Some say love is the universal language. I happen to believe that music is, because, despite the language a song is written in or how badly we butcher the lyrics when we sing it, good music can resonate with anyone who hears or feels it—plus, it’s timeless.
In The Dear Maude Trilogy, music plays a large role in Emily’s life, reminding her of the world she left behind, and helping her to cope with her new one. Similar to a form of time travel, music can take you back to that moment when you danced with your first crush, when you took that road trip you loved, or when you landed your first job. Music can also be bittersweet; especially, when the first song you hear after a major breakup is in the Top 40 for record-breaking weeks! Past or present, music has the power to create memories by evoking some form of emotion—good or bad—and by offering an escape from reality.
In Dear Maude, music reminds Emily of home as she’s brushing her horse. Unfortunately, as she soon discovers, seventies rock tunes do not always blend in 1910.
Whenever I felt homesick, I tried to convert a turn-of-the-twentieth-century waltz into a seventies rock song, similar to the ones Mom always blasted in her shop. If I sped them up enough, the technique seemed to work. Then, just for fun, I added lyrics, the same kind Tom would have inserted. He never sang the same words twice, and they seldom had anything in common with the original lyrics. If the song was about cars, for instance, he would sing the praises of whole wheat and how it lowered his cholesterol instead. That was Tom.
‘He’s a diamond in the rough,’ Mom would always say, using one of Maude’s terms to defend him. If nothing else, he always made her laugh. And I really missed her laugh.
On one occasion, when Mr. Beringer had been gone for more than a week, I felt as if I were going through withdrawals from him, as well as my home. With thoughts of both in my head, I stood, brush in hand, inside Estelle’s stall, softly singing and humming in a marathon grooming session that would have made her show-ready an hour earlier: ‘Better than…a muscle…car. Or Pa’s…moonshine straight…from the jar…Yes, Estelle you sure are the best. Yeah!’
‘Yeah, Estelle!’ I sang to the horse.
She offered one big, brown eye, then turned away.
‘Video…games cannot…compete with…your brown coat…and four hoofed…feet. Oh yes…girlfriend, you have them beat. Yeah, uh-huh!’ I stopped grooming and pretended to play the brush. ‘Now for the guitar solo…wah, wah, waaah!’
‘Int’restin’ tune you have there.’ Mr. Beringer stood just outside Estelle’s stall, with his arms folded across his chest.
I dropped the brush in horror, then fumbled around in the straw to recover it. ‘You scared me.’ I quickly reclaimed the brush and focused my attention on picking the debris out of the bristles. I glanced his way several times, noticing there was no expression on his face as he silently watched my efforts. Crap, who is he?
‘Where did you learn that one?’ he finally asked.
‘Oh, it’s just something from my mother.’
‘Hmm… What do you call it?’
‘She never said.’ It wasn’t a lie, I decided, but I tried to change the subject by saying, ‘Welcome back! When did you get here?’
The silence in the wake of his short answer was deafening.
‘Is everything all right?’
He just stared at me.
And where would music be without dance? In Dear Maude, learning to waltz is a key ingredient in Emily’s success as a true authority in 1910 society.
By the time I mastered the introductions, the ensemble was playing a waltz I had danced to numerous times in music class.
‘My lady…’ George offered me his hand.
I smiled and let him escort me onto the dance floor. All eyes were on us as we led the dance.
One-two-three, one-two-three… I counted to myself, smiling up into his face while trying to avoid stepping on his toes. Other couples joined us until soon the floor was crowded with dancers who seemed to know the waltz well.
George and I smiled at the other couples who were dancing around us, and I continued to count to myself. After several more familiar songs, he decided to take a break and escorted me back to where Mr. Wilson was standing.
On our way across the floor, we were stopped by a handsome man in his twenties who George introduced as Mr. Fowler.
I offered my hand. ‘Pleased to meet you, Mr. Fowler.’
He drew my hand toward him, staring unblinkingly into my eyes. ‘The pleasure is mine, Miss Winston.’ He proceeded to kiss my gloved hand, still holding it as he lowered it from his face while keeping his eyes glued on mine. ‘Lord Winston, may I have the honor of the next dance with your lovely niece?’
‘Of course!’ George stepped back to let Mr. Fowler lead me to the dance floor.
The waltzes were now unfamiliar, and I needed to follow Mr. Fowler’s lead in order to avoid stepping on his toes. Thank you for pushing me to practice, Ms. Wood. I was grateful for my music teacher’s persistence that now allowed me to waltz without embarrassment or injury to either of us.
When the song ended, Mr. Fowler escorted me back to George. ‘Thank you,’ he said, bowing with a flourish.
I curtseyed in reply.
‘Well done,’ George whispered.
‘Thank you,’ I said, proud of my performance.
Mr. Fowler’s request seemed to open the floodgates for more young men to ask for George’s permission to dance with me. With only a few familiar songs mixed among the rest, I quickly learned to recognize the types of waltzes Ms. Wood had insisted I learn.
Thanks-Ms.-Wood, thanks-Ms.-Wood. I inserted her name in my count as I was waltzed across the floor by dozens of young, extremely handsome men. I was happy that the effort of dancing also caused my blushing face to appear flushed instead, or else I would not have been able to survive the evening in the company of such good looking bachelors.
By midnight, the room was clearing, and the couples and eligible men were making their way through the other doors. I was hungry, dehydrated, and exhausted, but I continued to smile, curtsey, and offer my hand to be kissed until the last of the guests departed.
For Emily and Maude in For the Love of Maude, dance lessons might lead to much more than just the Charleston.
We arrived at the dance studio early, giving Maude time to change inside before the lesson began. With her blonde hair lying much flatter than on our last visit and wearing a matching yellow outfit, she was a ray of sunshine. I caught Louie admiring her as well. She seemed as drawn to him as he was to her, and the two just stared from across the room. I excused myself and offered to take her black disguise to the car. She absently handed me the clothes, and I made my escape, wondering if I was doing the right thing by leaving them alone. What if she marries Louie and it changes history?
Even as Emily and Dell face their future, music is along for the ride in Forever Maude:
I turned to hear Dell, who was failing miserably at remembering the lyrics of a song to which he couldn’t possibly relate. It made me smile.
I’m a lucky girl.
Timeless, memorable, powerful, thought-provoking, entertaining—music—it’s that and so much more. How could a modern girl travel in time without it?
Read more in THE DEAR MAUDE TRILOGY!
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Next time, I’ll rifle through Emily’s closet a bit more.