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Fifteen In the Blood “She looks good for seventy-seven, doesn’t she?” I had to laugh at myself, showing off my own mother. “Yes, she does,” Danny agreed. He had just set down his accordion to take a break. I had introduced them as soon as we walked in. Now my mother stood a little distance away from us, talking with Steve and one of our music friends. Danny peered at her more closely. “I can definitely see the family resemblance,” he concluded. I felt my usual mix of contradictory feelings: satisfaction, chagrin , and rueful self-acceptance. I’d finally made my peace with the short, sturdy Eastern European look the women in my family seemed to share: broad face, high cheek bones, a Slavic droop to the upper eyelid. It didn’t lend itself to glamour, but at least we aged well. My mother was visiting from Chicago, spending a few days with us before she joined up with a tour group to China. “I’ve always wanted to see the Great Wall,” she’d confessed.We thought she might enjoy this small outdoor festival at Kermit Lynch, the Berkeley wine merchant not far from our house. This time around, the theme was oysters and Cajun music. I had been a little concerned about showing up with my mother. Not that she didn’t like Cajun music. In fact, she had become something of a fan over the years—she had even taken an Elderhostel trip to Louisiana. And I wanted her to meet the man who had become such an important mentor to me. But she had a way of paying compliments that turned into something else. What if Danny asked me to sit in? She might listen attentively , tell me I sounded great—and then offer to buy me a metronome , the way she had one recent Christmas. Or perhaps she’d 171 172 Danse de Poullard repeat her remark that she loved the sound of my accordion—even though it wasn’t “a very feminine instrument.” Danny had a similar propensity for speaking his mind. Maybe he would chastise me for holding back when I played, and then start quizzing my mother about my childhood. I took my turn, singing and playing the accordion, and then Steve sat in on the fiddle. My mother complimented our playing, appeared to like Danny, and thought the crowd seemed nice. The musicians, at least. She had her doubts about some of the dancers. Like that one middle-aged couple, locked close together, denim-clad legs intertwined , undulating to the music. “The dancing—it’s a little sexier here than in Chicago, isn’t it?” Luckily, she didn’t say this too loudly. “It’s just zydeco, Mom,” I said. She looked skeptical. After the festival ended, Danny joined us at the house, playing music and drinking red wine. My mother, a non-musician, listened with a smile on her face, bouncing around on the balls of her feet, staying on the outskirts. I knew what that meant. “Mom—would you like to play some triangle?” I’d just taken a risky step. The triangle is a small but penetrating instrument. When played wrong—as it usually is, at first—it can throw off an entire roomful of musicians. Inexperienced triangle players provoke plenty of cringing and eye rolling at jams. “I’d love to!” My mother picked up the triangle I held out to her and sat down with us. I picked up the guitar, and we started to play. I held my breath. I heard the sweet, wild sound of the accordion, fiddle, and guitar , twining together in the familiar dance that never failed to move me. But now there was a new sound: the sharp, clear ring of my mother’s triangle, rising above the other instruments. I listened. And I realized she sounded just fine—at least to my ears. It had taken me some time to master the triangle, and Steve still refused to go near it. I couldn’t quite believe my mother had picked it up, just like that. Danny cocked his head, listened.The real test. I knew he wouldn’t hold back, even for a woman in her seventies. He looked at me. “She’s got it. Your mother’s got rhythm.” In the Blood 173 “I guess so. You know, her father played the button accordion.” I shared this fact proudly—and so casually no one would have...


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