Yesterday the Hoosier Recruits provided old-time music for another Plank Road Summer book event, this one at the Blackbird Cafe in Valparaiso, Indiana. My table was placed so that when I wasn’t signing books, I could turn my chair around and play the piano, thus spending the afternoon as both writer and musician.
“I’m going to be a writer and a musician”–That’s what I told a reporter back when I was a senior in high school. Back then I imagined myself living in my Wisconsin hometown writing articles for the Westine Report and playing the organ at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church.
I planned to write novels, too, of course, but I never imagined anything like the rejoicing of the Yorkville community in the publication of Plank Road Summer. I never imagined hundreds of people–everybody from my first-grade teacher to my high school principal, from elementary school classmates to old college friends–standing in line for a book signing at Yorkville School. I never imagined my own contra dance band traveling all the way from Indiana to celebrate a book launch.
I first learned about contra dancing as a member of the Hoosier Recruits, the house band of the Valparaiso Oldtime Dance Society. Soon afterward, Emily and I rewrote passages of our manuscript to reflect our new understanding of old-time dance traditions, such as the practice of choosing a new partner for each dance or the freedom of women to ask men to dance.
Like the dancers at the Racine County Fair in the closing chapter of Plank Road Summer, the dancers at the Yorkville book launch included “young and old, native and foreign-born, townspeople and country folk.” Although my chair at the signing table was far from the stage where my band was playing, I rejoiced in my good fortune, not only as a writer and a musician but as a member of the warm and welcoming community of Yorkville, Wisconsin.