After the cake, the Mummers strut into the ballroom, playing, "Oh, That Golden Slipper." They wear costumes patterned on military dress: sailors, soldiers and airmen head to toe in sequined uniforms. As they greet the crowd jovially, my one thought is, "Again?"
The first time I attended the formal dinner at my father's annual medical convention in Philadelphia, a little more than a decade ago, I found it all entertaining and charming: the bottles of red and white wine at each table, bearing a photo of the incoming medical association president; the after-dinner performance by the Polish American String Band, a troop of Mummers known for their extravagant costumes; the speeches filled with in-jokes and poor attempts at humor; and finally, dancing to hits ranging from the '40s to the current day, courtesy of the Franklin and Alison Orchestra.
Now, I'm getting jaded, along with my husband, who has attended these events with me for our nine years together. We used to love making snarky remarks about the cheesey centerpieces, which often borrowed themes from the current president's interests. One unforgettable year, they were a mish-mash of red-white-and-blue flowers, flags, and helium balloons. This year, though, they were a tasteful (and therefore boring) bouquet.
Even better, I enjoyed socializing with my dad's med school buddies. One, a pediatrician who looks like Wilford Brimley, wears the same outfit each year: a pair of suit pants, a blue button-down shirt, and a playful tie in primary colors showing children holding hands. I believe it is his only tie. He has a wicked sense of humor and used to be especially fun on the Thursday Family Night events the convention no longer holds. In those days, doctors and their families gathered in a huge ballroom to graze on buffet food like pizza and hamburgers, sample drinks at the cash bar, and dance to music especially geared to young ones (including plenty of line dances like the Electric Slide).
These days, Wilford is more reserved, and his perky daughter -- who's a few years younger than me and reminds me very much of a friend from my hometown -- no longer attends. Without the unrestrained silliness of Family Night, these formal dinners are starting to wear on us all. We have had our fill of Mummers and bad wine (even though it's free). We are full to the gills with speeches.
This past Friday, on top of everything else, it was suffocatingly hot in the banquet hall. The convention lost their usual venue, which boasts a balcony and a stage, because Sinbad was playing there. Our new hall was crowded and festooned with stuffy gold curtains. My husband and I sat out most of the speeches in the hallway, getting some air. From the laughter in the ballroom, you would have thought a stand-up comic was performing. I doubt Sinbad even got so many laughs. Too bad they were likely all in-jokes that would have sailed over our heads.
As the speechifying ended, the welcome sounds of the band welled up. I raced for the dance floor, along with Wilford and his wife, a petite, spirited woman whose graying long hair still makes her look very much like a '60s flower child. We grooved to a disco medley that had not only the incoming president hopping but also inspired a group of med students to shake their groove things.
I let the music fill me up. It found space between the salad, twice-baked potatoes, steak, and cake. The music swished around, like the wine. It came out in fancy footwork, in turns and hip shakes and arm movements. I danced with my father's friends. I pulled my dad up on the dance floor, and we sang along with "I Gotta Feeling." We danced with an awkward med student and applauded the president's funky dance moves.
Time slipped away, and the band played its last song. We all agreed, like we do every year, that it was not enough.