One day in the early summer of 1955, when a short cloudburst was followed, as cloudbursts often are, by a clear blue sky and sunshine sparkling in the droplets left behind, Lisa Ress, Don Devan and I abandoned a gathering at the Eisners to go for a walk.
At the bottom of the long flight of steps from the Eisners’ front porch to Adriance Avenue, we turned left, then left again at Lockerman Avenue where, talking of Michelangelo, etc., we plunged into the Eighth Ward. There we ambled past clipped hedges framing lawns and rose gardens glistening like English china, and high fences of rustic slat over which hung branches of Japanese exotics whose damp white and pink blossoms brushed our heads and left the occasional petal in our hair.
A few puddles had formed in the declivities of the paving stones. We only had to lengthen our stride to avoid them. One puddle, though, Don failed to notice.
My level of sophistication having reached the level where a juvenile remark, well-chosen and well-timed, could pass as wit, in a mocking sing-song I intoned,
Donny stepped in a puddle
In a burst of inspiration, Lisa joined in, in tune, trilling,
Stepped in a puddle puddle, stepped in a puddle puddle
Dropping a couple of octaves, I chanted
Puddle puddle, (and a fifth lower) puddle puddle.
Puddle puddle, puddle puddle.
Then Donny’s voice rang out,
Donny stepped in a puddle, he stepped stepped stepped
Soon—soprano, tenor, bass-baritone—with “Donny stepped in a puddle” as our text, we were improvising a gleeful intricate madrigal (redressing, at last, the neglect of the form by J. S. Bach).
Passing around the melodic line—Lisa warbling it, Don pouring it out with the eloquent conviction of a heldentenor (heroic indeed, since he soldiered on with his right foot soaking wet), I flinging it upwards from a stentorian rumble to leap and dance like an acrobatic clown—we paced down Lockerman and up Willow Bend, tossing it back and forth with increasing rapidity on Whitehouse for a virtuosic coda, then bringing it back to the tonic and close harmony as we turned into the Eisners’ driveway and finally—aware that we had had an experience that would never be repeated—finishing in a soft, wistful minor chord.
For many years I would refer to those three quarters of an hour as the happiest moments of my life. Then, noticing a shimmer of consternation on Nelly's face as I rhapsodized about that summer afternoon in 1955, I realized I would have to refine my terms: if not necessarily the happiest, they were the most purely happy moments.
No joy can compare with what I felt on seeing my daughter enter the world, I told Nelly, but in the background lay other feelings, more complex; I had just become a parent.
The dark seams of time lurk within virtually all of life’s moments of great happiness. The joy of “Donny stepped in a puddle” was unalloyed; without the taint of the looming future and inevitable mortality, those moments had been pure gold from Mt. Olympus, showered down on Lisa, Donny and me in honor of our youth, if nothing more.