrow, always so proud of instances when I could tease Leslie and Jensen about the crush they had on one another. When I was six I officiated their wedding, unaware of both the fact that I was not an authorized justice of the peace and also that cousins don’t traditionally marry each other. Nevertheless, the two four-year-olds kissed and I never let them forget it.
“Ha. You’re hilarious,” Leslie said while taking a blind swing at my shoulder. She then leaned back and absentmindedly played with her hair in contemplation. “I hope my kids get to come here. I couldn’t imagine growing up any other way.”
We let her sentence rest between us, like the warm beer and the muffled singing voices. It wasn’t long before “Cecilia” was over and there was applause, complete with hooting and hollering from makeshift aunts and improvised uncles. It wasn’t our lack for blood relatives that had resulted in this web of a family. I knew in some convoluted way that Jonny was my grandfather’s cousin and therefore his kids’ kids were my cousins, and somewhere along the line Jensen’s great grandmother married Jonny’s uncle or something, but none of that mattered. Leslie was right. I couldn’t imagine growing up any other way.
“Hey you hooligans!” my sort-of Aunt Julie shouted gleefully from the porch. Jensen stealthily set the mostly full beer can behind his feet, out of view. As rebellious as we felt, three-quarters of the beverage still remained. A secret, shared beer was more enjoyable in theory than in practice. We all turned to Julie, and she said, “It’s time for the last song!”
We abandoned our lawn chairs and rushed toward the porch, clamoring up the sturdy wooden stairs and into the crowded living room. There was an unspoken code that everyone had to sing the last song, and the last song never changed. It was “House of the Rising Sun” by the Animals, but again, I’d always seen the original artist as Connie with the accompaniment of the most familiar singing voices in my life.
As an 8th grader I told a friend about my family’s song.
“Isn’t that song about a whore house?” she’d scoffed. I’d then spent the day running through the lyrics in my head, completely baffled at the thought.
My family loves that song, I thought. How have I been singing a song about prostitutes since I was four?
I didn’t let it bother me for long. The words had never really been words anyway – they were notes and hand gestures, beautiful piano riffs and gleeful shouts between stanzas.
At eighteen years old, the opening notes held the same weight they had back when we could all fit side-by-side on the bench. Back when I had the power to join Jensen and Leslie in holy matrimony. Back when I learned the lyrics without consciously memorizing them. At eighteen I felt the notes rise and fall within me, and I sang the opening lines with a new conviction.
“There is a house in New Orleans, they call the rising sun…”
It’s the same every time. Rather than “it’s been the ruin of many a poor boy”, Jensen’s grandmother always makes a point to say “girl.” I usually join her in doing so. When we sing it on New Year’s Eve it’s always at midnight. I have a mental slideshow of my parents kissing as the clock strikes twelve, an embrace with a consistent soundtrack. Connie sways with the music, glancing at the notes only briefly, each one of them flowing from her heart to her fingers. Jonny always stands behind her, his arms raised as if conducting a large choir, which I guess he is.
I never questioned why this became our song. It seemed as obvious as the August mosquitos, or the fact that I’d never like the taste of Pabst Blue Ribbon. The House of the Rising Sun was our song. It was far from conventional, but so was our family.
My dad walked up and tickled my ribs as the song came to a close. I grabbed his prodding hand and wrapped his arm around my shoulders, then hugged him sideways.
“Dad, isn’t that song about a whore house?” I inquired.
“Huh, yeah I guess,” he said with a smile. “Why?”
“It’s just funny I guess,” I responded.
My dad started bidding everyone goodbye with handshakes and hugs. I walked onto the back porch and sat down next to Jensen on the steps. They led to Connie’s prized garden, complete with a granite fountain crafted by Jensen’s grandpa and a small vineyard in the form of an arching tunnel. It was beneath those grape vines that I’d told Jensen to kiss his bride twelve years before. Rows upon rows of tomatoes and dahlias sat luscious and proud. I could barely make them out in the dark but I had every bud and stem vaguely engrained in my mind.
“How are we related again?” I asked, taking my eyes off the moonlit silhouette of the dark mountains to see Jensen smiling in his goofy way with his mouth slightly open and his eyes closed in slits.
“You’re my sister,” he said, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. I lifted my head and laughed toward the wide North Idaho sky that had watched me sing and play and grow up, realizing how lucky I was to belong to a family of people as different as the notes on a piano, but as cohesive as the melody of “The House of the Rising Sun.”
As you can see, Lyndsie has a wonderful talent for writing. You can check out more of it on her blog, Curse My Self-Worth.