Peeled Grapes, or Breakfast in Bed with Bill Cope

My guru, brain specialist Dr. Daniel Amen, teaches in his book, Change Your Brain, Change Your Life, that among many strategies for conquering depression is to reinforce the deep limbic bonds by listing ten joyful experiences in your life and then relive those memories internally, using all your senses. I am writing this memoir to cheer me when I feel blue, and to reinforce those deep limbic bonds.

One evening I was dancing in San Francisco with the Stanford Folk Dance Club when a young man was being especially friendly. Finally I asked him, “Do I know you?” He answered, “I know you—peeled grapes.” Instantly I was connected.

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It was the summer of 1985. I was at the annual, week-long Balkan Music and Dance Camp in the California Mendocino Woodlands. The camp was miles deep into the magnificent redwood forest. Towering trees provided shade and the river running through offered spontaneous swimming. The facilities were primitive, the food was superb, and what was really great was how all of us participated, creating live Balkan dance music the clock around. Sounds of dum­beks and tupans (drums), tamburas (stringed instruments), screeching zurnas (flutes), gajdas (bagpipes), accordions, and other ethnic instruments came through the redwood trees from classes and individual and group practice sessions.

This year the camp had had a shortfall of money, and at dinner the previous night campers had offered various services to be auctioned for the benefit of camp expenses. The kitchen staff’s contribution was “Breakfast in Bed for Two.” Tambura teacher and popular bachelor Bill Cope won the bid for $250. Upon being proclaimed the winner he immediately announced that he was only one person, and the second place was now up for auction.

I had just retired from teaching, and having some extra cash I won that bid for $150. Excitement was high. The guys lifted Bill onto their shoulders and paraded him around the rustic barn, used as a cafeteria, accompanied by drums and horns. Not to be outdone the girls picked me up on their shoulders and paraded me around the room until Bill and I were brought face to face. I had never met him before. He pulled out a bottle of slivovitz (plum brandy) and offered it to me. I took a swig accompanied by loud cheering and applause, and then he kissed me.

I had pitched my tent in the meadow, and early the next morning someone brought me a wake-up cup of coffee. I came out of my tent, brought my camp chair, and before I could sit in it a young woman brought a colorful, lightweight madras spread and draped it around me. Another camper adorned me with silver jewelry—necklaces, bracelets and a jingling anklet. By now there was an accordionist and drummer playing Croation kolo (line dance) music to serenade me, and a few nearby tenters began improvising dances with coffee cups—the leader calling out, “Coffee cup on left shoulder; turn around.” “Coffee cup on right knee; swivel knee left to right.” “Coffee cup hackey sack!”

  Grape-7Grape-1Soon four husky guys showed up and each picked up a leg of my chair, hoisted me into the air above their heads, and carried me though the forest. My head was hitting the lower branches, but I did not complain. We arrived at Bill Cope’s tent. He had set up a cabana (with a printed sign declaring “Cope Acabana”) in front and was sitting at a small table in anticipation of breakfast. My transporters set me down across from him.

The next hour was crammed with activities. They poured us champagne in real glass stemware. Mark, in a grass hula skirt, and Carol in her nightgown, the two organizers of Balkan Camp, stood by our sides literally hand-feeding us our breakfast—Eggs Benedict and Peeled Grapes. We were told the kitchen staff stayed up until two a.m. peeling the grapes.

The music was constant and spontaneously individuals took turns performing their dance and song specialties for us. A professor from San Francisco State pulled up his shirt and undulated his stomach muscles in waves up and down, and an eight year old boy did it as well as he did. My professional belly-dance friend Melissa shimmied and shook to improvised Near East Music. During the constant procession of performers five of the girls gathered around Bill and painted his toenails red. His face blushed the same color when he realized what they were doing.

Grape-3When it was time for classes to start the crowd dispersed, and Bill and I each went our own way. In the years since then Bill and I have become fast friends. He married a beautiful woman and they have two gorgeous daughters—at the time of this writing, ages fourteen and seventeen. When they saw me last Saturday night at a dance festival they rushed up to hug and kiss me. We have partied, danced, sung, and played together all these years.

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April 2008. The plans are in place. On June 23rd my daughter Holly and I will drive to Mendocino, check into our cabin among the redwoods, greet many friends who have shared a quarter century of good times and life experiences, and dream up what mischief we can manufacture for this year. My deep limbic bonds are strengthened. I feel blessed.

I was born to dance. In addition to the joys this activity brought me were friends, travels, and experiences that have enriched my entire life.

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