First Party of Summer

It is evening. It has been dark for a couple of hours and the heat of the day is finally dispersing. There is a breath of a breeze blowing in off the water. The crickets are chirping. There is a murmur of voices from a party across the inlet. Occasionally a fish jumps and makes a splashing sound out from the shore. Everyone has a beer and a pipe is making the rounds.

A small brown dog with shaggy hair lays at his master’s feet, eyes alert, searching the faces for a clue about what comes next. Someone, a big guy called Jim, stands up and crushes his beer can against his forehead. He throws it in the trash can next to the cooler and pops the top on another.

A car pulls into the driveway at the top of the hill. A little later a big man wearing a vest and a cowboy hat and carrying a guitar case comes down the path. He opens the case and pulls out a guitar and slings the strap over his head. There are choruses of greetings as he walks over to the cooler and digs around for a beer.

He pops the top on the beer, takes a deep draught and sets it on top of a post for safe keeping. He strums the strings and adjusts one slightly. Then he begins playing an exquisite Django Reinhardt number with fingers that seem to fly across the fretboard. The crickets stop their chorus to listen. The voices from across the water have subsided as well. The fireflies blink in rhythm to the music.

He finishes the piece with a run of chords that climb the neck all the way to the sounding box. As the last chord rings and fades into silence he takes another drink from his beer. After a moment of stunned silence everyone claps and cheers and implore him to play another. He politely declines.

He puts the guitar back in its case and grabs the pipe as it comes past. The crickets have started singing again and someone has started telling a story. It is an anticlimax after the guitar performance. The guitarist is surrounded by a small group of impressed women all vying for his attention.

Several of the guys are seeing who can spit the farthest. Several couples have faded into the shadows for quiet conversations of their own. The dog comes over to greet the guitarist. He is the first person other than his master that the dog recognizes. The guitarist squats to pet the dog and scratch behind his ears.

The moon has risen over the lake. The water is calm as a mirror. The guitarist has gotten his guitar out and is strumming it quietly leaning back against one of the girls that was talking to him earlier. She is rubbing his shoulders. The fire crackles in the pit. Several people are roasting marshmallows. Deep in the trees an owl adds its voice to the symphony of the evening.

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the ones you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.

A Star is Born

Before second grade, we moved to Paducah, Kentucky where I would spend the rest of the sixties. I went to Andrew Jackson elementary. It has since been renamed in memory of the woman who was principle when I attended there, Dove Anna McNabb. I remember my second grade teacher. She had black hair and brown eyes. Every morning as soon as class started she would write the news and weather on the board. We would copy it onto our tablet. She taught us conversational Spanish. All the boys had a crush on her. All the girls loved her too. I’ve tried to remember her name for several years now to no avail.

My dad taught Speech and English at the High School. He also did the plays. Tilghman High School was huge. It had a large theater and a football stadium. I suspect it wouldn’t seem quite as big to me now as it did when I was growing up in Paducah but even so, I’m still impressed by it.

One of the high points of my life growing up was getting to attend rehearsals for my dad’s plays. Tilghman was a large enough high school that there were lots of talented actors to pick from. He did productions as diverse as Macbeth, Mr Roberts, The Rainmaker, The Miracle Worker, Ondine, and Lady in the Dark. All were mounted with consummate stagecraft.

The spring of my second grade year my mother and father and I auditioned for a production of a play called Stars In My Crown. It was being produced during the summer at Kentucky Dam. It told the story of the development of the TVA and its role in taming the rivers of Western Kentucky. My mother was cast as the school teacher and I was cast as an extra. I played a student in the school scene and a young Indian in the scene about the Trail of Tears. My dad was hired as property master.

That summer and the next were magical. We got up around 11 am and ate lunch. We got ready and took my little brother to the baby sitters. We drove to the theater. Mom would usually pack a picnic dinner. We would eat and get ready for the show. I would play with the other children in the show.

The curtain went up at eight. The show had two acts and a twenty minute intermission. It was done outdoors in an amphitheater. After the show, the director or the stage manager would give us notes about things we needed to do to improve the show the next night. Sometimes we would rehearse a scene if we were getting too sloppy about it. Then we would drive home.

Often we would stop at a little all night truck stop on the way home. Mom and dad would drink coffee and I would have milk or a soda. Sometimes I would get a hamburger. Then we would go pick up my brother at the baby sitters and go home to bed. We did this six nights a week, all summer long. I loved it.

When I turned eight at the end of June I had the entire cast of Stars In My Crown at my birthday party. It was held after the show on stage. I felt like a very special person indeed.

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the ones you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.