View Full Version : Clamshells on the Beach

July 26th, 2016, 11:12 AM
From the Gig Journal, 5 Feb 08:

Thousands of years ago, after the glaciers melted, Gobbler's Run began to cut its way down through the rebounding landscape. Now it meanders along its flood plain at the bottom of a ninety-foot coulee in Gobbler's Run State Park. Sometime during the Great Depression, the Civilian Conservation Corps built a meetinghouse near the bottom of the coulee's eastern wall. Today, the meetinghouse is a popular place for Civil War re-enactors to hold a banquet and military ball.

The lower story of Gobbler's Hall is made of large blocks of hand-hewn sandstone and encompasses a banquet hall that seats perhaps seventy people. There is a large kitchen at the back. The outside entrance gives onto a large flagstone patio that is surrounded by a low sandstone wall.

The upper story has the beam and stucco design of Tudor architecture. This is where the dances are held.

When we pulled into the parking lot at 5:00 P.M., one of the Union officers rounded up a squad of his men and detailed them to help us carry our instruments and sound gear up to the ballroom on the second floor.

The second story is a single large room. The walls, ceiling, and timbers inside are made of polished cherry wood. The floor is hard pine. Acoustically, it is a very lively, noisy room: a nasty piece of work for yours truly: the guy who runs the mixing board.

I was checking the crossover circuit in one of our speakers, when Maggie, our dance caller, approached and whispered, "Did you see that?"

"Huh?" I said. "What? Am I missing something?"

"It's that . . . that . . . woman," she said.

She nodded toward a woman of perhaps twenty-five years, dressed in an electric blue ball gown. The St. Elmo's fire on the main truck of the Flying Dutchman wasn't as dazzling as that ball gown. The design of the garment was a bit too modern for the Civil War era; the hem wasn't quite floor length and the top was worn off the shoulder - way to hell and gone off the shoulder. The effect was to make the décolletage what people in an earlier century called "clamshells on the beach." And here, there was plenty of evidence that the estuary had been nutrient-rich for a long time.

"Yeah, I saw her," I said. "It is hard to miss a dress with a color that loud."

Maggie hissed, "One good balance-and-swing and she's gonna fall out of that thing!"

I looked again. "No," I said. "'Fall' is not the correct word. If there is an event involving that gown, I don't think gravity is gonna have a whole lot to do with it."

The Maggs gave me a hard look over the top of her granny glasses.

"She's a looksome lady," I said. "But she has that kid with her, so she is definitely not winsome."

The kid was a toddler - a little boy, judging from the blue jumpsuit he wore. He was at that tender age when most of a kid's digestion takes place outside the body. He was covered from head to toe with a thin mixture of saliva, animal cracker, pureed carrot, and curdled milk - a mixture generally known as "baby mung."

Junior had nearly mastered the art of walking. He could navigate from place to place, looking for new things that would either fit into his mouth, or that he could be-mung with his hands. Occasionally, he would give a lurch and sit down suddenly, but he didn't have far to fall and his hind site was well enough padded with diapers that he took no harm from these jarring interruptions.

If the kid was an accomplished walker, his running needed work. When he went for a run, his head tended to go a little faster than his feet. He would then fall headlong and leave a mung skid-mark about a foot long.

My making the distinction between looksome and winsome women did it for Maggie and she flounced away in a huff. (Nineteenth Century ball gowns were made expressly for flouncing).

"You're runnin' the show, Maggie," I called after her. "Balance-and-swing! We are counting on you!"

The acoustic properties of that room were so strange; all I could accomplish with the P.A. was to make a muddy-sounding din. I could make the din louder, softer, tinny, or bassy, but clarity was unattainable. After a sound check lasting a half-hour or more, we found that the band sounded better if we unplugged all the instruments and played 'em barefoot. The only thing I left plugged in was Maggie's microphone.

The banquet was scheduled to begin at 6:00. However, since this was a Civil War event, the starting time slipped to 6:20. It was worth the wait. There was roast chicken, pork chops in speckledy gravy, roast beast in pot likker, potatoes au gratin, garlic grits, "corn thang", penne in marinara sauce, tossed salad, cole slaw, pie, cake, cookies, trifles, cheese cake, brownies, and various beverages, a few of which were served from pocket flasks when the park ranger was looking the other way.

At 7:45, we began the dance with the Grand March. Abe and Mary Lincoln led the way, followed by the Army in order of decreasing rank. The dancers could hear the music, but we musicians could barely hear each other, even though we were practically sitting in the round. Fortunately, our fiddler clogged while he played in a rhythmic, "south of Pittsburgh" style so we could all listen to him and stay together.

At about 9:15, we ended the first half of the dance with the Virginia Reel. People love this dance, perhaps because many of them learned it in grade school. Maggie insists that we play the "proper" tune for it: a tune called, oddly enough, "Virginia Reel," AKA "Turkey in the Straw." The band doesn't care for this tune much, but we play it just to humor the Maggs. This is a long dance, however, so we make a medley of it. After the first couple "reels the set" to the proper tune, Judy gives us the cue and we change to "Chinese Breakdown." After two more couples go through the dance, we change again to "Mississippi Sawyer." We also up the tempo and "lean" on it a little. At this point, the dancers get up on their toes and begin to stamp and shout.

When the reel ended, the dancers were plumb tuckered and many of them descended to the first floor and attacked the desserts left over from the banquet. I went down for a handful of cookies and a cup of coffee to ignite 'em with. I talked to the dancers to find out if they could hear the music well. They gave good reports.

"That . . . that . . . woman" was in the dining room, chatting with friends, while Junior was exploring the place, looking for a handful of pie filling to replenish the mung in his hair. As the room began to fill up with soldiers and their ladies, the kid found himself increasingly isolated at the far end of the room. Suddenly, a lane opened up - a line of sight to mama's electric blue dress. He uttered an ear-piercing shriek and launched himself full tilt toward his mother. Everyone turned to look, thinking perhaps someone had stepped on the little guy. He gathered pace across the room and, true to form, his head began to go faster than his feet. Meanwhile, his mother crouched down and spread her arms wide to welcome her beamish boy. The crowd hushed as the kid leaned farther and farther forward. He would just make it or just not, and the watchers willed him to go just a little faster. Finally, he gave one last push with his little legs and a desperate overhand right to grasp some blue fabric and . . .

. . . the tide went out on the beach.

Two things happened simultaneously: the women closed ranks and cut off any further view of those splendid clamshells, and most of the menfolk, in a show of genteel modesty, chivalry, and good breeding, cast their eyes upward and began to take a lively interest in the fitting of the ceiling joists and the carved embellishments pertaining thereto.

By the time order had been restored, the break was nearly over. I went back upstairs and told Maggie how the tide went out and left the clamshells high and dry on the beach and that she was off the hook for a balance-and-swing. She looked at me over the tops of her glasses again and said, "So you saw what you wanted to see."

I gave her my look of injured innocence and said, "Hey, it was an accident. By the time you know to look away from something, you've already seen it. Besides, what kind of soldier (or musician, for that matter) hasn't seen some nice McGuffies in his day? And furthermore, I learned something."

"You?" she said, as she looked out under her glasses this time. "Learned something? What did you learn, pray?"

"No need to be sarcastic, Maggie. And stop looking at me in that tone of voice. I learned that clamshells on the beach get tide marks on 'em."

She looked at me through her glasses this time and said, "Oh!" in disgust and flounced away.

There was more dancing until 10:30. We played the "Black Velvet Waltz" and "Good Night Ladies." Then it was power down and pack it up. The soldiers helped us carry our gear down the stairs and out to out cars. It was time to get the hell out of Gobbler.

The weather was a bit chilly, about 20 degrees F. and the valley was packed with fog. When we finally emerged on the rim of the coulee, we left the fog behind. We were home and dry by midnight.

Abstractor of the Quintessence
Order of the Digital Grail