Last Saturday, Ken and Nora and I went to our friend Dave’s birthday party. His wife Sheri planned a big murder mystery theme – pirate style. I was First Mate of one crew, Nora was my chief lackey and deck swabber, and Ken was a marooned Spanish nobleman with an aversion to having his picture taken.
Dave and Sheri are old friends (and since both of them have now hit the big Four Oh mark before us, I can say that they are really really OLD friends) and only for Dave would Ken be willing to role play for 3 hours with a whole group of relative strangers. Ken did draw the line at wearing the costume I picked out for him at the thrift store. For some reason he objected to wearing a women’s blouse and wasn’t convinced that a Spanish nobleman would TOTALLY have worn red silk and loved every minute of it. “Back then,” I argued, “real men wore red silk and high-heeled boots and jewelry around their neck and lots and lots of eye makeup. Haven’t you ever seen Johnny Depp in drag?” Ken would have none of that. I guess I should be grateful that my husband refuses to be a cross-dresser, even for one night. But I did note (okay, so I more like rubbed it in) that when we got to the party several of the men – including Dave – were sporting conspicuously feminine blouses.
The murder mystery aspect of the evening was, in all honesty, totally frustrating and we never did figure out who killed the pirate captain. Come to think of it, aside from the chocolate cake, I never saw a bit of treasure either. And this being a Mormon party and Dave being a bishop and all, there was no rum to be found on the island, so in the end I suspect there never was a more sober, fashion-impaired, baby-toting bunch of swash-bucklers in all suburbia. But the gathering was fun just because Sheri went to great lengths to make us play along and Dave and Sheri’s friends were all incredibly nice people. And if there's something the world needs more of, it's nicer pirates.
The party made me think of the many times I’ve played card games with my siblings into the wee hours of the morning. I’ve said before that it really doesn’t matter what game we’re playing. It’s the people who matter. Games are just the catalyst for the family banter and jokes that get us laughing until our stomachs ache and we beg for mercy. I dare anyone to play a round of Spoons with my brothers and sisters without getting caught up in the humor and hysteria (and without getting claw marks on their knuckles because what fun is Spoons if you're not inflicting flesh wounds on your loved ones?).
So I’m thinking of family and treasure and naturally the old but true cliché that they are one and the same. And that’s exactly the point Angelica Kauffmann made in her painting Cornelia Pointing to her Children as her Treasures. While Cornelia’s friend (at the right) pulls jewels from her treasure box and shows them off with pride, Cornelia, a model of Roman maternal virtue, points to her children instead. In fact, she doesn’t point so much as she opens her hand in a humble gesture quite different from her friend’s materialistic pinching motions. “Here are my sons” Cornelia seems to say, “they’re not much to look at, but they mean more to me than all the jewels in the world. They’re my whole life.” Sure, it’s a didactic painting, but Kauffmann’s audience was seeking morals in their art, which looking back from our own age of Madonnas painted with elephant dung, I have to say sounds very refreshing to me. Kauffmann’s audience would also have known, without resorting to Wikipedia, that Cornelia’s sons would grow up to serve Rome faithfully and make their mother proud.
Speaking of treasures, my brain was returned to me yesterday intact and functional. I was so happy to see my UPS man arrive with a big, laptop-shaped rectangular box that I leaped from my porch to hug and kiss him. Or at least to yank the box from his arms and do a (careful) little happy dance with it. As UPS man handed me the electronic pad to sign my name, he said, “Hey, I know you.” And I’m thinking, Well duh, you’re my UPS man. But he says, “I remember you from Dave’s party.” And I look up and try to imagine him wearing something other than UPS brown from his hat to his socks, slowly remembering him as another character in the recent unsolvable pirate murder mystery. “Oh yeah,” I finally answer. “Sorry. I totally didn’t recognize you without your girly shirt.”