It was always a tense moment.
We gathered in the cozy living room of the Bacharachs’ house on Stony Brook Road. We’d caught up on each other’s lives, had a bit of food, sung a few warm-up Christmas carols.
Now it was time for “The 12 Days of Christmas.” Slips of paper would be passed out. Which “day” would you get?
There were a few dozen of us — old and young, relatives and friends, from near and far — but 12 days is a lot. Each of us would have only 3 or 4 other singers to help out.
If you were a good singer — and many of the Bacharachs and their guests were — you were happy to get the 1st day: “a partridge in a pear tree.” Another prize was “5 golden rings.” You could draw that one out like Enrico Caruso.
I love music. Unfortunately, my voice does not. I always hoped for “12 drummers drumming.” Inevitably, I got “2 turtle doves.”
I thought of all that recently, when a group of former Bacharach carol singers got together. I was with some storied Westport names — Anne Leonard Hardy, Suzanne Sherman Propp — and the more we chatted, the more we realized those holiday gatherings were more than just a fond memory.
They were transformative moments in our lives.
It wasn’t just the warmth of the Bacharachs’ home — a 1796 farmhouse with a 3-sided fireplace in one of the oldest sections of town, that could have come right out of colonial New England central casting.
It wasn’t the warmth of the annual holiday party either, with its cherished traditions: the smiling patriarch Jim Bacharach leading everyone in song; his wife, the equally delightful DoDo, carving up ham and ladling out egg nog; the tree in the same spot every year, unchanging amid the turbulence of the world around.
And it wasn’t the guest list: the Bacharachs’ friends and neighbors; their 5 kids’ friends; girlfriends, boyfriends, college friends — the more the merrier. Jim and DoDo embraced them all.
All those memories came flooding back, as Anne and Suzanne and a few others talked. But it was something else that made those particular carol sings such a powerful piece of our past.
Among the folks always in the Bacharachs’ home were adults we knew from Staples High School: teachers we admired and respected. Phil Woodruff, the next door neighbor. Dick Leonard. Dave and Marianne Harrison. All were there, year after year.
At first we were a little intimidated by them. Singing “The 12 Days of Christmas” with the same people who handed out homework and gave us grades was — different. But socializing with those adults in that way made us feel a bit like adults too.
As we grew up, we grew in other ways. We graduated from Staples, and entered college. Returning to the Bacharachs’ for the carol sing, we had new things to talk about. We told them what we were studying. We offered our opinions. We were probably a bit pretentious, but our former teachers listened.
Relating with them on that level validated us. Those adult-type conversations — respectful, honest, about real issues — were some of the first times I felt like an adult myself.
At the same time, as I looked around at the many “kids” there, I saw younger versions of myself. I realized I had once been like them. For the first time I understood what it meant to grow up. I recognized with clarity that at that point, my life was poised between my past and my future.
As we moved on into the “real world” — with real jobs — we kept returning to that carol sing. Now we were the adults. The Bacharachs, Leonards, Shermans and others got married, and started families. And every year, they brought their own children to the annual Christmas party.
The Bacharach carol sing is no more. Sadly, the house was torn down, replaced by something far less warm and much less meaningful.
But the memories remain, as strong as ever. It was a joy to share those memories the other day, with good friends who remember those great days.
Something else is strong too: My sense of self, nurtured so lovingly by those adults years ago, when I was a teenager trying to figure the world out.
Over ham, over egg nog — and yes, over the dreaded “12 Days of Christmas” — I tasted Westport at its best.