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JITTERBUG excerpt :
Vincente Bonaventura was born near Caddo Lake in northern Louisiana to parents who owned a fruit and nut orchard. They sold their dried produce on the docks in Mooringsport. Vince worked hard in his parents' orchard, learned to tailor, bought a sewing machine, and married young to his soulmate and wife, Emma. Emma gave birth to a girl in 1950 and named her Julietta. She contracted Cholera soon after and died.
Even ten years later, in Chicago, now a successful tailor and small business owner, Vincente would reminisce about Emma and his old home in the Louisiana bayou. This is what he thought about her back then -----
"He remembered how the overbearing evening and late night sub-tropical heat of a Shreveport summer would cool instantly when she came into a room. It was something about her. Even with the baby.
She had to feed Julie, at first, late at night -- sometimes at two or three in the morning. She would use the bulb of a desk lamp in the bedroom to create a small circle of light, so she wouldn’t wake Vincente up. With the light behind her in arcs, framing her quiet arms, Vince could hear his infant daughter gurgle to the rhythm of the locusts and cicadas outside, in counterpoint.
Emma’s arms were strong, like a small man. Her forearms were knotted from using a washboard since she was seven years old, washing clothes for extra money. And banging out dance music for hours on the piano or concertina for the family and for hire on weekends and holidays.
But she would relax in that light, in the over one hundred degrees Fahrenheit heat -- on a blindingly dark, sweaty Louisiana night close to the black water of the bayou. The infrequent mating call of a male alligator -- with its deep, throaty growl, sounding like a huge watery prehistoric pterodactyl -- would warn them of itself. The sound would break into that blinding darkness. The water of the bayou would not change with the morning light, dark with cypress tannin.
And in that deepest blank night, the already huge, never cut, branches of the cypress seemed even more gargantuan -- completely covering any light in the sky. The darkness made it easy to walk into anything, even a large tree. Another alligator would growl further away, sending human minds back into themselves, as if one could recall the millions of years of life on earth with that one sound.
The calls of the other nocturnal animals would antiphon back and forth. Calling somewhere on the other side of the chicken coop. Their house was on one side of the chicken shed. The bayou was on the other. The Red River of Shreveport was a car ride away. They could see the lights of the sky from the top of a tree if they took the time to climb that high.
Especially at night, both of them (as Vince would awaken) moved their attention to the air surrounding the chicken shed at the same time in perfect motion, like one person. Listening for an alligator, large bright red fox or panther getting too close to the precious chickens. The light surrounding Emma would be still. That quiet captured their attention and their minds moved towards the bayou together. They did this every night. It was a ritual as soon as Emma saw that Vincente had awakened with the noise of the baby.
Their minds moved as if they were automatically walking side by side down the path towards the bayou together. They felt as if they could see a long, low shadow slide down a bank and into the water, gliding away in the ink with barely a ripple, but enough for the two of them to see and follow subtly with their eyes. Sure of what they saw and heard, vigilant for their livestock.
Singing to the baby. He remembered her singing to the baby: “Hush little baby don‘t say a word…” She had a deep, throaty voice. A beautiful, subtle, emotional voice.
Julie cried only a little. As soon as she caught sight of Emma, she would usually stop.
Emma, who was his friend, would be there. She would always be there. In all that familiar light. Wearing a cotton, flowered dress. She even slept in a dress like that, or in her slip. Her hair would be mussed with sleep. One thick, glossy black strand falling long over her shoulder -- down, down past her waist. Glinting in that light, her hair exuded a sweet herbal fragrance and a sheen that made part of her disappear into the yellow arcs of the light bulb, imprecisely, as she sat nursing Julie.
He wished he could awaken from his present life, and Emma, who was his friend, would be there."
Quote from Jitter Bug.
Vince was heart-broken when Emma passed away, and decided to seek his fortune as a door-to-door salesman. His family offered to raise Julie, but Vince would not part with her. They supported his move and gave him a re-conditioned Studebaker, a plaid suitcase and a string tie. The zoot suit came later.
Vince set out for Charlottesville, Virginia with his infant daughter. Almost there, he stopped at a gas station in Tennessee and put her down after changing her diapers. He was putting oil into his engine and forgot to pick her up again, only noticing that she was not in the car after pulling away and driving for a few minutes. When he returned to the station, her basket was nowhere to be found.
He had put her into a padded picnic basket for the trip since she was so small. He was crushed and the local police were cold to his pleas for her return, which made him suspicious. He got her back after arriving in Charlottesville and finding a note with instructions in his trunk along with a bag containing many kilos of uncut cocaine. His daughter was being held in return for his delivery of the coke to the address in the note.