16. Return to Augusta
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Sixteen Return to Augusta I looked up from my accordion and spotted Jean, smiling as she made her way through the festive crowd. It was Wednesday, the night of the midweek Cajun-Creole class party,and Halliehurst porch had filled up with clusters of people—eating gumbo, dancing, making music. Jean was a tall, pretty woman, with reddish hair and fair skin. She managed to be self-possessed and folksy, all at the same time, a disarming combination. I felt immediate pleasure as I watched her approach, accordion in hand. The familiar clouds of self-doubt came a half-beat later. I had been holding my own in this jam, enjoying a confidence that still felt fragile. Now I would have to work harder at it. Jean was good. She’d had her own Cajun band for years. She and I had reconnected—with a warmth and ease that surprised me—at the start of the week, even though four years had passed since our last meeting at Augusta.The move to California had interrupted my regular summer pilgrimage to music camp, but I’d finally found my way back to this magical place, where the Appalachian foothills echoed once a year with the sounds of Louisiana. “Hey, girl!” Jean would say, in her North Carolina drawl, when we ran into each other during the week. Sometimes she’d just wink. Or she’d offer a cheery “Don’t you look pretty!” as we shared a mirror in the college dorm at night. But the very best thing about Jean was her musical generosity. When she’d heard me play again, she made a point of saying how good I sounded. She was too tactful, too southern, to speak the real truth: “Hey, girl, you finally learned to make something that resembles music!” She had even passed along what Danny had been saying about me, behind my back. “He’s so proud of you,” Jean said. If she hadn’t told me, I wouldn’t have known, because Danny 179 180 Danse de Poullard was so sparing with direct compliments. My new life in California had been a three-year musical immersion, thanks to him, allowing a kind of growth that could not have happened otherwise. It felt so good to know that he could see it, too. In response to Danny’s urging, Steve and I had finally joined him at Augusta this year. He’d been pushing the idea, with a kind of insistence I didn’t completely understand. “One of these days we’ll go back,” I kept assuring him. But earlier in the year, I had been forced to re-think my assumptions about time. In January, I got up on the morning of my birthday , ready to celebrate, undaunted by a mere number. A few hours later everything shifted, when I learned about the sudden death of red-haired Ed, Danny’s friend and accordion protégé, the day before. The news shocked me, since he had been a vigorous man—and just a year older than I was. I resolved to stop putting things off. “One of these days” could turn into “never again” in an instant, for any of us. This was especially true for Danny. For all his vitality, he had a history of serious heart problems, going back almost twenty years. He’d been relatively healthy in the time I had known him—ever since his last “roto-rooter,” as he put it. He always tried to sound nonchalant, when he made a passing reference to his health. But the worry was always there. So I’d signed up for Augusta as soon as the new catalog came out, thinking I was doing it for Danny, more than for myself. But as soon as Steve and I drove into campus on Sunday afternoon, I felt the rightness of coming back—along with the excitement, tinged with anxiety, I always associated with the beginning of music camp, even though I’d been coming here for years.The mix of feelings had been particularly strong the very first summer—when Jean and I had met in a beginning accordion class. I smiled back at Jean, shifting as we widened the circle to include her. There were ten of us, with our accordions, fiddles, guitars , a triangle. Other groups had formed up and down the length of the porch, which wrapped its way around three sides of the turreted Victorian mansion that served...