Clang! Clang! Clang!
WITH 10 cakes aflame with 10 candles apiece, each borne by one of the 10 grandchildren, Mother took notice of her 100th birthday anniversary surrounded by her clan and friends, and a couple of incidents connected with this centennial transcend the limited interests of those present - incidents worthy of public record and wider acclaim. Toilichte cendamh, Mathair! (The exclamation point is not necessarily pronounced.)
Born a century ago on Prince Edward Island, my mother watched the arrival of more progress than graced any other similar period in the history of mankind. Simple comforts and conveniences taken for granted now were novel in her time. She was a woman grown before she saw an electric lamp. Today she flies but dislikes the tedious automobile ride to the airport, and she tells about the first time she saw a railway train and an automobile - and a plane. She is alert and keen, a whizz at Scrab-ble and the house champ at canasta. Not long ago she remarked that of all the things she had experienced in her time, she had never had a ride on a fire engine.
So on her 100th birthday the chief of the fire department of West Caldwell, N.J. - where Mutti winters with my younger sister - came around with a couple of engines from the central fire station.
Supported by His Honor the Mayor and the head commissioner, the chief boosted Mom into the cab of the No. 1 hook-and-ladder and hauled her to the place of the big reception. But when Mother was told that she would be thus honored, she looked up to ask, ``Will there be horses?''
This is a family esoteric. I have known Mother longer than anybody around (being her first-born) and when I was a tad and came home from school with a new primer, Mother eagerly coached me as I floundered with letters and their words, and this was my introduction to literature. My favorite story in that primer went like this:
Clang! Clang! Clang!
What is all this noise a-bout?
See those hor-ses run-ning down
Are they run-ning a-way?
They are go-ing to put out a fire.
Clang! Clang! Clang!
Since that time clang-clang-clang has been a watchword in our family, and Mother's query made great sense to everybody except the brave chief of the fire department in West Caldwell, N.J., who is much too young to remember the three-horse hitch and the furor of a steam fire pumper. Mother bussed him soundly for his gift when he handed her down after the ride and the siren was quiet - she told him it was the best gift of the day.
The other incident that merits public reflection has to do with Her Majesty. Mother received birthday greetings from three or four governors, some congressmen, and so up to President Reagan.
Then, because she was Canadian born, she had a message from the prime minister at Ottawa, and another from the provincial minister at Charlottetown. She was particularly pleased with her message from the Clan MacLeod, of which she was the newest member 100 years ago. (There is never a Scot so Scottish loyal as the one farthest from The Highlands, and one of Mother's grandchildren was piped for a Highland Fling while the cakes were being served.) So things went, and the pile of cards and letters by her seat of honor was bigger than she. And, since the Queen of England is still the Queen of Canada, the topmost message was the traditional greeting from Buckingham Palace.
Now, communications between Her Majesty and her subjects are privileged. We, in the Boston States, wouldn't be so quaint, and if President Reagan pauses to speak to somebody on the street, every reporter and every TV camera pries into what was said and splashes it all around. But not so with the Queen and her commoners, and I respect that and will not tell you what Her Majesty said to my mother on this momentous occasion. The message was in the form of one of these Mailgrams, so it was telephoned to Mother first, and then a printout came later.
The telephone rang.
A dispassionate and disinterested voice began reading the message.
The moment that voice started with ``Buckingham Palace,'' the purpose of the message was understood, and word for word it was taken down in lead pencil on a hastily found brown grocery bag. Thus the centennial greeting of Her Majesty to my mother arrived in the late colonies. The voice on the telephone ran along without the slightest expression and came to the end. The voice said, ``The signature is Elizabeth R., last name not spelled out.''