Part 46: Street Party
As we headed down the gravel drive, I realized we would be parading right past the band on the left, along with everyone seated in the amphitheater benches. I wasn’t used to feeling like I was on display, and once we got alongside people, they started looking. I imagine some wondered if we were celebrities of some kind as we were so overdressed. Most of those seated, and even those who stood at the bottom of the field and out in the road, were dressed as if they just got off from work or had been lounging around the house. With the exception of a few older folks, we were the only ones not in work clothes or jeans. Several ladies wore dresses, but they weren’t nearly as showy as Summer’s outfit. Heads turned on both male and female, and if we wished to truly be noticed as a new couple, we were getting our wish for sure. Feeling like we were walking the gauntlet, Summer squeezed my hand for reassurance. The band went from Stevie Ray to Wet Willie, and a few in the crowd began to dance to the southern boogie. We reached the bottom of the drive and Summer herself began to sway to the music, as the band sang about a street corner serenade of days gone past. Facing me, my beautiful companion tried to get me to dance, but I wasn’t feeling it. It felt like everyone’s eyes were on us. She grabbed my hands and tried to move me.
“Come on, pretend it’s the orchard,” she shouted.
From Wet Willie, the band cut into another danceable boogie number, this one made famous by Little Feat many years ago. I had to give it up to the band, they were playing songs from my era. I finally allowed myself to loosen up and dance a little. Summer moved my hand on her hip, which was in constant motion. It was hard to concentrate on a beat when her hip was against the palm of my hand, and the thin material of her dress made me think of her in more revealing ways.
As we danced to the music, I couldn’t help but look around. This was tense. A few others had begun to dance, letting Summer’s infectious enthusiasm win them over. She was nothing short of inspiring, and soon couples in front of us and behind felt brave enough to shake what their mothers gave them, too. We didn’t go unnoticed by the band either. When their first round of songs was over they dedicated a song to “the swirling lady in red down there.” I couldn’t recall who originally sang it, but the song was an ode to chasing girls and the color candy apple red. Summer ate it up, and giving me a big kiss on the lips whirled away from me and into the crowd, dancing on her own and trying to get others to join in. While guys tried to cut in and be her partner, she quickly turned to find a different partner in that of a child or older woman. Finally she made her way back to me, and at song’s end jumped straight into my arms. For a moment I thought I heard the sound of a hundred guys mumbling “Aw, man…”
“I’m thirsty,” Summer whispered, and we left the circle of dancing for the dirt road where various vendors had set up on one side. “Oh my God, “ Summer exclaimed, spying a booth set up right next to the artist’s village. “Snow Cones!”
I laughed at her excitement. You would have thought she was a kid at a circus. As if to prove me right, she turned to me with a wink in her eye and the swish of her dress, “Can I have one, daddy? Please?”
A few people began to look at us strangely, and I swear some looked like they wanted to string me up from a tree. Perhaps her youthful exuberance had made them think she was a teenager and I was some kind of lecherous old man. Mind you, with her looking like she did in that dress, I was feeling somewhat lecherous indeed. I got her a cherry snow cone, as the band went through a whole array of southern cover tunes. 38 special, Elvin Bishop, Lynyrd Skynyrd. As the Bishop song played, something about fooling around and falling in love, Summer slid up against me to slow dance and share her snow cone. With one hand on her hip and the other around her waist, she swayed so wonderfully beneath my touch, even more so when she passed the shaved cherry ice from her mouth to mine. And even though I knew there must be disapproving eyes upon us, as well as some that were very approving, I didn’t care. It was just Summer and I and everything was alright.
“I see someone is making their own fortunes,” a voice said from behind us after the song was over. We both turned to see the woman who had told our fortune in the Artist Village. “It is nice to see you two so happy. And I see it’s catching on.” She directed our gaze to those around us. Just like it had been in the field, out in the street others were starting to dance. I’m not sure if it was because of us or because now the band was in full Skynyrd mode, but either way it was good to see the celebration of life was catching on. In fact, I had never felt so alive myself. Any other time and you would never have caught me dancing in public and certainly not with a woman as beautiful as Summer.
The fortune teller moved on, and for a moment it seemed as if it was a parade of all the people we had met here flitting by. We saw the young boy from the Italian restaurant in town with a dark haired teenage girl hanging happily on his arm; Danny, the tubing guy, also strolled by us with some of his friends, including several girls wearing identical college team shirts, who seemed to be enjoying his company and attention. He gave me a nod, and Summer a lingering smile, as if he wished any of the girls with him looked half as stunning as my date. I couldn’t help but feel proud she was on my arm and not his. As if keeping with the tubing theme, a couple of the kids from that particular adventure came running up to Summer to say hi and she graciously told them all how pretty they looked, as if she were the big sister none of them had. I smiled thinking how sweet that was of her. She was so friendly and enthusiastic with everyone she met, so unlike any girl I had ever known. This was even more evident when several of the Latino workers strolled by with their dates and families. They recognized us with a smile and a wave, and she began to talk to them in Spanish, paying particular attention to the young men’s wives and children. They were just as enthusiastic to speak to her in their native tongue, and it appeared the men were introducing us to their families, though I couldn’t follow it all. Before moving along, we all shook hands, with Summer hugging several of the women. And yet we weren’t the only ones who were friendly with them. I watched as they moved through the crowd, and as I was amazed by how welcome they were made in this community. Back home in the city, everyone was so closed off in their three feet of space, with people of other nationalities sticking to their own race, and rarely stepping outside their ethnic group. But here in this tight knit community, everyone accepted everyone, no matter who you were, and it was awesome to be a part of that for a while. Even Summer and I, who may have caused a stir of social conscious scandal, were just two people in love and nothing more. Here we were encouraged to be ourselves or who we always wanted to be. Here it seemed everyone liked everyone without prejudice, and the order of the day was to have fun. As if to prove that thought, when the next song started Summer pointed to the stage.
“Hey look!” she shouted.
The guy who had been singing, a young man of about eighteen or nineteen was now joined up on the stage by a familiar face: the young girl in the orchard who had gushed about her boyfriend’s band playing the party. With her blonde hair flying wild and the biggest smile on her face she joined her beau for a cute rendition of the southern rock duet, “Don’t Misunderstand Me.” Summer and I watched the young couple as they bounced their lines back and forth. My date remarked on how cute they were and I had to agree. They reminded me of us if we had only just got out of high school. If we had been back in the cities we’d come from, the kids wouldn’t have even known this kind of music. They were more accustomed to rap and hip hop and modern pop hits, rather than blues, southern rock, and down home boogie. It seemed like a different world here, where everyone, even the kids, were different from anyplace we’d been. After the song was over, the girl returned to the crowd, and to her mother, who we realized was Florence, the church cleaning lady. Summer took my hand and dragged me over to them. Coming up behind mother and daughter, she congratulated the young girl on her performance.
Florence, beamed proudly, and said to us, “So, the Church love birds have moved out into the open. It’s nice to see two people so perfect for each other.”
“Thanks,” Summer replied. “I feel like this is our coming out party.”
“Perhaps it is. Hopefully soon you two will make your love even more official,” she said with a wink. I don’t think either of us knew how to reply to that, even as Florence added with a knowing smile, “You look dressed for it.”
“I’m feeling dressed for dancing,” Summer replied, looking over at me, as if to say, hey, let’s get out of here. I think ,maybe she was nervous with what Florence had been skirting around, so I allowed her to lead me back into the crowd to dance to “giving it up for your love,” another danceable boogie and blues tune from my youth. With each song, it seemed the band was playing the soundtrack of my teenage years. It was strange, but I was enjoying every minute of it, as I felt like I was a teenager again dancing with Summer. The fact she knew the songs too put the fantasy in my head that I was dancing with the prettiest girl in my school at the prom and no one could stop the promise of true love from happening. As if to cement that notion, the band next played Springsteen’s “The Ties That Bind” and I found myself swirling Summer around me. We both erupted into childlike smiles and laughter, having the time of our life.
As songs changed, we needed another break again, so we retreated to the vendor’s area where we bought a couple Churros from a portable booth being manned by a pleasant Spanish couple who smiled when I nodded my head in agreement at their vendor sign which read “Best Churros ever!”
Moving down the line of vendors, we came to one whom we knew very well, as I had a case of her unopened lemonade in the trunk of my car. Twyla sat at a long table selling her summertime concoction and looking to make a good profit at it as well. To either side of her, sitting in portable lawn chairs were Helen and Raymond, leaving me to wonder who was manning the store. When I said something about that, they both grinned. “Closed up early,” Raymond replied. “Can’t miss the street party, even if I’m too tired for dancing.”
Helen smiled at the sight of us. “You two look ready for dancing, or getting hitched. I’m not sure which.”
“I didn’t have anything else to wear,” I answered. “And anyway, when Summer dresses this sexy, I can’t show up next to her in bib overalls.”
She laughed heartily. “Oh no, you can’t! Well, you are definitely the most gorgeous, exciting couple here tonight, that’s for sure. You’ll be the community talk for months.”
The band slipped into a John Mellencamp song and I could feel Summer next to me itching to dance again. Though I was starting to get tired, Helen gave me this look that said, you better go boy, the night is wasting. So, with a friendly farewell we left our new friends and reentered the dancing field as the band moved from Mellencamp to John Fogerty. The song, “Rock n’ Roll Girls” got us moving once more, and I found myself looking back on the street party as something very special. In a way, with seeing everyone we had come in contact with during our stay here, this night almost seemed like a last hurrah before we had to leave this wonderful place behind. Swaying to a couple slower numbers made famous by Steve Miller and Kenny Loggins, Summer laid her head on my shoulder, the music forever ingrained in our heads just as surely as our love was forever nestled in our hearts.
Forever. What a thought that was. And what a night this was shaping to be in our memory.
“Orchard House & The Heart Of Everything” 2016 Paul D Aronson.