A Round of Applause for the Joy-Givers: A books & birthdays party with American joy-givers of 2021

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Dolly Parton greets you at the door with a big, warm hug and the first words out of her mouth are, “I love that y’all are here to celebrate books and birthdays with us. I will always love you.” Then, she sings it, “And, I-I-I will all…all…waaaays love you.”

You sense the joy the minute you enter the room. HOORAY FOR THE JOY-GIVERS! This is a fantasy party to celebrate the birthdays this week of great American joy-givers of today and those from the past. (Note: The comments attributed to these famous joy-givers come from words they have written or said.)

Please give A ROUND OF APPLAUSE for these American joy-givers born in the middle of January: 16—Lin-Manuel Miranda, 17—Benjamin Franklin, Muhammad Ali, 18—Danny Kaye, 19—Dolly Parton, 20—George Burns, 21—Wolfman Jack, 22—Daniel Wallace.

Not only do all these American joy-givers share a birthday week, all of them have also written a joy-giving book or had a joy-filled biography written about them.

When Lin-Manuel Miranda, the mastermind behind the Broadway phenomenon, “HAMILTON,” comes into the room, Dolly hugs him and drawls in Southern Spanish, “Siempre te querre, Sugarbritches.” George Burns, a former vaudeville comic, asks, “So sonny, for those of us who only speak English and a smidge of Yiddish, what did Dolly mean by ‘Siempre te querre?’” Miranda blushes, “She said, I will always love you.” Dolly warbles from the kitchen.

Lin-Manuel Miranda is famously shy off-stage. He married his high school crush, but they didn’t date until college because he was too bashful to ask her out. Now, they have two sons: Sebastian, who was named for the Disney crab in “The Little Mermaid,” and the younger boy, Francisco.

Miranda won a Pulitzer for “Hamilton,” but the book he brought to share tonight is “GMorning, GNight!: Little Pep Talks for Me & You.” It’s a collection of published wisdom, poetry and aphorisms he wrote with lines like: “Every day has the potential to be the greatest day of your life.”

Dolly brings out a tray of Jell-O shots made with Puerto Rican rum to salute Miranda’s Caribbean heritage. “Boys, I’ll bring some sass, but these little darlings are gonna grab your, uh…buns. That sounds like something, Miss Mona, my character in “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” would say. Or maybe Truvy Jones from ‘Steel Magnolias.’”

“I’ll take Jell-O rum shot, Dolly,” says Miranda, “I’m young, scrappy and hungry, and I’m not throwing away my shot.”

“Hey Muhammad Ali, you handsome, Louisville slugger,” Dolly says, batting her huge-possibly fake eyelashes. “Could you float like a butterfly into the kitchen with me and open a jar of bee honey?” Ali replies, “Yes, I can make that happen, Dolly. If our minds can conceive it and our hearts can believe it—then we can achieve.”

Dolly brings out a tray with a congealed, seafood salad shaped like a big fish to honor novelist Daniel Wallace, who wrote “BIG FISH.” That book inspired the Oscar-winning movie and the award-winning musical. Referring to the congealed salad, Dolly quips, “Don’t y’all just love things that jiggle, fellas?”

Wallace winks at Dolly and nods to her, “He thought she hung the moon. He actually believed this from time to time. He believed the moon wouldn’t have been there but that she’d hung it.”

“Up in my Tennessee hills, ‘storytellers’ is what folks sometimes call fibbers and all-out liars,” says Dolly. Wallace, a great, modern-day fabulist, replies, “Please remind them, a storyteller makes up things to help other people; a liar makes up things to help himself.” (Note: Dolly shares the personal stories inspired by 175 of her songs in the new book, “DOLLY PARTON, SONGTELLER: MY LIFE IN LYRICS.”)

Wallace continues, “A kinship I’m sensing from all of us celebrating our birthdays tonight is that we are dreamers. Mine was a crazy dream—but what dream isn’t crazy? Can a dream be a dream and be sensible? No. A sensible dream is a plan. People like us dream, and our dreams come true because we believe in ourselves.”

“Yes, we were all dreamers, but we also worked to make our dreams come true,” adds entertainer and UNICEF Ambassador Danny Kaye. “Some reporter commented that I was a star overnight. You bet I arrived overnight. Over a few hundred nights in the Catskills, in vaudeville, in clubs and on Broadway. I’ve also been an unemployed jester, ba-da-bing, which is nobody’s fool.”

“I was born Nathan Birnbaum, nicknamed “Nattie,” says George Burns. “And, the delightfully talented, Danny Kaye, here was Kaminsky, David Daniel Kaminsky. Together, we determined joy-givers could bring a smile to every sourpuss in the shtetl. By the way, Lin-Manuel Miranda, way before ‘Hamilton,’ I was a big fan of yours after seeing the ‘Fiddler On The Roof’ production you and your friends wowed your new bride with at your wedding.” (YouTube “Lin-Manuel Miranda and Fiddler on the Roof Wedding;” it’s hugely joy-giving and has been viewed four million times.)

“If you see somebody without a smile, I’ve always thought, just give ‘em yours,” adds Dolly.

Kaye replies, “I’m just an entertainer. All I want to be is funny. I never aspired to play Hamlet. Dolly, speaking of ham, what are you serving for our ‘books & birthdays’ dinner, tonight?”

“Well, it’s the middle of January, so I figured all you sophisticated gents might savor some ‘downhome’ comfort food. So, our entrée is an old family recipe for ‘squirrel and dumplings.’ So, Wolfman Jack, I know every good wolf deserves some squirrel. I really don’t know many men who don’t like squirrel once they try it. Wolfman, while Ali and I take the dishes from the kitchen to the table, why don’t you spin some of your favorite records. Like they said in that great rock song, ‘Let’s clap for the Wolfman,’ (she howls) aaaaah-ooooooo!”

Burns says, “I could sing along, folks. I love to sing, and I love to drink this scotch. Most people would rather hear me drink scotch.”

Wolfman Jack, born Bob Smith in Brooklyn, was “America’s favorite disc jockey” for years. This celebrated joy-giver morphed many musical joy-givers’ songs into hits. He played mostly rock-and-roll but also doo-wop, mountains of rhythm and blues and occasionally some country-western.

“Ben Franklin texted me,” says Dolly. “He’s running late because he’s on a diplomatic mission, which I figure means a blonde. Hold on, was I just making a blonde joke after all those dumb blonde jokes I’ve heard about me through the years? Honestly, I’m not offended by dumb blonde jokes because I know I’m not dumb—and I sure ain’t blonde.”

As the rest of the birthday celebrants sit down at the dinner table, they find their places where the writer Wallace, also an illustrator, has drawn a playful sketch of each. (To enjoy Wallace’s signature style, check out his graphic art and some literary jewels at www.danielwallace.org. Also, Wallace wrote and charmingly illustrated the children’s book, “THE CAT’S PAJAMAS.”)

“In case any of you are still dieting from the New Year’s resolutions you made two weeks ago, I’ll tell you I used low-fat dumplings and skinny squirrels,” said Dolly. “I’ll tell you that whether it’s true or just some storytelling. I’ve tried every diet in the book. I tried some that weren’t in the book. I tried eating the book. The book tasted better than most of the diets.”

“Well, well, hello Dolly,” says Franklin as he bursts into the room. “I’m sorry I’m a bit late to the party. I could try to conjure up a story about my delay, but I’ve found it’s better to never ruin an apology with an excuse.”

“We’re just getting started, Benjy, “says Dolly, “what would you like to drink?” Franklin ponders, “Hmmm, in wine there is wisdom, in beer there is freedom and in water there is bacteria.”

“I chilled you and Wolfman Jack a growler of Goat Island beer,” says Dolly. “You’re always so thoughtful, Dolly,” says Franklin. “You know, beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.”

After Franklin pours his beer, Burns offers a toast. “It was my happy experience to live to be a hundred. After that, you’ve got it made. Very few people die past that age. Here’s to our ‘Hostess with the Mostest,’ Dolly, and to all of us American joy-givers. Remember kiddos, you can’t help getting older, but you don’t have to get old.”

Dolly returns his toast, “Please join me in A ROUND OF APPLAUSE for us American joy-givers. Our little nest- just a coincidence that I’m the only hen tonight and that I handled the guest list- has been fortunate to bring a lot of joy to America and the world through books. Dear old, early to rise and sometimes late to the party, Ben Franklin, was a book printer and the best-selling author of ‘Poor Richard’s Almanack.’ He also started the first lending book library in America way back in 1731. Some of you know my red dirt, poor dad couldn’t read nor write. Honoring my father, one of my greatest sources of pride has been launching the nonprofit Imagination Library. We give free books to children ages birth to 5 in many American communities and others in the UK, Ireland, Canada and Australia. Every month, the Imagination Library gives away a million books. Just last month, in December 2020, we gave our 150 millionth book! So, (raising her glass) here’s to us joy-giving bookies on our birthday week!”

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, AMERICAN JOY-GIVERS!

(Note: Jan. 19 was the birthday of American joy-giving author Edgar Allan Poe, creator of the mystery story, but he was too spooked about crowds to join the party.)

SQUIRREL AND DUMPLINGS

This dish could sound like something from Dolly Parton or from a Granny Clampett pot, but it’s a simple, delicious, inexpensive, wild game, comfort food classic.

Basically, it’s tough, old squirrels stewed in chicken broth until the pink meat falls off the carcass. Serve in bowls with lots of black pepper and put a basket of sliced bread on the table to sop up the gravy.

Ingredients

  • 3 mature, skinned squirrels
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • Water
  • Salt and black pepper
  • Dumplings (pre-made or grocery store bought)

Directions

  1. Place skinned squirrel pieces in a large pot.
  2. Add chicken broth and enough water to cover the squirrel pieces.
  3. Simmer until the meat is tender and falling from the bones.
  4. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Remove to a large bowl and discard the bones.
  6. Return squirrel meat to the pot and bring liquid to a simmer.
  7. Add dumplings you’ve prepared or purchased.
  8. Cover and boil gently for 8-10 minutes or until the broth thickens to gravy.

Serves 4-6.

 

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Ben South