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Mississippi Mud

Carleton Island

When, at the end of time, all the decades are counted and all the music written, the l920’s will—to the sound of ‘My Baby Just Cares for Me’—be remembered as the decade of no regrets, 

My baby don’t care for rings
Or other exotic things
My baby just cares for me  . . .

Freud was scarcely known, children’s education left to pretty young teachers in low cut dresses and the general trend of things set less by relativity theory or the bending of starlight than by Mae West who said, “A man in the house is worth two on the street” and “I never met a man I didn’t like”.  If in philosophy there was Ludwig Wittgenstein, in fiction there was Bertie Wooster who, it is reported,

. . . spent the afternoon musing on Life.  If you come to think of it what a queer thing Life is.  So unlike anything else don’t you know if you see what I mean.

In Council Bluffs, where at Lake Manawa women in black georgette danced evening foxtrots at a lakeside pavillion, the event of the year was the Pure Food Show, and in Wellesley, where there were no events at all, housewives without a care, in Studebakers, made like small drawing rooms with wall-mounted vases for flowers, sped down Forest Street to secret assignations at the Maugus Club.  Seductresses were everywhere, and Moral Rearmament still only a mote in Frank Buchman’s eye.
None of this was wasted on us, none on our mother and father (of whom, one would have to say, it was especially not wasted) and none on me, born in 1921, year of ‘Someday I’ll Find You’ (moonlight behind you).  Also none on my younger brother Theodore, born in 1924, year of ‘Somebody Loves Me’, who now wishes me to report on the decade, since he was at this time still very small. My report, which I hope won’t disappoint, is that, while for many it seems to have been a time peopled by foreign persons waiting by telephones or meeting by Spanish waterfalls, it was for me a time when—as at dusk the light from the Babson Park airfield swept across our house—only life’s central melody, the song of romance, was heard.  It seems  in fact that I cannot so much remember the 1920’s as hear it.  Our younger brothers, born only at the end of the decade may not remember Ramona ,

Ramona, when day is done I’ll hear you call
Ramona, we’ll meet beside the waterfall . . .

but if they ask I will sing it for them.

My brother would like me to recreate this beautiful decade and its beautiful mothers, but the truth is that I can only imagine it; and even that, as it turns out, is hard to do since the world has changed and the music too. About the mothers I’m not sure, for they were always beautiful and always good—like the curved, central piece of the astrolabe, called the ‘mother’, they were the part on which all others moved. Romance did not later entirely disappear, but it did not again have the sound that I remember, the sound of women whose beaded dresses hang upon their bodies in the very language of love—the sound of those who know only romance, for what else do they need to know? And if you should assume that such a mood could not exist in Wellesley or in Council Bluffs, you would be wrong; it was woven with silver threads into the fabric of the time and hung in spangles about its bare shoulder.

Even in Watertown, New York, it was known—and on the islands of the St. Lawrence too, amongst the ice houses, petunia beds, and on the top floors of boathouses where, in the early morning, one could see that perfection lay upon the bay, like a great expression of itself, flat, silent, deep. In the dark underwater holes of the coal dock through which water snakes slid and on the rocks where white fish scales clung and shone, one could always, I thought, know romance, not quite as shown on the covers of Photoplay, brooding, diamond-and-pearl-adorned, garments as if slipping to the floor, or amongst the smart set from South Orange, N. J. and Bethlehem, PA, but romance nonetheless, life’s greatest quality, one that did not pass our mother by. In a different time she may have had some regrets, but for her we have none.

What a dance, do they do
 Lordy, how I’m tell’n you
 They don’t need no bands
 Keep’n time by clapp’n their hands
 Just as happy as a cow chew’n on its cud
 When the darkies beat their feet
 On the Mississippi mud.

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