Kitchen Junket by Ralph Page


      Everyone in the room listened intently, as if hearing the song for the first time. Listened as we heard about the ball in a village tavern miles away, to which she and her beau were driving in a sleigh. Listened as she too proudly refused the warm blanket her mother offered her.
      "My silken coat is quite enough,
      It's lined from head to toe;
      And I will wear my silken scarf,
      It's soft and warm you know."
      But it was scant protection against the bitter cold of the Vermont mountains, and Charles complains of the freezing air:
      "Such a bitter night I never saw,
      The reins I scarce can hold,
      Poor Charlotte, shivering, answered him,
      I'm freezing with the cold."
      As the song ended we realized once again that she was telling the truth, for upon reaching the tavern Charlotte did not stir:
      "Then quickly to the lighted hall
      Her voiceless form he bore,
      His Charlotte was a stiffened corpse
      And word spake nevermore."
      "That really happened, you know," said mother, "over near Weathersfield, Vermont, a long time ago."
      "She'd ought to 'v' known better," noted Aunt Mabel. "Th' idea. Goin' off fifteen miles to a dance in a silk coat."
      "Let's have another one, Laura," urged Sam.
      "Don't feel like singin' much tonight, Sam. Why don't we all sing something together; how about Old Pod Auger Days?"
      We need no teasing, and the windows rattled with our chorusing:
      "I will sing to you of the good old days
      When people were honest and true;
      Before their brains were addled or crazed
      By ev'rything strange and new.
      When every man was a working man
      And earned his livelihood,
      And the women were smart and industrious
      And lived for their family's good;
      Of the days of Andrew Jackson
      And of old Grandfather Grimes,
      When a man wasn't judged by the clothes he wore,
      In old pod auger times,"
We loved this song of early minstrel show days and sang it with gusto and ferver befitting such lines as:
      "Now young men loaf about the streets
      And struggle with bad cigars,
      They stay out all night when they should be home,
      With their daddies and their ma's;"
and the first part of the third verse:
      "Young gals didn't hug nor kiss their fellers
      Whenever they came to court,
      Nor paddle around on roller skates
      Nor pound the pianyforte;"
we let the girls take the high part of the next few lines while we caught our breath to do justice to:
      "They didn't lie abed til eleven a.m.
      But got up in the morning betimes,
      And they didn't elope with the old man's coachman,
      In old pod auger times."
The windows rattled and the ceilings shook as we sang the last verse:
      "The old men didn't drive fast hosses,
      Nor gamble with keerds and dice,
      Nor they didn't run church lotteries,
      For it wasn't considered nice;
      But now they'll gamble and drink mean rum,
      And lead hypocritical lives,
      And wives run away with each other's husbands
      And husbands with other men's wives
      And folks didn't have delirious trimmin's,
      Nor perpetuate horrible crimes,
      For the cider was good and the rum was pure
      In old pod auger times."
     "How's the cider, Wallace?" asked Harry, holding on to his throat. "Still holdin' out? My throat is awful kinda dry."
      "Should think it would be," said Florence, "You've had your mouth open so wide, singing, that I thought the top of your head was going to open up."
      "Dad's right," agreed Clint, "we ain't had but one round yet."
      "And you talk about Florence eatin'" said Edna, "after the supper you've just had, I'd like to know where you think you're goin' to find room for anything else."
      "Good lord!" answered Clint, "Couple swallows of cider won't take no room. They'll settle the sandwiches I had t'eat to keep Al from makin' a hog of himself."
      Nobody hung back as we all trooped into the kitchen for refreshments. Harry and Clint might have been as thirsty as they said they were, but Bert, Henry, and Sam got to the crock ahead of them, and no amount of good natured jostling could budge them from their vantage point.
      "Stop yer foolin' around," said Henry, finally, "Want I should spill this dipper o' cider?"
      "Good lore and king, no." laughed Sheldon. "Don't waste any of it. Put it onto yer."
      "Take yer hands out o' my ribs then. You don't tickle. You just pry a fellers ribs up."
      "Lickin' good Sal, ain't it." said Ernest, repeating a favorite catch phrase.
      "M-m-" smilled Harry, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. "That's so meller it's most ripe. Wish I could get my cider to keep like that"
      " 'T would, if you'd give it a chance to," replied Uncle Wallace. "What d' ye say, anybody want to do Honest John?"
      A yell of approval gave him answer and as we hurried our sets together, Jim Davis and Uncle Wallace called the invitation in unison:
      "Honest John, Honest John,
      Find your gals and hurry on,
      Honest John, Honest John,
      Tiptoe light, don't be too long."
      This they chanted to be the first eight bars of The Girl I Left Behind Me, the banjo taking the melody as Uncle Wallace shifted the milking stool around to his liking.
      "Everybody ready? Don't forget to sing the chorus. Let 'er go!"
      With fiddle and banjo playing the first strain of The Girl I Left Behind Me, Uncle called the first figure:
      "The first couple lead to the right
      And balance with the two
      Join your hands and circle four
      Then here is what you do."
The tune changed as we loudly chorused:
      "You sashay by, address your opposite
      Sashay by, address your own,
      Then right and left the way you are-r-r-r-r
      Right and left right back to place
      And all four ladies chain."
The music shifted back to The Girl I Left Behind Me as we danced the 'ladies grand chain' and continued with the next figure:
      "Now everybody promenade."
And so on, all around the set, each couple visiting each of the other three couples. This was the long way of doing the dance. But who cared? Nobody was in a hurry and we had all night before us, and tomorrow, too. Besides, this was a traditional dance and we wouldn't have hurried if the angel Gabriel appeared in the door yard blowing the trump of doom.
      All too soon, it seemed, we heard the final call for the first half of Honest John:
      "Allemande left, and the gents grand chain
      When you're home, swing your own
      And all promenade."
      "Never see it done any better," said Uncle Wallace. "Here's the last figure. Remember, now, the 'first two' ain't the first couple. It's the head lady and opposite gent; and the next two is the head gent and opposite lady."
      "Sure, we know that, Wallace," called Harry from the north dining room.
      "P'raps you do now. You didn't the other night at the Town Hall. Hadn't been for your partner you'd a been standin' there yet."
      "I was thinkin' of somethin' else."
      "Better think with yer feet instead of yer head when you're dancin'. All ready, Jim? Here yer go."
      "The first two give right hands around
      Take your steps in time,
      Left hand back the other way
      And balance four in line. SWING!"
      The tune for this figure was the old song, "I Can't Untie the Knot," changing to "Turkey in the Straw" as we danced:
      "First four half promenade
      Hafl right and left to place,
      And all promenade."
      Tthe back to the original tune as the first gent and third lady gave 'right hands around' and 'balanced four in line'.
      We protested loudly as the dance ended. Nobody left their places, but called for more.
      "Let's do it all again."
      "Sure, why not? It's the best square dance to ever come out of Vermont."
      "Do you mean it?" asked Uncle Wallace. "Want everything from the beginnin'?"
      "Yes." "You bet." "Don't want any 'f we can't have it all."
      "All right then. But I want to dance it. Come on over here Al, you ain't earned yer supper yet. Will you dance this with me, Mabel?"
      "None o' yer monkey shines on that groan-box, Al. No foolin' around."
      "That's right. Play it th' way it's s'posed t' be played. Not the' way YOU think it ought t' be".
      So Honest John was danced once more. All of it, from beginning to end.
      during the pause that followed its ending, I called Uncle Wallace over and asked:
      "Know anything about that dance? Where it came from, or who started it?"
      "Came from round Newbury, Vermont," he replied. "Used to be a family name of Van Orman live up there. Big family, and all good musicians. The old man put the figures and music together, seventy-eighty years ago. Up north, round Swiftwater, they always do it th' first dance after intermission."
      There came now, one of those unaccountable lulls in any party. For a few seconds all were quiet. The grandfather's clock in the corner cleared its throat and struck twelve.