It’s been more than 20 years and I hadn’t thought much about the party until I saw the notice this week that Art and Polly Pepin’s great house on Riverhills Drive in Temple Terrace was going on the market. Art, the late Budweiser man in these parts, and his wife have both passed on, and the family has grown up. Their legacy (think Pepin Heart Institute and so much more) is carried on by their children.
The news release said this will be the last time the family will put up the more than 1 million Christmas lights around the estate before selling the house in January (the asking price is $2.5 million), complete with its swimming pool in the shape of a Michelob bottle out back by the river. I imagine all of those great photographs of the sports figures and other celebrities who seemed to always be at the house will come down as well.
Maybe you think you are going to some spiffy holiday party in the next couple of weeks. I can promise you it won’t be anything like the one we went to that cool November evening back in 1991.
I think it was probably the Clydesdale horse standing near the entrance that made me realize this was going to be different. I’d warned the Frau that not only would the beer be flowing but that the guest list might be a tad unusual.
We made our way through the sprawling house to the back, where several hundred people were lounging around the riverbank, watching workers digging a massive pit for the clam bake.
We were standing there when around the river bend came what appeared to be a small riverboat called the “Budweiser Belle.” Dancing around on the bow were three Munchkins; I mean these were three of the originals from the movie.
Above them on the next deck and strumming his ukulele was none other than Tiny Tim, warbling “Tiptoe Through the Tulips” as the boat came up to the dock. If you don’t remember Tiny Tim, ask someone.
The next couple of hours is a little hazy, except I remember rubbing shoulders with golfer Chi Chi Rodriguez, singer Connie Haines, former Marine commandant Gen. P.X. Kelly and movie actor Donald O’Connor, who I chatted with while listening to the Dunedin Bagpipe Band. I think I asked him about working with a talking mule named Francis in some old movies.
I must not have scared him away because later on, sitting in a tent eating lobster and clams, O’Connor settled in next to us with the great St. Louis Cardinal Stan Musial and began singing along with Musial, who was playing his comb wrapped in tissue paper. Before they were finished, they were joined by Tiny Tim, whose real name was Herbert Butros Khaury and who, despite being completely weird, had an incredible voice and the ability to sing any song you could think of.
It was later on, as the party had moved back to the side of the river, that I went to get some coffee for the Frau and found myself standing behind someone who didn’t look like any of the celebrities. I mumbled something about wondering how I was going to write a column without leaving any of the characters there out. I don’t recall what the man said, except that another person came up and wanted to shake James Michener’s hand. I didn’t bring up my column again, figuring Michener could get an 800-page novel out of the evening without my help.