Excerpt from Wilder Ridge Story
It had been raining for days, and the inside of the tent was cold and mildewy. Still, Jenner was cheerful as she sat on her bed, eating the diner Rosemary had left for her. She had spent a lot of money to buy the best tent possible, and the investment had proved its worth several times over during the past four years.
Wilder Ridge was one of the wettest spots on the West Coast. It was an isolated community, with steep hills rising straight out of the ocean. Sometimes the topes of the hills got a light dusting of snow. Few of the roads were paved and, in winter, some people couldn’t leave their houses for months, so they had to stock enough supplies to last iuntil late spring. Jenner had chosen this place to settle because the people here accepted her; they let her work on their ranches in secret, and left her food and clothing in payment. None of them had ever met her, and neither did they try; she appreciated that.
Jenner had had a nervous breakdown five years before, and a number of unfortunate events led to her becoming homeless. She bough tehtent and headed for the North Coast. She camped out, helping eh rat=nchers and eating out of their gardens, moving on whevenever she was discovered. She had been at Wilder Ridge for nearly two years now, and it looked as if it would be her permanent home.
The people were most interesting There were Lance and Rosemary Abramson, who were from England and had six grown children. They owned one of the most prosperous sheep ranches in the area, and seemed to have a magical aura about them; they attracted children like shavings to a magnet. There was Monica Saenko, a college student, whom Rosemary was trying to match up with her oldest son, Jeremy. There was Willie Sue Evans, a young widow with three children, who taught at one of the schools. She wasn’t much older than Jenner, yet Cindy, her oldest daughter, was 13. There was Ricky Ruddman, also 13, who was from town, but often hitchhiked along the dirt roads to be with Lance and Rosemary. Jenner had a sense he really wanted to run away from home, but didn’t have the nerve.
Best of all, there was Steve McIntyre. The unofficial veterinarian of Wilder Ridge, he had no license to practice, but he knew animals, and could do anything except perform major surgery. Whenever it was rock ‘n’ roll night, he played progressive rock at the local grange hall. He wrote his own songs, which had wandering melodies and searching lyrics, and his voice reminded Jenner of a well-played tenor sax.
Unfortunately, he already had a girlfriend, the incredibly beautiful Nicole Thomas. She lived in town, working at the best bed and breakfast there, and also acted in the local theater, always getting lead roles. She seemed to have always led a charmed life.
It didn’t really matter anyway that Steve was taken, since Jenner could no longer relate to people. Her nervous breakdown had left her fragile and awkward. So she resigned herself to watching Steve and Nicole hang out at the pub. Besides rock ‘n’ roll night, they also had nights for various folk dances; one night was devoted to contra and square dancing, another to Irish and Scottish, and another to English. Jenner like the English dance best, because it was the most romantic, and she really enjoyed the music.
Everyone was looking forward to the Playford Ball, a grand affair in Oakland. Preparations had been going on for weeks, and now it was only a few days away. Jenner couldn’t go, but she was satisfied just to daydream about it.
She finished her dinner, then turned off the battery-operated lamp, crawled into bed, and drifted off to sleep.
At the Abramson’s English castle ranch house, the family and guests, among them a large number of children, were preparing for dinner. Rosemary placed a steak, salad and vegetables on a stoneware plate, and a wedge of apple pie on a saucer, wrapping both in foil.
“You’re fixing a plate for the good Fairy of Wilder Ridge?” a little girl asked.
“Yes,” smiled Rosemary.
“When will we get to see her?”
“No one knows. But I’m sure some day she’ll appear.”
Several children carrying umbrellas followed her out to the granary, where she left the plates.
The Good Fairy of Wilder Ridge had been a curiosity ever since one October morning a year and a half ago. A fierce electrical storm had ravaged the area the previous night, so it wasn’t surprising to find a Douglas Fir had toppled over the fence surrounding the Abramson’s pasture. What was strange was, when it was discovered the next morning, the fence was already mended and the tree cut up into firewood.
As time went on, various neighbors reported chores being done mysteriously. Everyone thought it was a man, until Steve McIntyre received a beautifully made shirt. Nicole angrily accused him of two-timing her, which he denied. Nicole received a note assuring her Steve had no one else. The note was signed, “Jenner”, which didn’t reveal anything about the person’s identity, but the handwriting looked girlish, so everyone surmised that Jenner was female. She said she wished to remain anonymous, and would help the all she could if they accepted her on those terms. They did, she stayed on, and her presence had held everyone’s interest ever since. It was Rosemary who first called her the Good Fairy of Wilder Ridge.
Everyone cleaned up, then headed for the dining room with its cathedral ceiling and stained glass windows. Rosemary saw Ricky bring in a puppy and stopped him. “I know you want to spend as much time as possible together,” she told him, “but this is our time now. You may play with him after dinner.” Ricky took the puppy outside and, completely unaware, let Kaleidoscope the Cat in. Although the tortoise shell cat weighed 20 pounds, she was quick on her feet and, at times, could be quite obnoxious.
As usual, Rosemary made sure Monica was seated next to Jeremy. As dinner progressed, everyone conversed on pleasant topics. Monica mentioned that she had reserved some cabins at a lighthouse in Pescadero for everyone going to the Playford ball. It had a hot tub overlooking the ocean. They were thrilled. The children wanted to know if the Good Fairy of Wilder Ridge would be there, but Lance and Rosemary told them they doubted it very much.
Ricky listened to the talk about the ball, then, his interest piqued, he asked Lance, “So what’s the Playford Ball like?”
“It’s the English dances we do at the grange hall, except much more grand,” Lance told him.
“Sounds stuffy to me.”
“It isn’t,” Chris told him. “I go English country dancing at the grange hall all the time. It’s the best way to meet girls. Except you aren’t interested in girls yet, huh?”
Ricky shrugged. “Maybe.” He fumbled nervously, then brightened. “I get it. The real reason you go to the ball is to see all those women spilling out of their dresses!” Everyone around him laughed.
“That’s one of the plusses,” agreed Chris.
“So – you don’t think it’s stuffy?”
“Of course not. It’s a blast.”
“Well, I guess if a former hippie says so, it must be. Uh – can I come along?”
“You have to know how to dance,” Lance told him. “You can start by going to our English nights at the grange hall. There, the caller helps you along, but at the Playford Ball, you have to…”
Boom! All conversation came to a stunned halt. Everyone looked at Monica, who was holding a tiny piece of meat in her hand while Kaleidoscope ran off with her steak. Rosemary blushed, as she always did when something embarrassing happened. Then getting up, she exclaimed, “Monica, I am so sorry!” and took her plate to the kitchen.
Everyone cracked up. When Rosemary returned with another steak, she was still blushing and shaking her head. Eventually the laughter faced, and conversation resumed.
“You have to be fairly well versed in the dances before going to the ball,” Lance continued, “because the caller doesn’t prompt you through the dances.”
“Ricky could come along and watch,” suggested Rosemary.
“Can I? That would be neat!”
“Sure!” Lance and Rosemary said together.
Ricky’s eyes shown as they searched along the table for someone, then he quickly looked away, hoping no one had noticed.
After dinner, Monica approached Rosemary. “I’m sorry, Rosie. I know you have a rule against feeding pets at the table.”
“I know you didn’t bring her in,” Rosemary said, putting her arm around her. “Somehow she got in on her own, and she knew to jump in your lap. Then she kept rolling over and winking at you and feebly meowing until you just couldn’t resist. And that’s the thanks you get; she embarrasses you in front of everybody! Ah, but you’re going to keep laying with her, aren’t you? No matter how bad she is, you’re going to go right back to her as if nothing happened!” She gave Monica a squeeze, and left her laughing.
In the living room, Ricky shyly approached Cindy, Willie Sue’s oldest daughter. “Uh – you know about the Playford Ball?” he asked her nervously.
“Of course. That’s all everyone’s been talking about for weeks.”
“Uh – you going?”
“I can’t. I don’t know how to dance.”
“Lance and Rosemary said we could watch.”
“Did they really?”
“Yeah. You wanna come with me and watch?”
“Sure! That would be fun! We could pretend to be King and Queen.
The drive from Ram & Rose Ranch to Crazy Eights was only 10 miles, but it was mostly dirt road and, on a rainy night, could be q1uite difficult. However, Steve McIntyre made the drive often enough to handle it well under all conditions.
“You sure were quiet tonight,” Chris told him, as they rode home.
“I’ve been doing a lot of thinking.”
“Really? About what?”
“You really have it for her, don’t you?”
“Well, she’s pretty enough. Me, I don’t ever want to be tied down. I love the bachelor life.”
To Steve, the Playford Ball would be more than just another grand occasion. At last year’s ball, he and Nicole had first considered the possibility of marriage. They had discussed it since, but for numerous reasons, could never get themselves to set the date. The whole deal was getting ridiculous. He would be 35 in a month; it was high time he settled down. When his older brother was his age, he was not only married, but had two children and a house in Sausalito. He’d gotten his MBA from UCLA, and was making a ton of money at an ad agency in San Francisco. Steve, in contrast, had dropped out of high school and run off to join the hippie movement. He now owned an eighth of a 1,000 acre sheep ranch at Wilder Ridge, and shared a huge log house with the other co-owners. Still, though his life had been far more adventurous than his brother’s. He had been a studio musician, and had played on the albums of several rock stars. He had even appeared on stage at Woodstock.
Chris rambled on about the glories of being single until they reached home. Once there, Steve went into his room, opened a drawer on his nightstand, and took out a box of inlaid wood decorated with a Native American crisscross border and morning glory vines. Inside, nestled in royal blue velvet, was a bangle of blue lace agate and clear quartz entwined.
It had been 18 years since Katrina Windermere had given it to him. He recalled the trip he and his friends had made to Woodstock, the detour that led to Blue Lace Canyon in Canada, and the elderly couple that had put them up. The Windermeres wound up going to Woodstock with them. After returning to their home in British Columbia, Katrina had gotten Steve alone and given him the bangle. “My best friend made this for me when I was your age,” she told him. “Blue Columbine was especially talented in making jewelry. She made the box, too.”
“W – why are you giving this to me?” Steve had asked, overwhelmed.
“I sense you are special. I want you to give this to the girl you marry.”
What had she meant by his being special? All this time later, Steve had never figured it out.
He put the bangle and its box back in the drawer. Whatever Katrina had meant, he was ready as he’d ever be.
Jenner hid among the redwood trees at Crazy Eights Ranch and watched as everyone loaded up the two vans and left. She knew Steve would stop in town to pick up Nicole, and she sensed things might be different when they returned. She tried not to feel too melancholy.
The dancers drove down Highway I all the way to the Bay Area. They arrived at the lighthouse, settled in, and enjoyed the feast Rosemary had left. She and Lance had departed early for the dance hall, because she was one of the musicians.
The rest of the party waited until they arrived at the Masonic Temple to change into their dancing clothes. All were ready in plenty of time for the Grand March.
As the music began, everyone marched first around the ballroom, then in various formations. Dancers too the chance to admire the period costumes. Rosemary, who was playing the harp onstage, wore a green shantung silk gown with a darker green velvet bodice laced in front and a pulled-back overskirt. The shantung was embroidered with tiny roses in shades of pink, fuchsia, and red. Twisted in her red hair was a strand of faux emeralds. Lance wore a waistcoat and breeches of the dark green velvet, and lighter green shantung shirt, with the neck and sleeve ruffles trimmed in red, pink and fuchsia lace. They couldn’t march together, but they could still match.
Monica wore a red velvet gown with the bodice and top part of the bell-shaped hoopskirt pleated and studded with pearls. Jeremy wore a royal blue velvet waistcoat and breaches with a white silk charmeuse shirt.
Steve and Nicole matched somewhat accidentally. Steve wore a black velvet waistcoat and breeches, with a gold silk charmeuse shirt. Nicole, whose ball gown was a multi-layered hoopskirt of varying shades of gold and light brown, had sprayed herself with gold glitter.
The evening had an aura of magic, enhanced by Rosemary’s harp solos.
The Grand March ended with couples lined up in longways sets, ready for the first dance. Steve and Nicole danced it together, then went on to other partners. When they came back together for the last dance before the break, he began to feel nervous. Here it comes, he thought to himself. How do I do this?
After that dance, everyone went into the anteroom for refreshments. All sorts of delicacies were laid out on antique crystal dishes, but Steve had lost his appetite. He ate a few hors d’oeuvres while waiting for Nicole to finish eating and socializing. After 15 minutes, he finally said, “Let’s go for a walk outside.” Nicole agreed.
They strolled in the darkness among eucalyptus and pine trees. Wondering how to begin, Steve, reached into his pocket and realized he’d left the bangle at home! Now what? He decided to plunge in anyhow.
“I’ve been doing some thinking about the future,” he said. “Have you?”
“Yes I have,” she answered.
“Well, I don’t see any reason we should delay getting married any longer. Do you?”
“Why – I – don’t see any reason either.”
That was easy! Steve gave a little sigh of relief. They set the date for early October. It would be a slow time for ranching and bed & breakfasts, so they could have a long honeymoon with no guilt.
“Let’s make an announcement at the hall,” said Steve.
“Yes! And let’s have them do our waltz too, in celebration. Do you think they’ll do it, even though it’s not on the program?”
“It won’t hurt to ask.”
They hurried back to the hall. Although the break was still going on, the musicians were setting up. The Dance Master gladly agreed to announce their engagement. But when it came to the dance, he hesitated.
“It’s Northdown Waltz,” Steve told him. “I’m sure everyone here knows it.”
“It’s really easy,” Nicole added. “I picked it right up the first time I ever did English dance. In fact, I’d never even heard of English dance before then.”
“All right,” he said, slowly. “I’ll try it.”
“Thanks. Don’t worry, it will work,” Steve assured him.
The musicians played a brief introduction, and people lined up in longways sets. Steve and Nicole stood at the head of the center line. The Dance Master spoke briefly to the musicians, then walked to the mike.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I have an announcement to make,” he said. “Steve McIntyre and Nicole Thomas from Wilder ridge have just become engaged to night.”
Everyone clapped and cheered.
“In honor of this occasion, let us do the first dance they ever did together, which is Northdown Waltz.”
Unlike the other dances, he did a walk-through. Because it was so simple, the dance went well.
From the balcony, Ricky and Cindy sat watching with several others. “That’s interesting,” commented Cindy. “”I like this better than a regular waltz.”
“Do you know how to do that?” Ricky asked her.
“A little. Wanna try?”
“Sure.” They did a basic waltz in the aisle, while onlookers smiled.
Playford English Country Ball
At the end of the dance, there suddenly appeared a woman in a rainbow-hued gown and a rhinestone tiara. Cindy gasped. “It’s the Good Fairy of Wilder Ridge!” she exclaimed.
“How do you know?” asked Ricky.
“I don’t know – I just sense it.”
The woman approached Steve, and they did the next dance together. As soon as it ended, she left the hall. For the rest of the evening, everyone murmured about the mysterious visitor.
The ball lasted until 11pm, ending with two waltzes. One was a mixer that continued into a regular waltz, and the other was a regular waltz with Rosemary soloing entirely on her harp. It created a glorious ending for an elegant evening.
Afterwards, the Wilder Ridge group returned to the lighthouse for an after party. They stayed up late talking, eating and taking turns soaking in the hot tub. The next day they rose late, and helped Rosemary prepare brunch. Late in the afternoon, they made the long trip back to Wilder Ridge.
Everyone returned to their daily routine, though the glow from the Playford Ball remained in their minds long afterwards. It was most prevalent at the Ram & Rose Ranch. Monica spent her spring break there, and Rosemary had her try on her wedding gown. The 17th century gown, made of snow-white silk and lace with a six foot train, required wearing a corset. As Monica tried it on, Rosemary raved about Steve and Nicole’s upcoming wedding, hinting not too subtly her hope that hers and Jeremy’s wouldn’t be too far behind. As she carried on, Monica caught hold of the enormous scooped neckline and pulled it out. Rosemary blushed. Obviously, the dress would need serious altering if Monica was to wear it.
Jenner too was experiencing the afterglow, but in a different way. She had managed to go to the ball after all. Deciding at the last minute, she had ridden her mountain bike to town and caught the bus to Oakland. There, she had rented the gown from a costume shop. She had crashed the gate just for that one dance with Steve. It was a rather complex dance, but she had seen it many times at the grange hall, and she had done it well. Afterwards, the waiting cab had taken her to a nearby motel, and she had caught the bus back home the next day.
She had sensed that Steve and Nicole would finally become engaged, but that didn’t lessen the pain much. She kept telling herself it was no real loss, since she couldn’t relate to people anyway. At least she’d had that one dance with him.
She was going to have to make them a wedding present. What would it be. Her gaze fell on the rough gray blankets on her bed. She had always wanted a beautiful quilt, but due to her lifestyle, had no use for one. But Steve and Nicole would!
Grabbing paper and pencil, the Good Fairy of Wilder ridge began designing the world’s most beautiful quilt for the future Mr. and Mrs. McIntyre.
English country dance first got its start in the 16th century. It is the precursor of the American folk dances of contra and square dancing. Besides the above video, which was filmed in Portland OR, you can see examples of English country dance in the movies Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility.
This may very well be the type of dance Cinderella enjoyed at the ball. It would certainly be a great idea for high school proms, wouldn't it? It also would go well at any formal event. There is no need to be intimidated; it is easy to learn.
English country dance is enjoyed all over the US, and various countries throughout the world, today. To find a group near you, contact Country Dance and Song Society at:
116 Pleasant St.
Do you think you'd want to try English country dancing?
© 2015 Yoleen Lucas