Wednesday, July 20, 2016



The evening promised to be pleasant, but hardly spectacular.  

As she often does, our daughter invited Rob and me for a Sunday night barbecue in her tropical backyard. “And we’ll play games afterward,” she said.  “Oh, and I need a couple of things from Costco.”  On impulse, I bought some extras, like a huge package of already-shucked sweet corn.   

I never take such invitations for granted. For me, a dinner with either of our grown kids-- or grandkids—and their families, is the absolute best way to spend an evening.  Lucky for us, three such families live close.

Late afternoon Tracy called back.  “A Norwegian family just moved in across the street. I’m inviting them over for drinks, so come at six.”    

Great, I thought . . . which is how it turned out. A handsome family, the Norwegian  couple, the Glittenbergs, had four kids, two teen-age girls and two youngish boys, all with faces so lively you’d expect to see them in a magazine.  Just as we were getting acquainted, Tracy invited the couple next door—Andrew and Grace Yen, two charmers who long ago emigrated from Taipei. Rounding out the party, she abruptly phoned her neighbor on the other side. “Come on over, Shannon, and bring the kids.”

Shannon is Hispanic—and her four children variously excel in dancing, gymnastics, and baseball—with the oldest girl a singer. In fact, two years ago, then 13-year-old Elizabeth sang “Love Changes Everything,” at Tracy’s daughter’s wedding.  Mature and composed, she dazzled the 300 guests. (Rob assured everyone that “A star is born.”)         

Considering the way the four teenage girls from two families instantly bonded, crossing every international barrier, you’d think they’d known each other for years. The four girls and oldest Norwegian boy retreated to another part of the yard.

Our drinks and canapés on the patio were hardly underway when Tracy came up with a startling idea. She’d heard, vaguely, that one of the Norwegian girls was also a singer. So she took Mathea-Mari Glittenberg and Shannon’s Elizabeth Bower aside, and said, “Why don’t you girls sing for us?”

The two looked startled, but Tracy persisted.  At our daughter’s urging, the two girls disappeared inside—presumably to practice. Ten minutes later they were back. As it turned out, neither practiced anything.  Instead, the two had run through their individual repertories until they landed on a popular song both of them knew. With a total absence of preparation, the two faced all of us, now hushed, and began singing together . . . their phrasing so polished,  every note so perfectly in sync, it was as if they’d practiced for months.

In two areas, the Norwegian girl added a lilting harmony. The adults all sat there, transfixed. None of us could believe this had happened. “And you didn’t practice?” someone asked, and they both smiled and said no. “We just picked a song.”   

“Drinks” quickly became dinner . . . and thank goodness for the extra corn. To everyone’s delight, Tracy’s Paul barbecued chicken, corn, and asparagus—enough for everyone.  The new Norwegian family had now met three existing neighbors, with the father eventually explaining that they’d chosen this neighborhood specifically for its safety, climate, and proximity to good schools—but also partly because it is fairly close to John Wayne airport.  “Mathea-Mari needs to travel to Europe six times before Christmas.” 

Interesting information, though none of us were sure why.

All I knew was that my evening had been perfect—besides watching the quick friendships springing up between the young people, I’d been sitting next to Andrew Yen, who laughed at every funny thing I said. 

Before the Glittenbergs left, Mathea-Mari played a charming piece on Tracy’s piano. Once more, we were all dazzled. As a last gesture, Tracy’s Dane loaned the oldest sister his guitar.   

After everyone had gone, Dane looked up Mathea-Mari Glittenberg on the Internet and found that at age 13 she’d been the winner of the Norwegian Melody Grand Prix, the equivalent of American Idol.  In fact, she’d personally written one of her songs. Since then she’d become internationally famous. Dane said, “She even has her own Wikipedia Page.” Clearly, the girl’s flights home were for professional appearances. (In fact we’ve just learned from Dane’s sister in Amsterdam that Mathea-Mari sells out arenas all over Europe.)   

Bowled over by this astonishing revelation, all of us were glad that nobody among us knew any of this in advance.  Instead, we appreciated the Norwegian family for their ready graciousness . . . and found the duet from the two girls a wonderful, but wholly unexpected surprise.

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