09 February 2016
It was 1940, and the Fluvanna Lake Dance Hall on Raccoon Creek was hopping. Country music drifted through the open door; dancers circled the floor to ‘Blue Moon of Kentucky,’ perhaps, or Hank William’s ‘Lovesick Blues.’ World War I was a distant memory now, and the Bombing of Pearl Harbor, which provoked America’s involvement in World War II, was more than a year away. The Great Depression had loosened its grip on the community; the end of an era of privation and fear had made even casual celebrations like the weekly dance more festive, somehow.
Seventeen-year-old Leake Winston had arrived from his home in Goochland County in fine style, driving six of his friends – three couples – to the dance in his 1934 Chevrolet. Mary Brookman, 16, was at the dance with her father. It didn’t take Leake long to spot Mary in the crowd. “She was a pretty girl,” he admitted, with an affectionate grin.
The dance hall was busy every Saturday night, with bands playing country favorites for guests to dance to – ‘square dancing or round dancing’ reads one old flyer. Alcohol was strictly forbidden, but that didn’t stop some people from hiding liquor in their cars, and slipping out now and then for a drink.
Leake Winston danced several dances with Mary, and then asked if he could give her a ride home from the dance. “She wouldn’t tell me yes, I could take her home,” he remembered; “I had to go ask her dad.”
Mary’s father was her only living parent; her mother had died when she was just three years old. As a young man, her father had been a musician. “He used to could play instruments,” Mary remembered, “and he said sometimes he would play all night when he was younger...guitar, or fiddle – that was before he ever married.” His love for music apparently never faded. “Best dancer in the room, he was,” Mary said with pride, nodding.