The house band was The Boys from Badtown. And they were bad. The older folks ate it up, as The Boys (guitar, drums, bass, washboard, and fiddle player) swung into action. They played mostly bluegrass and country standards (“Buttons and Bows”, “I’m a Long Gone Daddy”, “Mule Train”) to more contemporary fixin’s (“Hey, Good Lookin’”, “Jambalaya”, “Three Cigarettes in an Ashtray”). And they all sounded the same. The tempos changed, the chords changed, but it was all the same Hank Williams/Faron Young/Patsy Cline mishmash. The younger folks moved on the dance floor as if trying to avoid a sniper; the older ones danced belt buckle-to-belly, swaying like a drunken wind. The music was loud and sweaty, and the line-up for the Pabst never got any smaller.
Ruth and I stood on opposite ends of the hall, me drifting around the men and their cups of beer and ballyhooing conversations, she with her arms folded just below her breasts, looking anxious. Her long hair was done up in a ponytail and she wore a pretty denim skirt and powder pink blouse. She didn’t look out of place for the crowd, but she stood out. A lot of the boys – and not a few of the men– glanced at her and held onto the glance for as long as they could and not call it a stare. She was wearing very light makeup, but her eyes looked bruised, as if she hadn’t slept for a while. She looked so unsettled, and it was so unlike her usual friendly, curious nature. If anyone in the family noticed a difference, they didn’t say. They probably thought she was sad to be going back home.