Spring in Princeton



Life can be full of surprises –

and very funny at that




How beautiful is spring in Princeton! The winter storms are gone. The garden turns green. The air is mild. Flowers abound. The songbirds have returned.

My wife, Eva, and I sit on comfortable chairs on the terrace, drink tea, and are happy.

Come to think, there is still a little more to do for me before we leave on a big trip by car across America eight weeks from now. Furthermore, Eva is the volunteer co-chairperson of the yearly town fair, called the Princeton June Fête, a fund-raiser for the local hospital. The Fête will take place in six weeks. Quite a bit has to be coordinated yet. There will be more than twenty different activities for more than the twenty-five thousand visitors expected.

And I, for my part, still plan to do a few small home improvements before we leave.


A few days later:

Nothing is simple in this world. Life has a way of confronting—and confounding—us with complications. A volunteer on Eva’s staff, the one in charge of organizing the most important attraction for the Fête, has disappeared. Nobody can find him. He simply disappeared. Rumor has it that the task proved too complex for him. That may well be, but no replacement can be found, not at this late hour. To make matters worse, no one knows what arrangements he had already made.

Then, there is the beer supplier, who suddenly demands exclusivity—in other words, the dismissal of his competitor, who happens to be a well-respected citizen of our town. The demand is not acceptable! The whole supplier situation has to be renegotiated!

And how about the new car to be raffled? There aren’t enough volunteers to sell tickets on Palmer Square, which is in the center of town. So Eva has to sit there for hours. Sometimes, I sit with her.

Every day, new problems crop up. One day, Eva spent twelve hours on the phone without surfacing for fresh air!

And what about my home improvement projects? The heating oil tank, for instance. We just switched to gas but are not allowed to leave the old, now empty, tank lying there under the ground. It’s a whale of a tank—one thousand-gallon capacity—under the ground near the entrance at the front of the house. It will sure make a big hole when the monster comes out in a couple of days.

Then there is this new invasion of carpenter ants, which are ten times the size of termites, in the kitchen, in the pantry, in our garden room—all over the place! I now know how the Pharaoh felt when he got hit by one of the plagues. Apparently, the flat roof above the garden room began to leak, getting the wood in the rafters wet, and wet wood is much preferred by termites, these little natural wonders of destruction. It is high time that we have the wooden roof replaced with a sloping copper one—before the exterminator appears. I swiftly locate a good subcontractor to do the work.

Today, Eva declares that it is the custom for all co-chairs of the Fête to invite all the important volunteers on the staff to a luncheon prior to the big day of the fair. Because restaurants are too expensive, she has simply invited fifty people—forty-seven ladies and three gentlemen—to lunch at our home in three weeks. That garden room is the only suitable room for such an occasion. So the roof and carpenter ants must be taken care of by that date.

I recall that the weather in May can be quite warm, which means that for this great occasion we should finally install the air conditioner—something we have been discussing for a couple of years.

More trouble is brewing. For the trip across America through remote wilderness and canyon areas, I had purchased a ten-year-old Chevy Suburban, one of those four-wheel-drive elephants usable as a camper in case we ever get stuck in the middle of nowhere. But the seller can’t locate the vehicle’s title, and I have already paid him. My son, who is just now attending business school, tells me I was tricked. He could also sell me a few things for which he doesn’t have a title. How about our neighbor’s house? He could give it to me for half price. Or the Brooklyn Bridge?


Things get really complicated and a bit funny:

One of our son calls us one day to announce that he wants to come up to see us. Isn’t that heartwarming for us parents? When he arrives, we talk for a while, play a game of cards, and he leaves to return home. In times past, our kids quite often had some special concern when they showed up at home. Would there be nothing this time?

Three days later, our son visits us again. I leave Eva alone with him. Sometimes, there is better communication between just the two of them. What do I hear from Eva afterwards? Our son has decided to marry his girlfriend of several years on June 3—only one week before the Fête. And he wants to do it in our backyard!

Things are really getting hectic by now. Our son calls every day to discuss preparations for the wedding. Our future daughter-in-law appears in Princeton to discuss many details personally with Eva. Shall we (We! I think to myself) have a stand-up buffet reception or a sit-down meal. What time should the wedding be? And more.

I notice the nice young couple walking through our garden to pick the right spot for the ceremony. Then they depart to go shopping. Later, I hear that they went to a bakery. When a piece of pastry began to slide off the counter, our future daughter-in-law alertly jumped back. Our son was upset because she didn’t catch the piece that he had already paid for. The future bride declared loudly that he might as well forget the wedding. She would go home. And she left the store crying, but then stayed at our home with Eva.

A lady from across the street tells us that her son also called once to tell her that he wanted to get married in their backyard within two weeks. The day before that call, her husband had dug up the whole backyard to replant. They had to quickly reseed everything, and fertilize—with double the usual amount—and water three times every day. On the day of the wedding, the first green shoots were just coming out of the ground.

Another neighbor tells us that just before their garden wedding, somebody confused the lawn fertilizer with grass killer. All the grass died two days before the wedding. Her husband took one of the remaining patches of grass to the paint store, bought matching green paint, and sprayed all the dead grass green.

As for our garden ceremony, we still don’t know whether the pastor of our church or the mayor of our town will conduct the ceremony. Our future daughter-in-law prefers the pastor, our son the mayor. Finally, the young couple agrees that both dignitaries should perform the ceremony together. I tactfully mention that this could cause problems. Then they agree that the mayor will do the ceremony and that one of our son’s brothers will read from the Bible. I decide to buy a video recorder to document this event.

The young couple suggests that all arrangements be festive. Promptly, another neighbor tells us that his wedding was also supposed to be festive: men in tuxedos, ladies in long dresses. The wedding was held in a beautiful park, where a small dam had backed up the creek to form a small, picturesque lake. Unfortunately, this neighbor did not know that, on the same day of his wedding, the local canoe club had organized a big regional rally. It was a hot day and all the canoe club members wore sweaty T-shirts, and they had to get out of their canoes at the dam to drag their boats up into the lake, shouting loud complaints about the extra effort.

Our son complains about the price of a diamond ring. A friend tells us that he, too, bought a really expensive diamond ring for his bride, leaving him with no money to buy a car. After that, they referred to the diamond ring as “the car.” And a friend of ours from California reports that when his daughter got married, the young couple exchanged watches instead of rings to be more modern. I just wonder whether those watches beeped every hour.

We still need a photographer. Again, friends come up with a story. At their wedding, a famous photographer came all the way from New York City. After a short time, he was so drunk that he fell asleep on a chair. Fortunately, he had brought a young assistant, who diligently took many pictures. When they were developed, it turned out that most pictures did not show the couple getting married. Instead, they were of the very pretty maid of honor the young photographer had fallen in love with.

Whatever detail of the wedding we discuss with our friends, they immediately tell us a related story. What our son will wear? Something festive, of course. Did we hear the story of Emperor Haile Selassie’s visit to Princeton? His majesty was also festively dressed, wearing an imperial hat and a leopard skin draped around his shoulders. When he arrived at the hotel, he was guided to the elevator. Unfortunately, somebody had overlooked the fact that the Shriners were holding their convention on the same day at the same hotel. As the elevator door opened, there stood the great leader of the Shriners, a very big man, with his decorative Fez on his head and a very large leopard skin around his shoulders, which was clearly bigger than Haile Selassie’s. Someone quickly pushed a button, the elevator doors closed, and the great Shriner went down into the basement.

Our future daughter-in-law suggests that the groom wear a tuxedo for the wedding. But our son is too frugal to buy a tuxedo to be used only for a wedding and seldom, if ever, afterward. One of his brothers is different. He likes proper attire and does have a tuxedo. So, our son the groom-to-be talks his brother into loaning the tuxedo to him right away for the day of the wedding. However, our future charming daughter-in-law has spoiled our son with good food (sic!), so he has gained some pounds. The buttons of his brother’s tuxedo will need to be moved in order to fit. But that brother won’t arrive until the evening before the wedding. Come to think of it, I still have an old tuxedo from my business days. The buttons would certainly be set wide enough.

Our son and his bride tell us that they have some time for a short vacation now, but not after the wedding. They decide to take their honeymoon trip to the remote jungle of Costa Rica now, two weeks before the wedding.

Incidentally, at 11:00 p.m. on the night before their departure, a four-page computer file is mailed to us, listing everything we can do for them during their absence. They even call from a stopover airport, asking whether we had received the list. Yes, we did. Yes, all was quite readable on the computer. They say they will call us in a few days, which happens to be Mother’s Day! Touching! They also say that if they find a fax machine in Costa Rica, we can let them know what all was done already from the list—so that they can relax more during their trip.

The brother from Chicago calls once in a while just to say hello—and to check up on our progress with the list. He had received a copy of the list, along with a request to monitor our progress. I admire the level of organized efficiency that our sons have attained. Funny, when they were small, wasn’t it that kind of efficient monitoring from their parents that they had so much disliked?

The title for the Chevy Suburban still has not arrived. By now, I have quite a bit of repair and service work invested in the vehicle. The purchase of a cheap old car can be an expensive proposition.


Now, we get into some real problems:

I learn that our thousand-gallon oil tank, which we are going to have removed, is bigger than I thought and will disrupt the walkway up to the front door of our house. Furthermore, the excavation will not take place until next week. If need be, the fifty luncheon guests invited by Eva will pass by the garbage cans and come in through the narrow back door, which needs a new coat of paint.

The subcontractor for the leaking roof over the garden room, however, shows up right on schedule. He quickly removes the large skylight and some beams around it. Then he covers the gaping hole in the ceiling with some boards and supports it with old two-by-fours, nicely centered in the middle of the room. He cannot finish the job because he is committed to work on another contract tomorrow. He might possibly come back in a week, but he is not sure.

The roofer, who is supposed to put the copper roof on the new beams, has also disappeared. He took a ten-day vacation to play tennis in Florida.

The air-conditioning unit “will soon (!) be delivered by the manufacturer”—also in two weeks. Installation is promised promptly. Will it be ready for the luncheon party, or for the wedding, or not at all?

A big rainstorm, predicted to last for several days, approaches, and a workman from the roof subcontractor shows up and puts an enormous blue tarp over the opening in the ceiling of the garden room.

The other subcontractor—the one meant to remove the oil tank—calls to say that he can’t do anything until the rain ends. That will be the day before the big luncheon, if not the day of the luncheon.

The subcontractor for the roof should be ready to come back then, too. Can we suspend him over the tables while fifty guests eat? He might finish in time for the wedding, though.

But that still leaves the air conditioner.

The mayor of Princeton calls and asks whether we will have a two-ring wedding or a one-ring wedding. There are different ceremonies for each. I can well imagine a two-ring wedding, but how would it be in a one-ring wedding, if one person alone gets married—to him or herself? Eva and I look at each other and don’t know the answer. Our son and future daughter-in-law cannot be reached, because they’re in Costa Rica.

The papers for my car are now definitely promised for next Tuesday. Meanwhile, I have added new shock absorbers and excellent new tires. That cost me almost as much as what I paid for the whole car, which—come to think of it—has traveled over one hundred thousand miles already.


Pause—or “the Eye of the Storm”:

The heavy rains arrive right on schedule. Apparently, that’s the only thing that goes according to schedule. The blue tarp does not hold tight, and we have plenty of water on the floor in the garden room and in the kitchen. I hope it will kill all the carpenter ants.

Low and behold, what do I see? The ants are all climbing up the walls. Only one still floats in the middle of the water on a small piece of plastic. Noah on his modern ark! I blow softly until the ant reaches a wall and can safely climb out. It certainly will have its own story to tell!

In this rain, none of the workers show up. It has been raining steadily for two days already.

Eva develops a stomach flu and stays in bed.

She sleeps for twenty-four hours.

When she wakes up, she asks me to bring her some tea.

I sit in a comfortable chair at her bedside.

The house is very quiet.

All you hear is the sound of computer keys as I write this report.

The blooming garden looks enchanting in the returning sun.

How beautiful is spring in Princeton!


Full action resumes—crescendo to finale:

All of a sudden, Eva recovers and all the workers return to their jobs—unbelievable!

Within a few very, very hectic days, the garden room gains proper cover, the fuel tank gets lifted out of the ground, the hole is temporarily filled, and the air conditioner is installed sufficiently to cool the house.

The wedding takes place only a few days later—on a cloudy day. But when the beautiful bride is ready to walk down the lawn toward the arch of flowers where the wedding ceremony takes place, the sky clears and a wonderful ray of sunshine illuminates her elegant figure and smiling face. May the young couple’s life always be that happy.

Just one week later, after another hundred phone calls and twenty team meetings, the Fête takes place as scheduled. Thousands of visitors appear and are pleased—with a good financial result for our hospital.

All of a sudden, we receive the papers for the new camper—and, another week later, we leave Spring in Princeton for a very happy vacation.