18. Orphan’s Waltz
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Eighteen Orphan’s Waltz Steve and I were a little late getting to Danny’s—as usual. By the time we arrived, the Wednesday night Cajun jam session seemed to be in full swing. We thought we could hear the faint sounds of fiddle and accordion filtering down the driveway as we approached the familiar suburban split-level. Danny lived in a middle class subdivision in Fairfield, close to Travis Air Force Base, a good forty minutes northeast of our house in Berkeley. It was farther than that, in more ways than you could count, from the small settlement in Louisiana where he’d been born, or the rural community in east Texas where his family moved when he was a teenager. Now and then Danny talked about it, what he’d faced as a young Creole boy in the segregated South, growing up in the forties. But mostly he kept the stories to himself. Steve rapped on the door of the attached garage—hard, so his knock would carry over the music. Finally, the garage door rolled up. “Hey, you guys.” Less force behind Danny’s greeting than usual. “I thought maybe no one was coming tonight.” He looks so tired, I thought. We stepped into the cramped garage and weren’t at all surprised to find Robert, along with his Martin D-28 guitar. He’d become a regular in the last year, and six months ago I’d invited him to join our band. We hadn’t expected to find him alone, though. From the sounds drifting outside, we had assumed the crowd was larger. But it turned out Danny had been playing along with a CD—trying to deliver yet another rhythm lesson to Robert before everyone else arrived. Most weeks at least a half dozen aspiring Cajun musicians showed up, often more than that. But tonight it would be just the four of us. Steve pulled out the bottle of red wine he had brought. I produced a six-pack of no-alcohol beer and braced myself.The last time I tried this, Danny had laughed at me. 199 200 Danse de Poullard “Why do you want to drink that shit, Blair?” he had demanded. “It tastes like water.” But this time Danny didn’t laugh. “It’s German,” I said, offering him a bottle. “It tastes better than you might think.” “Thanks.” Danny took a cautious sip. “Hmm. Pretty good. My doctor says I can’t drink at all now.” No one seemed in a hurry to play. Danny got heavily to his feet and headed into the house. As he left, he handed me, without explanation , a sheaf of papers. I began to examine the pages and realized they came from a website dedicated to Kate Wolf, a Bay Area folksinger who had died of leukemia fifteen years earlier. I was familiar with her story, although I didn’t know her music well. It was a touching tribute—an attempt by her family and friends to preserve her music and her memory. But I did wonder why Danny had shown this to me. His tastes were certainly eclectic—his latest passion was Tex-Mex—but this didn’t strike me as his kind of music. “That’s wonderful, what her husband and kids are doing, to make sure no one forgets her,” I said to Danny, when he returned. I offered the papers back to him. “No, you can keep those,” he told me. “I thought you might like to have them.” “Oh—well, thanks.” I put the story of Kate Wolf into the bottom of my accordion case, still wondering what the point was. We said no more about it. We went back to listening to the CD, talking around it. Danny played along intermittently, now and then drawing our attention to the solid, loping rhythm. Robert was impressed and said he’d like to find a copy of the recording, called “Mémoires du Passé.” He had never heard of the band—the Lake Charles Ramblers, featuring an accordionist and singer named Jesse Legé. I felt restless and on edge. I found the sound of the recorded music oddly irritating. It’s not that I didn’t like “Mémoires du Passé.” I even had a signed copy at home. But tonight, the music of the Lake Charles Ramblers felt like an intrusion. Normally, I would have spoken up. I would have offered to lend Robert the recording and told...