Saturday, August 7, 2010

Homer Davenport's Bad Date at a Hop Dance

Homer Davenport is Silverton's beloved son. He drew cartoons for the Oregonian, for newspapers in San Francisco, and finally worked for William Randolph Hearst and the New York Evening Journal. At his most popular, he might have been America's most famous and influential political cartoonist. (Walt Curtis on Davenport is also worth reading.)

The Homer Davenport Days are this weekend, of course, and in his 1910 book of nostalgia, The Country Boy, Davenport writes about Silverton society, dating out of his league and "mittens," and a hop dance.
Silverton was a queer place socially; while the townspeople were all of one set and there was little of any class hatred, the rich seldom ever lined up against the poor. Still if a very beautiful girl came to town all of us boys sort of took it for granted that she would turn us down if we did attempt to take her any place, so no one ever gave her the opportunity. We admired her and talked of her at the swimming holes and in fact everywhere we met, but no one ever had the nerve to approach her with a proposal of a "Let's go to the dance, or the party or the entertainment."....

One day a beauty came to town to live with some relatives of hers and she pined some time before she was taken out. I had been out with a threshing crew and we moved on Saturday to a field near Silverton. The grain wasn't quite ripe enough, so we laid off until Monday, —an awful thing to do in that country, giving us all a chance to go into town and get shaved up and a clean shirt.

When I got to town there was a lot of talk on the streets of a dance to be given that night at Egan's Hop House out in the Waldo Hills. After my shave and hair cut it seemed a shame to waste it; that I'd better go to the dance. My financial condition wasn't what you'd call very steady. It rose and fell so that I couldn't hardly count on one girl regularly. But I started in where the most affection lay and met a rather sad refusal. She said she would rather have gone with me, but I hadn't asked her since early spring, so she was engaged to go with Harvey Allen, the leader of the Trombone Band. I went down the line and got eleven "mittens," as we called them. Then I even asked one young girl that had never been to a dance alone, and her mother refused, although the girl was willing, so I called it off and went up home and helped around the barn.

I waved my hat to the girls I had asked as they drove by in livery rigs with other fellows, and after they had all gotten out of town I went down to the post-office to get the Silverton Appeal, when who should I meet but the belle of the village, as we all called her among ourselves. She smiled and I smiled, and she asked why I wasn't at the dance. "What dance?" said I. "At Egan's Hop H o u s e," she replied. "Everybody in town has gone but us." When she said the word "us" I saw a new world....
Father had compelled me some weeks before to clip my game chickens' wings so they couldn't roost on the back of the buggy seat. In my joy at leaving the barn I had forgotten that my chickens did roost on the hind axle of the buggy, and as we drove out we took the hen roost also, so that naturally when we went over a rock or rough place with the hind wheel, we dislodged all or most of the chickens and they would catch by their necks and flutter back on the axle; thus they frightened the horse that never even shied before at anything; so when I said to the handsomest girl in Silverton, "It's chickens roosting on the hind axle," she exclaimed, "No wonder; I never saw you before to-night without a chicken, and there they are really here with us now." I thought we had lost some, as there were some missing. I didn't know what to do as the dance would soon be over. We couldn't leave them beside the road for fear of skunks or minks. She thought we ought to leave the chickens, but I didn't, as one of our best old hens was in the party and it seemed a crime to expose them to next to certain death.

If it had been daylight and I could have seen the beautiful girl perhaps I would have done differently, but we turned around and started back home slowly, as the tired hens breathed heavily on the back axle. We were still sitting as far apart as the buggy seat would let us; had no outward signs of getting closer, in fact we were getting farther apart. She thought young men shouldn't think so much of chickens, while I thought they were next to human. We planned another ride without chickens, but it was the passing of my short reign and I didn't know it until it was too late. That opportunity that the late John J. Ingalls wrote of was there, but not to wait; and when it went it came no more. We got home, but I had hurt her feelings for chickens, and we parted without much friction. I stayed up until the other folks got home from the dance. They were all more or less happy, especially those on the back seats. I told them I had been riding around all night with the belle of Silverton, but all they did was to laugh and especially the girls that had given me the mitten.

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