The Chicken and Beer Dance
We get to the dance hall at seven o’clock sharp, and already it seems as if half the town is there. The total population of St. Jacob is barely in the hundreds, but some folks have come from as far away as Alhambra, and there’s barely room to stand let alone sit.
In farm country, I have found that each season has its own type of celebration. In summer, it’s homecoming with games and rides and barbequed brats. In autumn, it’s bonfires and hayrides and hot apple cider. In winter, people go into hibernation with the occasional fried fish dinner at the VFW on Friday nights. And in the spring, it’s the chicken and beer dances, where, for a nominal price, you can eat all the chicken and drink all the beer you can hold and then dance the night away.
This particular chicken and beer dance is a fundraiser for Jason, one of my students at the local elementary. He’s a small boy with a hole in his heart, and I can relate with him more than most because I feel like I have a hole in my own heart half the time, though no one could see it. I find myself breathless and dizzy from the thought of living life without my husband, who is still back in Los Angeles where I left him. Though we have not filed for divorce, our union seems as tenuous as a fluttering heart, and sometimes I feel myself turning blue.
I left the rush and pulse of the city in part to escape from a painful marriage and in part to find the hometown I never had growing up. I went to six different elementary schools while my father climbed the corporate ladder. Now, I’ve dragged my three sons away from their own father with vague explanations of how great this is all going to be. The youngest two still trust me enough to give it a chance. My teenager thinks I’m a heartless witch.
My “date” for tonight is my good neighbor, Cindy, whose own husband is working a double shift at the Granite City Steel Mill. We are an unlikely pair. She is country through and through, and I am not. She knows exactly where she is because she’s been here all her life, and I am lost.
From where I sit with Cindy, I can see one of the local boys named Steve standing off by himself, looking dapper and forlorn. Folks say poor Ol’ Steve is suffering from a broken heart ever since his wife rolled his arm up in the car window and “drug” him down the road.
The wife is not present tonight. Divorce in this part of the country is a horrible thing; you are not only separated from your spouse but also from the community that they inhabit. In most divorces, one or the other spouse usually ends up having to move out of town. In Steve’s case, since he’s got the farm, his wife has had to move in with her sister down in Belleville.
I have noticed that these people are not shy about discussing their most intimate lives. In Los Angeles, no matter what, you put on a good front in the never-ending battle to keep up with the Joneses. You might be living in an empty shell of a home, but from the outside everything looks fine. It’s different out here, where everybody knows everybody’s business and there’s no point in trying to “put on airs.”
I wonder, for a moment, what people are saying about me, then decide that it doesn’t really matter. They’re farmers. They understand that sometimes, no matter how well you prepare the soil, no matter how diligently you watch the weather, no matter when you plant, your crops just don’t yield. There’s no shame in failure as long as you’ve given the effort all your heart.
Out of the corner of my eye, I see Jason’s mom drink straight from a bottle of green apple schnapps. It’s her boy going to the hospital tomorrow for open-heart surgery. She catches my glance and blushes, then offers me the bottle. It’s a sin to drink alone in these parts. You can be fall down drunk every Friday night of the year and not be deemed an alcoholic, but drink alone and tongues will wag. It’s equally sinful to allow someone to drink alone, so I take a swig and am immediately warmed by the tangy, sweet liqueur.
Now the music starts up and everyone who can gets out to cut a rug. The wooden floors of the community center are worn from use from where generations of St. Jakies have danced their worries and their fears away. The band plays Bob Seiger and The Boss, and we all stagger out together to twist and shout. My neighbor and I do a mean jitterbug to the earsplitting sounds of “That Old Time Rock and Roll”; and, for a giddy, swirling moment, time stands still.
Crops may fail, dreams may be lost, lives may take a sudden turn for better or for worse, but the heart of this community is strong and good. This half-cocked, hair-brained idea of mine to pull up stakes and move my family away from the only home they’ve ever known has landed us all in a place where everyone belongs. And, whatever else happens, that is enough.
Kimberly Brower Bio:
Kim Brower (K.B. Keilbach) is a graduate of the University of Southern California’s Master of Professional Writing Program and author of the award-winning book Global Warming is Good for Business: How Savvy Entrepreneurs, Large Corporations and Others are Making Money While Saving the Planet. Her work has been featured in WomenEntrepreneur.com, FoxBusiness.com and CNN’s AC360. Kim also won Honorable Mention in the 75th Annual Writer’s Digest Genre Competition for her fiction short story, “Clueless.” In addition to writing, Kim works as an educational program designer with USC’s Marshall School of Business. She lives in the suburbs of Los Angeles with her family, a Jack Russell Terrier and a potbelly pig named Hamlet.
Sonia Marsh Says: In sharing a typical spring-time farm dance, you brought us into the heart of farm culture; a place that is good and strong, something you needed while questioning the city life you left behind. You had me questioning whether life is better in a rural community where everyone knows everyone’s business, or in a city community, where you can remain anonymous.
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