Antje Duvekot. I am not embarrassed to say I did not know her. (This represents the attainment of a new life stage, one in which I finally understand why the simple questions are the most important ones, and why it is always a smart idea to admit to ignorance.)
Duvekot had a handsome guitar, and began to play and sing songs she had written. It had taken a while for the husband to herd everyone with their glasses of wine into their seats, as we were like children who could not settle down after the cupcake course. But as soon as Duvekot started singing, we were quieted, and then we became entranced. She has a gorgeous, rich voice, beautiful delivery, and an appealing way with lyrics. Within moments, I wanted a blankie and if I were a thumb-sucker, I would have been well on my way to dreamland.
As it was, her music triggered a memory of being at summer camp, so many years ago, dozens of girls sitting around a fire, listening to the gruffly soulful counselor we all had a crush on, Jacques Abel, strum his guitar. "Tiens bon la vague et tiens bon le vent, hisse et ho! Santiano..." At this point I should interrupt my reverie (and but for the miracle of the Internet I would remember nothing more of that song) to explain that I was at a French summer camp, in Ferrisburg, Vermont: Ecole Champlain. Only my mother (and it later occurred to me, clearly hundreds of other mothers) would find a camp at which you were required to speak French, sail in French, waterski in French, canoe in French, eat in French and dream in French. As a result, if I find myself on skis behind a boat, I must say "Vas-y!" when I am ready to slalom.
There were always a few girls who were gifted vocalists and guitarists. I can still see them, strumming in the firelight; I hear their voices ringing out. I wish I knew where they were, and I hope they are still singing and playing. Those were the days of great folk songs. The rest of us joined in the choruses. This explains why I thought Kumbaya was a French hymn.
Those evening campfires were magical. The water lapped at the stony bank, tall hemlocks and pines made a cathedral over our heads, stars twinkled, the fire crackled, the ground was soft and mossy, and we sang our hearts out. Summer camp was one of the high points of my life. I recently dug a campfire pit near a boulder in my garden; I intend to greet mes annees soixantes (okay, I have a way to go, but there's lots to be done in preparation) with a recapitulation of hits from my life in the 60s and 70s. Next, it'll be tie dye. A headband. Maybe a dulcimer. Lanyards. But I will draw the line at macrame.
When was the last time you listened to live music in an intimate setting--either in someone's kitchen, or sitting on the earth in your own backyard, or at the beach? It's one of those things that we learn to leave behind. But I think it is soul-saving. The husband's gift to his wife was a gift to us all. So, friends, dust off your guitars, or get your teenager to tune his up, build a fire, and watch the sparks fly.
* * *
And will wonders never cease? This just popped full-throated into memory. I could not have recalled it if I had tried. It was always the last song of the evening. ("Do you hear, in the fire, all those mysterious noises? Those are the embers, singing 'Camper, be joyful'.") Does anyone know the chords?
Entendez-vous dans le feu,
tous ces bruits mysterieux?
Ce sont les tisons qui chantent,
Campeuse, sois joyeuse.