Where is River City exactly? You know, the River City where Professor Harold Hill, of The Music Man, duped everyone (but Marion the Librarian) into thinking he would rescue their delinquent youngsters through music and ultimately lead 76 trombones down Main Street? The River City where there were bells on a hill and pool halls, lots of trouble as well as burgeoning romance? Well, wherever River City is I want to emigrate there. In fact, just wave a wand and embed me in the mythical local of a composite of vintage musicals. That would be perfect. Do you ever miss an era you have never known but your soul longs for? I do. I miss that heyday of Broadway that produced musicals that had people breaking into song and dancing down the street. If only I could live in a town that has Broadway score behind it and is lit up by a paper moon. Mine is a town that has a subtle sent of homemade laundry starch and Indian paintbrushes, lilac breezes and whispers of apple blossoms.
Sometimes, my desire to be and live as a character out of a Jerome Kern, Rogers and Hart, Hammerstein play becomes as keen as the sharp scent of new mown hay; I want to fish, stroll, and paint my wagon. I want to dance in a laneway, flit among butterflies, and tuck my hand on some gentleman’s arm and go strolling. I want to swing in a tire swing till dusk, catch fireflies in a cracked jar; I want to wake up and rinse my hair in rainwater from the old bucket I put out the night before.
Here in my town on Main or Maple Street, folks take the long way home, and are into lazy courting’, bidding on pies, talking books that just come into the library or and read short story installments in the Herald or The Register. Women drop linen handkerchiefs, hoping someone finds them; better yet, they remember to scent the hankie with Florida Water and oil of tea rose.
How I long for white shirts with tiny tucks, pencil mustached men coming out of barbershops with red swirling poles outside. I want to frequent a general store with penny candy, a shop keeper hands me a bag of barley sugar candy and blackballs from St. Louis and says, Now, Missy, will you be putting that on account or how’s about we trade a batch those fine biscuits of yours that took the blue ribbon at the Sadie Hawken’s get out last week?
I also want to bump into gossiping old maids, and cluck at boys in knickers who cross my path, and get wide-eyed to see Circus Coming Soon signs. I want to wag my finger at an orange cat that steals the cream, shuck corn, pry berry hulls, and wipe sweat off my brown with a calico apron. I want to be woo-ed by a sweet boy called Charlie and then run and tell my best friend (in person: NOT by cell phone, email, fax or text messaging!!!) that some fella is sweet on me.
I want to use a paper fan with a lacquered wood handle to cool off; watch beads of moisture form on Mason jars of still-warm new jam and find extra cache of honey in a hive I forgot to check. I want my picnic basket, replete with buttermilk-fried chicken, to snag the highest price at the charity auction.
I want to live where the moon is always a full one and there is a brook I slip pretty stones in or a well that hears my wishes. I want a tree with my initials in a heart, and a screen door that rocks back and forth in an easy-going, melodic squeak. I want the sky to look like rain and then deluge and then rainbows. I want a pond filled with catfish and a private place where only I know where the best blueberries hide out. I want a Saturday night social and caramel corn and a promise of a Ferris wheel and fireworks that are pretty and unchoregraphed and followed by the gasp of delight and as colourful rockets clear the sky and chase the stars. I want some strange, gold-toothed lady to read my tarot cards and tell me I have two men in my future: one will come by sea and one on a horseback: which one will I choose?, I ask but she puts the cards away as I lick the last of light blue cotton candy from my fingertips.
I want to square dance, or plan a barn raisin’; I long to argue over the decor (harvest and hay stacks or stringed pink lights, Japanese garden theme that will have the girls in the other county say I’m getting citified and above myself. I want to smell fresh shoe polish, bayberry cologne, all mingling with roasted corn, spicy apple cobbler and dandelion wine. Perhaps I’ll get silly on blackberry cordial and lose my silver pendant that holds a four-leaf clover that I will find after next snow thaw. I will press it in a journal I keep; the one with the leather ties. And one day, I will sew it into a down quilt that will keep my first-born baby boy warm.
I want to start a newspaper that makes the town matrons say, Well now, isn’t she a caution while the menfolk scratch their heads. And I want someone from the big city, some renegade to haul up one day with lumber and nails and build a place for that darned newspaper that shows people I DO mean business.
Wouldn’t this all be loverly? Those musicals, those times, those worlds are fast asleep in another parallel layer of time and being, much like Brigadoon. Regrettably, I only reach those places when I dream or when that thing called common sense takes a vacation and I come down to earth.
So instead, I am dancing to Rent, Kicky Boots and the The Last Five Years while watching my sons play baseball. I am baking up treats for day camp and baseball teams and wondering where cyberspace really is.
Instead, I am here, digitally yours, and oddly, soundtrack notwithstanding, amazingly, often unreasonably, inexplicably happy, and humming It’s A Grand Night For Singing. The corn is as high as my eyes can see and the moon is full and aglow. To quote the incomparable Broadway belter, Ms. Merman: ‘I hear music and there’s no one there’.
Or maybe, just maybe, it is simply the sound of my own heart singing.