By Greg DeLaurier
I grew up in a small working-class town in northern New York, not the Buffalo side, but the other side, right on the St. Lawrence River. It was an OK town, but nothing to do, except drink (I think the drinking age was twelve, which gives you an idea). It was the 1960s, my best friend Bryan and I were sixteen, and bored, anxious to get out, do something, somewhere.
We had discovered Bob Dylan (we pronounced it Di-lan, with a long “I,” who knew? Not that we could Google him)—especially the cover of “The Free Wheelin’ Bob Dylan.” There he is, all cool grubby, walking down a New York City street, with his girlfriend Suze on his arm. THAT’S what we wanted to do , escape our small town and find adventure in a city, any city. And we, more or less, had a chance to do so.
As it turned out, our town was only an hour away from Ottawa, the capital of Canada—a real city. I forget how this began, but every Saturday we could, we got in Bryan’s father’s 20-foot-long Chrysler and headed to Ottawa. Cross the bridge, get on 401, straight shot to Ottawa.
Ottawa amazed us, so beautiful and alive. We’d walk the Rideau Canal, check out Parliament Hill and all that. But what really amazed us was the people (this was the capital, after all). Women in hijabs or saris, men in long flowing robes, strange hats. A Tower of Babel of languages, none of which we understood but we didn’t care. It was all so…cool.
But our main destination was Cafe Le Hibou, a pretty famous place in its day. The perfect coffee house: dark, small, with just the right balance of alienation and cigarette smoke. We saw everyone there, Joni Mitchell, who seemed promising, Tim Hardin, Bruce Cockburn, blues people like Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, Howlin’ Wolf.
One night the Jim Kweskin Jug Band was playing, a strange collection of characters out of Boston, but very, very good and still around in one form or another. (Kweskin plays Club Passim now and then.) But what gobsmacked me was their singer, Maria Muldaur (who for a time went by her maiden name D’Amato, and then back to Muldaur). Honey brown skin, long dark hair that framed a face with huge almond-colored eyes, and full lovely lips. They’re playing, Maria is pounding a tambourine and one of the rings flies into the air, and lands right in my espresso cup.
We were meant to be ONE, meant to magnificently flow into the mystic (thanks Van).
The band takes a break and Maria is sitting at the coffee bar talking to someone. I dig out the ring and clean it off, get up my nerve, and bring it to her. “Ex-ex-excuse me.”
She turns, looks me up and down, “What?”
“This came off your tambourine.”
“Keep it,” she said and turned back to her friend.
But that was enough; she had seen me, talked to me, we had had a conversation (OK, a short one).
I’ve never forgotten that moment, and I kept that ring for decades. But—as people do—it got lost along the way.
Greg DeLaurier is a resident of Melrose and a retired college professor, who also once made a (meager) living as a guitarist. His son, Jesse, has far surpassed his father’s talents and is a sophomore at Berklee College of Music. Greg has returned to his first loves, writing and storytelling, and told this story at an evening of storytelling at FYACS in November 2023 (great fun). He regularly attends FYACS writing sessions, and works with a group of fellow writers. How he got to FYACS is lost in the mist of time, but he is very glad he got there.
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