Saturday Night: 1958
So it’s Saturday night and I am at a beach where the waves are still in shock from the thought of a Tsunami. The evening is still and even the sea grass floats more slowly. Nothing could happen or anything could happen and no one really cares.
They say the force of the earthquake in Japan knocked the world off its axis a bit and changed the coast of Japan by 4 inches. Earthquakes can happen anywhere and at any time just like any unpredictable violence yet we go on living our lives as if they could go on without us.
On Saturday nights in Connecticut in the 50’s the evenings were warm and sometimes fragrant with the smell of cut grass and the families gathered in the muggy evening sitting on iron lawn chairs with small flowered pillows while placing their drinks on iron side tables with tops shaped like large, flat leaves. The mothers dressed in longer cotton dressed with full skirts and pointy high heel shoes. The fathers had hair slicked back from their high, hardworking foreheads that glistened in the evening light.
My father loved dancing more than anything else and had one of the first outdoor dancing floors built in a private home in Connecticut. He installed outdoor speakers: large white globes that looked like miniature space ships and hung high from the corner of our house. The music came out of the speakers with a faint lisp as if speaking a foreign language from a child’s point of view.
On Saturday nights my parents would occasionally have friends over who would dress in that fifties way and everyone would have cocktails. These cocktails came in tall glasses with fragile stems and frosted sides and were usually a pale pink. By the time dessert was over the cocktails seemed to have melted away any formality and out to the dance floor everyone would go.
My bedroom from the age of nine until I went away to school was right above the dance floor and supplied me a perfect view of these evenings. I saw Mrs. Ewald slither across the floor doing her own version of the snake on her belly, and watched with fascination the antics of Mrs. Dewart and Mr. Green who were throwing leaves onto the dancers from high on top of a wall they had climbed on. Mrs. Simmons danced like a graceful gazelle with almost anyone and Mrs. Gagarin was surely the most elegant, but no one could begin to compare with Olive Cawley Watson.
Ah yes, the beautiful Olive Cawley Watson with her dark curly hair and her deep and ever glistening brown eyes and her bewitching way of looking at men from a sideways glance and a gently tilted head. There was no one to compare with Olive out on the dance floor. Every man wanted his turn with her and she laughed up into their eyes with her neck tilted back and her tan arms around her partner like a wreath. The music never seemed long enough to her partners and they relinquished her with reluctance to another partner always following her with their eyes as she walked away. It didn’t seem to matter to Olive who she was dancing with, only that she was dancing as the beat of the music kept her heart alive and forced her feet to move and made her mind forget and dream about what never would be.
The night grew late and some people left while others found places in the curves of the terrace to sit and sip their sweet after dinner drinks made by the butler long gone to bed.
The dance floor was silent for a while and I, in my high bed, would almost fall asleep without the soft brush and whoosh sound of the slow dancing feet.
Then I heard it, the sound I always waited for, the sound of soft leather and scrape of shoe from Madame Arpel in New York, the sound of softly counting from a male throat and the warble of a closed throated sparrow in response. I rose from my bed to find my post and watched carefully from behind one curtain. The dancing pair was perfectly orchestrated to the music and each other moving across the floor in tandem with a natural lean and a curve like a soft crescent moon into the letter “K”. The soft sounds of bull frogs and crickets an orchestra to their dance and sometimes there was no one there at all. Sometimes they had no music. My father kept his tongue at the corner of his mouth in concentration while my mother closed her eyes thinking of nights when she was 17 and dancing with a movie star.
My father, concentrating on his dance lessons, may have missed the lightness and grace he had in his arms and my mother, lost in her world of memories, may have ignored the scent of my father’s Old Spice and the feel of his hand pressed firmly into her back. I could only see what was right in front of me and only sense what was real or what was imagined. I watched the float and twist of her dress and the half turn of her face into my father’s chest and squinted to count her breaths taken in to revive her spirit. I thought she was the most beautiful and fragile thing I would ever see and I used all my energy night after night to protect her as it didn’t seem to me anyone else was. You can’t protect anything that doesn’t want to be protected, not even the loveliest woma