Summer Nights When The Band Plays

All the summer nights when the band plays seem like one great celebration: a merry-go-round of children and dogs tumbling, dancing, running around and around the circle of light and music, around the cluster of instruments and muscians surrounding the dark grasshopper back of the conductor.

There is always a march and a parade of little ones -- thin ones, fat ones -- heads bobbing , arms waving, feet stepping it out; dogs march along, tails high as flags. And older sisters, little mothers, baby-sitters run behind toddlers that have just learned to walk. Little Jane carries a bottle, another small girl in grass-stained white pajamas turns somersaults; a sprite in a grayish, very long nightgown drifts as though puffed about by the trumpet.

Yes, everyone who has an instrument can join the band -- "Concert Under the Stars" -- anyone who wants can come, find a chair, bring one, spread a blanket, prop up against a car. Or stroll about to officiate, or say a few words to this one, avoid another one. Perhaps to say, "How are you? Band's better than ever this year. More instruments."
In town for the summer, a day, an hour, a life, it seems easy to forget to be a stranger while the music plays. Did the moon always rise to three-quarter time, or really just once? Just once the two ladies, their hair the color of the moon, take each other by the hand. They turn slowly, earnestly, remembering, as they dance. Faces unfamiliar and familiar swirl past. The blankets with families are little islands on the grass. The music is the waltz, their waltz. They hold each other gently and dance around a purple beach towel where a young mother discreetly nurses her newborn. When he grows up there might be dancing for everyone again, a waltz, the turning together: holding one another with reverence without getting giddy -- or dizzy -- a long-forgetten art.

When the waltz ends, the clapping hands, honking car horns, barking dogs voice approval. The white-haired dancers seek the dark side behind the chairs to say: "Well, I don't know what they'll think, but wasn't that fun!" There is the smell of popcorn, exhaust, whiff of low tide, a shawl perfumed with lavender. The conductor introduces the next piece -- an original flute solo.

The music starts again. The first sound of the flute brings a husky up the steps to the stand. He raises his head with those pale eyes and the strange mask, howls three times, then slinks off towards the dark corner where his young master is engaged in playful warfare among the young knights of the The girl flutist sways up there among gleaming instruments as little revelers begin to rub their eyes and seek mother's lap. Last piece before the anthem. Women look at each other over heads of sleeping children and their smiles are bouquets given and received. This night, all other nights, festive as long as there is a band, as long as another summer will come for us.

Summer Nights was chosen for the Best of Yankee Magazine in celebration of the magazine's 50th anniversary.

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