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In the small town where I grew up, Summer officially started with the Old Settlers Dance on the Saturday after Memorial Day. It was held on the pavilion behind the Courthouse with a small local band playing all the old time favorites. “Over the Waves Waltz”, “The Maiden’s Prayer”, and my number one choice, “Put Your Little Foot”, always drew couples to the floor. Everyone danced, grandmothers with their first-grade grandsons, brothers with sisters, middle-aged married couples, and even young marrieds holding a toddler between them. I learned to dance standing on the toes of my granddaddy’s boots and holding on to his belt. I wasn’t quite three years old, but I knew a cowboy waltz meant a wonderful whirl around the floor with the best dance partner I ever had.
Everyone had a grand time. Admission was fifty cents for the gentlemen and a dollar for a couple. Kids and single ladies were free. On the sidelines, when anyone needed refreshment, soft drinks, cotton candy, and homemade ice cream were available.
It was a lovely time to be a child. No one thought twice about bringing the children. They were safely watched by everyone in town. Young couples courting weren’t about to do something that would disgrace the family—not with every widow and spinster scrutinizing every move to be certain. The music might have been home-grown, but everyone understood the words, felt the beat, and could dance the steps.
When I write about Santa Rita, for the time I’m engrossed in the story, I’m back in that small town. I can hear the cowboy waltz, feel the excitement of a Paul Jones round, and almost taste that homemade ice cream. I try to share those moments with my readers and re-create the charm of the time and the place. Drop by Santa Rita when you have a free afternoon. We’ll pour a sweet tea, sit on the porch, and visit with the neighbors as they walk by on their way to Piggly Wiggly or Arwine’s Drug Store. Happy Summer!
At the height of World War II, Merline fled Santa Rita. Ten years later, when her sister is killed by a car, Merline returns to close the estate, hoping to avoid inevitable questions. Memories make painful companions as she clears the tag ends of their life in Santa Rita. Most of all, she remembers her beloved Paul, lost when his bomber crashed. Paul Winfield, rescued by the Resistance in France, has searched for his lost love, never found her or anyone to equal her, and is now Santa Rita’s high school principal. Knowing Merline will probably return for her sister’s funeral, he comes knocking on the door of her childhood home, but she sends him away. Paul survived the tragedies of war; he won’t let anything stand between him and Merline again, but they are different people than they were ten years before. Will a shameful secret and their own history keep them apart?
About the Author: Fleeta Cunningham is a fifth generation Texas and has lived in small towns all over the state. She writes about life and love against that background, including the nostalgia of the fifties–its fashions, fads, music and mores. When she’s not writing, she teaches Creative Writing, quilts, keeps house for her four feline roommates, and designs vintage gowns for 16 inch fashion dolls.
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