The house lights begin to dim, a settling in our seats, murmuring voices fade and the orchestra begins the overture. I can see the side view of the cherubic faces of my daughters, one, two, three as we sit in the three rows of our box seats at the Opera House. My mother and Papa, my Love and I attending the Nutcracker with our little girls decked out in their holiday dresses with black Mary Jane shoes, and their hair pulled back with bows. The music swells and the heavy velvet curtain opens. The magic begins. We are caught up in the story that has entertained us for so many years.
Our tradition started when K. was three years old. First just my mom/Nana, my niece and K., and thereafter we all would go. Nana and Papa would get box seats for us. We would take the side stairway up to the level that the box seats were on and walk till we came to the correct numbered door. Opening the door one would enter into a dimly lit petite sitting room with a few chairs. A velvet fringed curtain opened out upon the box seating with the sweeping view of the theater. Before the show, the girls would lean over the balcony rail to peer down at the orchestra seating, their eyes would swing over to the stage area, look upon the orchestra pit where the musicians would be warming up, and look up to the higher balcony seating. They would wait ever so patiently.
Each year the story became more firmly ingrained in their minds. What were the favorite parts? What might have changed this year with the story? Those dear happy times, even when trying to get them each dressed and out the door on time to pick up Nana and Papa or most times have a limo pick us up at their home.
At the Intermission, Nana would always have brought peanut butter sandwiches cut into shapes (no crust) of little horses from a cookie cutter. Godiva chocolate and Champagne, maybe some cheese and crackers. There would be 7-Up or Coke for the girls. Every year.....the story was all of the day not just the ballet. My mom created a dreamy scene of joy for her Granddaughters. Those fleeting years when magic and dress-up went hand in hand. Were they not little Princesses off to the castle (the Opera House), to pirouette in their full fancy dresses. Even I felt the grandeur as we would walk up the front steps of the columned facade, pass through the large doors, and into the grand lobby.
Our daughters took all this without how out of ordinary this was. They never were ill-behaved nor acted spoiled. Just delighted to what to them was a Nana event. Somehow the magic and desire to go began to pass. Perhaps seeing it year after year lost its charm. We tried seeing "A Christmas Carol" but didn't like the ACT production, which left us down rather that elated. And then we stopped going.
The last time we all went was when R. was a wee little guy. He hadn't a clue what he was to see. He sat upon my lap as he didn't want to sit on the chair, Papa to our side. All was well till the big dancing bear came out of the box, which was a new twist they did for a number of years. That was enough for R. who promptly had enough. He and I sat in the sitting room for a time, with Papa coming in to ask if he would sit with him. We tried to show him that the bear was gone but R. would not go back to the seat. In the end I moved the sitting room chair near the velvet curtain of our box area and we peeked out to watch the ballet. Needless to say that was the last and only time R. has seen The Nutcracker.
The very last time we saw The Nutcracker was several years ago. One of the girls wanted to go and thought it would be nice to do just a girl time with Nana. Nana bought the tickets and we were already to go. The day of the show she cancelled out on joining. It wasn't the same without her. It wasn't the same not sitting in the box seats, without the peanut butter horse shaped sandwiches, the Godiva Chocolate, the Champagne the fullness of the holiday theme, of the comfort of family tradition. It was gone. Oh yes, we had a good time together my daughters and I. But I felt it, that bleed in my heart. The memory of Papa in his jacket, tie, ascot, his aftershave lotion, his pleasure of watching his Granddaughters, of even the year when R. didn't really see the show but entertained us in a new way which is forever in our memory.
I drove to my mom's last week, listening to The Nutcracker, memories flooding me. The tears of missing it all, the tears of how much I really enjoyed it all. How much I appreciated that yearly gift they gave us of going to the ballet. The dinner out afterwards at Trader Vic's in Emeryville where we would talk about the performance. All the hustle, the bustle, the stress of preparing for that day, it was all worth it.
In my dreams I hold a magic light. It is a light that guides me with a child's hand in mine as we walk into a door, into a small room and I pull the curtain back for them to see where they too will watch for two hours a story of dance and delight. I will make peanut butter sandwiches made from a horse shaped cookie cutter. I will sip my glass of champagne and gaze on my family surrounding me.
**** My dear niece duly noted a treat that I forgot to add! How could I have forgotten the Petite Fours? Nana always bought them at the Cake Box Bakery in Lafayette, still the best to me. Yes, of course that was dessert after our other goodies.