The Tennessee Waltz

Though I was only about four years old, it seems strange I don’t remember the big party my parents threw in the aluminum equipment shed that replaced our lopsided old barn. Could I have slept through all the laughter, music, and dancing?

The shed was sixty feet long by twenty-four feet wide, and the west end was about twenty feet from my bedroom window. A record player had been set up and there was an abundant supply of booze. If I didn’t notice the noise, then I should at least remember people coming inside to use the bathroom, and the sound of their heavy drunken footsteps on the linoleum floor. But I don’t remember that either. I wish I did, because then I might also remember the smell of cigarette smoke drifting on the still night air, and the bright light shining under the shed door and leaking out along the eaves, and the moths and lacewings flitting about.

One explanation for this disappointing hole in my memory could be that I was at my grandparents’ house. But I happen to know that my grandparents were out of town, and that there is no other place I could have been, except at home with my two older brothers. I don’t remember them, either. What were they doing? Listening to the radio? Fighting? Watching TV?

“Be quiet. You might wake him up.”

“I’m not making noise, you are.”

“Yeah, but you’re louder than me.”

“Wait. I think I heard something.”

“He’s gone!”

I would remember sneaking outside in my socks, and feeling my way through the dark to the back side of the shed where the big sliding doors were, and watching the party unnoticed from the edge of the vineyard. I would remember the familiar faces of my parents’ friends from town — people they’d grown up with, or had met after the war. I would most certainly remember the music, especially “The Tennessee Waltz.”

“What do you mean, you don’t know where he is? We told you to keep your eye on him.”

“We thought he was asleep. He was asleep.”

“Have you looked everywhere in the house?”

“Yes, even in the closets.”

“In the shower, too.”

“Hey — maybe he’s in the hamper. He likes the hamper.”


“Never mind. If he’s not in the house, then he must be outside. We’ll have to go out and look for him.”

“Did you look in the shed?”

“We were in the shed.”

“Oh, yeah.”

If I had been in the hamper, I would remember thinking this conversation was very funny. But I wasn’t in the hamper. I had never been in the hamper, because it was full of sweaty clothes that needed to be washed. Besides, the hamper wasn’t big enough.

I was dancing
with my darling
to the Tennessee Waltz,
when an old friend
I happened to see
. . .

And if I were older, like the couples dancing on the concrete shed floor, I would remember my old friend taking my sweetheart from me, and the plaintive voice of the fiddle as it described my loneliness and despair. I would remember it just as I remember it now, even though it didn’t happen, and the dance floor is empty and cold.

September 26, 2005

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