Sunday, December 31, 2006


Above the little house the cold stars shine, and from the open door comes the sound of fiddles. It's around three in the morning and the crowd has thinned down to about a hundred people, standing in the kitchen or perched on the arm of a sofa or dancing across the creaking floorboards. Some college student from Oregon is working magic with the piano, and five or six fiddlers are pouring out jigs and reels with the aid of a flute and a double bass. All week we've been dancing in spacious gyms and classrooms, but this is folkdance in its native habitat. It feels perfect.

You try to avoid major collisions, but it's so close and bumping into people so inevitable that you feel part of a single organism. We've given up on formalities like ballroom hold and asking people if they would like to dance - we just take a handy person around the waist for a waltz or a mad approximation of the Levi Jackson Rag, holding each other close out of dizziness or affection. There's not enough room for distance, anyway. I scuff through a polka with my head on Daniel's shoulder and keep banging my teeth every time we get jostled because I can't stop smiling.

In a few days we'll be scattered from this town in Kentucky. We all have other lives and know we can base nothing on this one week of the year. But as we drive or fly or walk home, tired-eyed, we will all dream of each other and of this house. Jim's smile, Will's perfect blue-green eyes, Wendy's laugh, a hand on your knee, the wild high notes of a violin, the curl of Michael's hair, a kiss after a botched jig, Alice's sweet alto singing "Goodnight Irene" - we'll remember these things and smile.

"You know - on some level, we live all year for this night," says the man I'm dancing with. He's right, whether we all know it or not. I do know it.

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