By G. M. Allen © 1984
Issue: January, 1984
Vada was waiting in suspense when her sister returned from her particular assignment.
“Pa says we can go,” announced Vida, “Providing we finish digging the taters this evenin’ and get them all sacked up ready to carry in. Says the boys can’t do it all by themselves.”
“I told you he’d let us go if you ask him,” exulted Vada. “He don’t hardly refuse anything you ask!”
Their younger sister, Vola joined in. “I’m glad you know’d better than to send me! I wouldn’t of ask because I’m not going anyways.”
Vita and Vada stared at Vola in consternation. Hard as it was to get Pa to let them go to a play-party, or any kind of get together the young folks might be having, how could Vola calmly decide she wasn’t going?
“Needn’t to stare at me like that. You heard right. I ain’t goin’,” Vola declared.
“But why not?” the older girls burst out together.
“Cause I’m getting good and tired of setting back with the old folks and watching the younguns dance!” Vola declared. “I feel that music all over me, ‘specially in my feet, and it’s pure torture to me to set and watch the others goin’ through the reels when I can’t!”
“Well, you know how Pa is, and you know we got to mind him,” Vida said. “Sides, maybe dancin’ is sinful, just like Pa says it is.”
“It’s a funny thing to me Pa never thought dancin’ was wrong till he married and settled down,” Vola declared bitterly. “Then he gets religion for the whole family! Dancin’ ain’t only wrong for him, it’s wrong for the whole family all of a sudden.”
“Now, Vola, you know Pa takes his religion serious,” Vida said, rebuking her sister.
“I reckon I ought to know it by now. You and Vada know it well enough, and so does every boy for fifteen miles square. They’re every one as scared of Pa as they would be of the Old Scratch! All ‘cept Dave, and he just plain don’t like him,” Vola declared.
“Dave’ll never see the day he’s the man our Pa is! More’n that, he’ll never know music as good as Pa. I guess being a preacher and a singin’ master, too, ain’t such a little thing.”
Vola sniffed. “I wouldn’t trade one ounce of Dave’s banjo-pickin’ for a pound of Pa’s John R. Daily’s song books,” she declared.
Vida taunted, “And still you won’t go to the play-party to hear him play a few ounces worth?”
“No, I ain’t goin’,” Vola stated calmly.
The older girls looked at each other. They did not like to go without Vola. Put them in the shade though she might, with her curly black hair and violet eyes, but when she sat with them, boys did pass around for a few words of banter; and before she had started going, they had just about been ignored. They were not ugly girls; their braids were thick and smooth, their waists slim, and as well as they knew, no girl in Chestnut Cove knew how to make chicken and dumplings, knew how to piece a nicer quilt, nor how to turn out a firmer print of butter than they did. But boys liked girls that could dance, or that they could enjoy a good time with, or else, a girl as pretty as a baby doll, like Vola.
They appealed to their mother.
“Ma, Vola says she ain’t going to the play-party tonight,” Vida complained. “Make her go. Folks’ll think funny if we go without her, and Pa said we could go!”
“Now why you reckon she don’t want to go?” Ma asked bewilderedly.
“It’s cause Pa won’t let us dance. Says it makes her miserable to set and listen to music when she can’t so much as pat her foot,” Vada explained.
“Well, I guess I know how she feels,” Ma stated. “But at least she could go along to be with young folks.” She looked at Vada and Vida speculatively. Here Vada was twenty-one, and Vida nineteen, and not a beau between them. Sometime’s she wished Pa’s religion would of held off a few more years, until the girls had got settled. It just wasn’t right that two nice looking girls like hers should find it hard to catch a fellow. But dance or not, Ma predicted to herself, Vola would never have trouble getting married. Why, she couldn’t set in the meeting house without a half-dozen boys passing by the window to get a look at her!
Ma sighed. Dade was a little hard on the girls, not that she’d own it to them, though. After all, a body ought to appreciate a man who thought enough of his girls to raise them right, and see that they kept their good name. And Dade preaching in the pulpit about all the ways of the Devil couldn’t very well leave out dancing; and if he preached against dancing, he couldn’t very well allow his daughters to dance. The girls would have to abide by his rule. But Vola must go to the party, since the other girls wanted her to go. Vola was not really stubborn about going; Ma knew how to manage her.
“You’re just cutting off your nose to spite your face,” she told her. “If you don’t go, how will you know who Dave dances with, when he takes off from banjo-pickin’?”
“But you can’t do that this time,” Ma said slyly, “Since you ain’t going.”
“I reckon I’ll go, since it seems so important to the whole Oakes tribe,” Vola said crossly. “But I ain’t going to enjoy it nary bit!”
The oldest boy, Rad, who was two years younger than Vola’s sixteen was considered old enough to be a protector and chaperone for the girls. He carried a lantern to light their way back, for they had to cross a footlog, circle several briar patches, a swamp, and cross four rail fences, going the short cut between the Rodgers’ and the Oakes’ homes.
The Rodgers’ home was all lit up, with a lamp in every room except the little back bedroom, where the children too little to stay up till the party was over would sleep. Vola noted Dave’s white horse hitched to a rail out by the chinquapin lot.
“Looky, wonder who’s old sway backed mare that is tied out there?” Vada teased her.
Rad helped her a bit. “Reckon he tied her out there so’s she could graze on the chinquapin bushes. Be the best meal she’s had in a month!”
Vola did not deign to reply, but shot angry glances at her plaguers.
Dave’s mare might be swat backed, but Dave was not. He was tall, straight as a hickory rail, and almost as thin. But his shoulders were broad, and the aquiline cast of his features, and the bright, fierce glance of his eyes were such that Vola, for the life of her, could not help but watch. But she did not intend him to know that she was noticing him.
As usual, Dave was main banjo picker. There were two fiddles, two guitars, an autoharp, and the banjo present, but not all the instruments were going on all the tunes. Different combinations of instruments and players were tried. And different dances. One called “The Texas Store” was new. It was pretty, Vola thought, and she could hardly remain seated between Vida and Vada while the others were learning it. Shucks, she could have learned it quicker than the other girls seemed to catch on! Vola wondered why the boys were so much better dancers than the girls and decided it was because they were stronger; and maybe getting likkered up had something to do with it. That kept them from being a bit stiff. The boys were getting likkered up now. Dave had gone outside three times already, and that was as many drinks as he usually took for the whole evening.
The Rodgers’ were giving this dance for a cousin who was visiting them. Her name was Lita Rodgers, and she was pretty. Worse than that, she could dance. Vola saw Dave watching her, and she saw Lita suddenly through his eyes: blonde hair, dimples, and tiny little feet that could follow the maze of steps without faltering. Dave had a mind to dance with Lita. Vola saw the thought come into his head, and when she saw him hand his banjo to Manny Moore to play, she knew she had read him right.
Suddenly Vola saw herself as one of the Oakes old maids, marching down a long vista of years; following her mother into church, sitting on the bench with her sisters, singing in a high pitched falsetto with John R. Daily hymn books - that would be the way she would be singing if she were an old maid. Up the other isle would walk Dave, followed by Lita and a half a dozen miniature Dave’s. Dave would be leading the singing because by now her father’s voice had cracked. That would be the only time she ever got to see Dave, when he was leading the singing - all clean shaven, with a white shirt on.
Dave was starting across the floor toward Lita. Vola could not bear it. Her hands clinched, twisted together. Suddenly, with a shriek that froze the dancers and musicians alike, she sprang from her seat from between her horrified sisters, whirled through the door, leaped from the porch, clearing like a deer the hydrangea bushes, and flew down the moonlit road! Every man at the play-party tore after her.
Most of the girls, registering emotions ranging from amusement to amazement, remained in the yard. But Vida and Vada, wringing their hands in concentration, took off down the road too, to see what was happening to their demented sister.
“Oh, we shouldn’t have made her come,” panted Vada. “She probably felt this spell coming on!”
When they neared the old Thompkins place, where the old rock chimney of the burned down cabin still stood, the runners slowed down. Someone had caught the fleet Vola. Dave was holding her, but she broke from him, and in one last burst of speed ran across the footbridge and several yards before long legged Dave again overtook her.
“She’s got a little bit of sense left,” quavered Vida. “She didn’t split the creek!”
“No, if she’d a-done that we would’ve known she was gone, sure enough,” agreed Vada.
The group of masculine pursuers with Vola came back to the Rodgers.’ Vida and Vada hurried before them, looking back to see how fared their sister. She was well supported - Dave was clutching her waist on one side, while his cousin held her arm on the other. Vola was half-laughing, half-crying; she was thinking what in the world she would say to her sisters, and would they tell Pa? That last thought was when the crying came half on!
The dance was broken up. Vada and Vida said they must take their sister home at once, and Dave said he would have to go with them; no one else could catch her, he said, if she took another running fit. So Rad rode Dave’s horse, and Vida intended to carry the lantern, but Dave’s cousin Jed took it from her saying that he had better go along, too, in case they needed help. He expressed the opinion that Vola was moonstruck. There was a full moon that had just come up before Vola took her running fit, and he had always heard that such things could happen at that time. Vada walked close to Dave and Vola, and Dave couldn’t get much said, but he squeezed Vola’s wrist pretty hard when he helped her over the eight rail fence.
After the boys said goodnight, the girls and Rad held a short meeting to decide what to do. They decided to tell Ma first of Vola’s behavior, and let her decide whether to tell Pa, call the doctor, or what. As for Vola, she could offer no explanation excepting that such a strange feeling came over her that she had to run!
Next day she seemed quite normal, and singularly unashamed of having cut such a shine the night before. It didn’t seem to bother her that people would be telling it, and wonder when she would have another running fit. For fear Pa wouldn’t ever let them go to another play-party, Ma decided it would be best not to tell him of the happening, so Vola was spared his lecture.
It was pleasing to Vola that Dave was the one who caught her; and as it actually turned out, she was the one who had caught him. The very next evening while she was straining the milk, Dave saw her there at the springhouse and stopped by.
“Are you feeling all right now?” he inquired. “I been worried about you!”
“I feel as well as ever in my life,” Vola declared. “I don’t know what happened to me last night. Such a curious feelin’ came over me!”
“It’s a good thing I was there to run you down. That’s the fastest I ever run! I don’t think anybody else would have ketched you!”
Vola didn’t say that if Dave had not been there the race would not have taken place. She said that she was mighty glad that Dave was there, or she might have run till her heart busted.
Dave couldn’t stand the thought of Vola’s heart busting. He placed both hands on her arms and pulled her to him. She didn’t try to get a-loose. She wound both arms around his waist, which was just the right height, and laid her head on his chest, where she could hear his heart thumping real hard. “Dave,” she said.
“Dave, Vada and Vida, they claim that you’re afraid of our Pa.”
“I ain’t afeared of the Old Scratch!”
“That’s exactly what I told ‘em. I told ‘em it was just that you don’t like Pa is why you don’t never come to our house, but they claim you’re afraid of him!”
“Why, I ain’t got nothin’ agin Preacher Oakes! But I figured he wouldn’t like me, bein’ as I am counted sort of wild and all, and bein’ as he is so particular with his gals.”
“No, honest Dave, he does like you all right. I know he’d like you fine if he got to know you.”
His arms tightened.
“Honey, you know, I’m beginning to think I might ought to settle down. I might could!”
“Dave, if you’ll quit drinking and sit down and talk to Pa, he’ll like you just fine!”
“Honey, lets you and me git married!”
“No, Dave, that can’t be. Pa won’t ever let me get married unless Vada and Vida are married first. Many a time I’ve heard him say we’ll have to get married as we come in the family. He wouldn’t let me!”
“Listen, Honey, my cousin Jed, he got struck on you last night - said you put him in mind of a deer, leaping the bushes and flyin’ so fleet down the road! But I let him know I had first claim on you - I was the one ketched you! - and when he walked with Vida, he liked her pretty good, too. Now, he’s got a brother Sol, a widder - you’ve heard of him. Vada would be just about right fer him. I’ve got a good mind for us three to come together courtin’ at the Preacher Oakes.’ I know in reason they would.”
Vola looked at him with starry eyes. “I never would of thought of such a thing! You got a head on you, Dave, and I ain’t the only one who thinks so!”
So that was how Vola caught a husband for herself, and for her two sisters you might say, at the same time. All three couples were married within a year and they didn’t really care about dancing anymore.
Folks finally quit talking about Vola and wondering if she would go crazy; excepting, of course, once in a while someone would tell their younguns how Dave Single’s wife - before they were married - had takened a running fit, and broke up a play-party; and how oddly enough it was Dave himself that had ketched her.
“And,” the mothers point out, “I guess that proves you can catch a man quicker by runnin’ from him than you can by runnin’ after him! That’s the real way to ketch a man!”