From the mid-1960s on, Joan and Nelson were my parents’ friends, and their kids, Mark, Allison and Betsy were friends with me and my sisters. I loved visiting them at their home (they almost never came over to ours) – and I loved their dogs, Mitzi and Thurber.
Special stuff was always going on “Chez Bakers” – theatrical hijinks, of course, since, like my folks, Joan & Nelson loved performing, producing, directing – but also music and art, books and politics and lots and lots of talk. I’m sure they had their challenges but the Bakers were such upbeat people, involved and animated and good humored. They were open to new ideas and inspired my parents to stretch a little, too; Nelson drove an Austin Healy bugeye Sprite, energizing my mother’s appetite for imported sports cars, and Joan’s fashion flair encouraged us all to wear clothes that were a little different (I once remade a thrift store fur coat into a very warm skirt!)
They’d open their dining room and invite friends to set up drums and come over with instruments to make music together. There was always a new project they were working on, thinking about, planning to do. While their lawn was never pristine, and I do recall visiting their cellar and seeing the same unfinished repair project on the workbench that I’d spied 6 months earlier – the Bakers always managed to take care of the important stuff, and I felt accepted, heard and noticed when we were there.
The summer of 1971, they were all going to be away and asked me if I’d be willing to stay over, water the plants and look after the dogs for a few days; ooh, I jumped at the chance! To be by myself, away from the noisy chaos of my own family, alone in their quiet house with the piano and tape recorder for a few days? Heaven!
(Actually, I did get a little lonely and was relieved when my dad and sisters dropped in one afternoon and took me to McDonald’s over on the Berlin Turnpike. Otherwise, it was a perfect staycation!)
One of my very favorite memories is the time when Nelson and my dad spontaneously broke into a performance of SONNY BOY – with Nelson’s Irish tenor ringing out so sweet and tender, as my dad gave voice to the Edgar Bergen-Charlie McCarthy smart aleck responses. Without any rehearsal at all, it sounded pretty much just like this: https://youtu.be/1nIrzb0O5ho?t=71
“For who right where on what?” I still laugh at how much fun it was.