Advent calendar revelation for Dec. 9:
My father-in-law and poet-in-residence, Charlie, also known by his pen name C.R. Schwab, lives downstairs, and on special occasions he will come up with certain holy relics—photos, newspapers, scrapbooks, and such— in his role as Chief Archivist of my wife Carol's childhood.
The 9th was Carol's birthday, and Charlie brought up some particularly cherce mementoes, including a school photo of Carol at the age of 13, gazing upward, smiling slightly, the portrait of the artist as a knowing visionary—and another item bringing that time to this one with the freshness that nothing has like art has. Especially when the artist who made it was Carol at the time of that photograph.
The portal is a small hand-made booklet, about 5 x 7", the pages held together by a pair of large loose steel clasp rings.
The front cover is a kind of crazy water ballet of cut-out mollusk-like shapes, pink and crimson and purple, all getting in each other's way and even coming unstuck, with beckoning, sweeping arms. An eager invitation... You open to the first small page, which says
Okay. French. Art project, introducing one's family, perhaps. VOICI in psychedelic rock-poster letters; Les Schweebles in elegant curling, grey-ink, cursive. And the first Schweeble is...turn the page...
CHESTER (in different psychedelic rock-poster letters)
—who's a big circle drawn in orange, standing on tiny L legs, a pair of black spectacles, crooked mouth with black pipe curlicuing smoke (must be the dad), and a single row of blue stubble hair on top. It's fairly clear to me who Chester Schweeble must be.
The second Schweeble...
SYLVESTRIA (in red, speckled, gummy-bear letters)
—who's a similar circle on tiny L legs with similar black spectacles, a small scribble of brown hair, and a slight smirk achieved by a little L lying on its back. (Could that be Carol's mom, Sylvia?)
—another circular family member, small satisfied smile, same kind of glasses, and an explosion of brown quills for hair. (Jacqueline.) Next...
you spell it)
—looking equally pleased (best name!), with brown glasses and brown hair framing the face like curtains, with a pink bow on top.
I see we're going by seniority here...
...et le dernier
(mais ne pas le moins)
NORBERT (biggest psychedelic rock-concert lettering of all)
—for the smallest Schweeble with the biggest grin, plus a crewcut, and glasses, of course. It's baby bro, Norman.
Next page, more psych. rock-conc. letters nested into a kind of shield shape, announcing:
First: to confirm in plump cactusy letters:
TOUTE LA famille
Just as I suspected: The whole family wears glasses.
Followed by this startling news on the next page:
ils ont trés, trés,
trés, trés, trés, trés
MUSICALE (each letter striped with segments of concentric rings narrowing to a little eye or knothole, like a tree full of owls.)
Followed by all five Schweebles as five looping, bespectacled orange treble signs, like the logo for a family band.
And then we learn: CHESTER CHANTE (mouth open, pipe magically suspended in mid-air)
Sylvestria danse (toe-shoes beribboned to a fluffy tutu)
JENNIFER et NORBERT
(and so they do, back to back, with Jennifer looking like a mad genius in her mane of brown quills; and Norbert having a fine old time pounding ivories and kicking back on the black piano bench.
And what about Chrisanthemum?)
(These letters are criss-crossed with strips at all angles, filling the page and requiring a second page to show Chris, partly hidden behind a cello which she is bowing earnestly, you can tell by the concentrated gaze from her lunettes.
And there's another piece of information:)
Mais tous les jours, toute
la famille ne joue que
But each day, the entire family only plays the radio.
Sure enough, there are Chris and Jennifer dancing away next to a big rectangular, note-spilling shape bedecked with knobs and dials and helpfully labeled "talk-box".
But wait, there's more! Here is a page labeled
I know I'm being set up for something, as I unfold the page to five times its length, to read:
SI TU NOUS LE CROIS OU NON,
NOUS ESPÉRONS QUE TU SERAS UN
"If you believe it of us or not, we hope that you will be a happy anniversary!" (Peut-être.)
Et voila...c'est fini...au revoir, Schweebles. You have lost none of your élan, your joie de vivre. And where have your Schwab counterparts taken you? Jennifer has become a renowned pianist; Norbert is a global lighting designer; Chester is a published poet; Chrisanthemum (or however you spell it) teaches digital art at the Media Lab in Newton South High School; and Sylvestria imparted a love of learning in her grandson (now a student filmmaker), and danse toujours.