My parents always seemed old or at least they were of an age I couldn’t perceive and doubted I’d ever achieve. I’m old in the minds of our children and especially in the minds of our grandchildren. Some days I actually feel old, especially after shoveling several feet of snow from the driveway … again …
I groan when joints and muscles send signals to my brain complaining about abuse. Settling in my easy chair, trying to find a position that doesn’t hurt, I ponder on the fact that my body rejects a little hard labor. It didn’t used to behave this way. Did my ‘old’ parents feel this same way all those years ago?
Memories come back of watching my father cutting studs for a home addition. His arm seemed to be able to pump the saw all day long without stopping. Did he feel old during the following nights? My mother never seemed to slow down. If she wasn’t caring for her family, she was helping someone else or was busily engaged in church and civic assignments. Didn’t she get tired? She was old…
She told me about cutting the rug in her youth with a certain young man with black hair. They danced the night away on the dance floor of the Apollo Hall and other venues. He couldn’t do the Charleston though. Mom could and to hear her tell the tale, she was good.
Only one other guy in her high school could keep up with her when the Charleston was called and the music rolled through the hall. He had long legs … a gray striped suit complete with a vest and a bow tie. Dad said his knees knocked and the was a ‘dandy’. I could tell that he didn’t care for this Charleston dancing interloper.
One evening while polishing the old 78’s, I found a record that I recognized. Charleston music! All the stories that I’d heard for so long came to mind. I couldn’t imagine my mother exhibiting the fast footwork of the dance. Maybe it was time for her teenage son to tell her to put up or shut up.
She gave me one of those quick glances that mothers use to assess the relative worth of their off-spring in less than a second. I could tell by the slight roll of her eyes and quick wrinkles that formed around the frown on the right side of her mouth that my worth was in doubt.
It only took a few minutes to drag some chairs and the sofa into corners to open up some dancing space in the middle of the floor. Dad settled in the one in the corner to watch.
The gauntlet had been thrown. The challenge had been issued.
Sure that I was on solid ground, I spun the old 78 with my finger to give it enough inertia so that the ancient motor of the turntable could maintain the speed.
Music issued from the speakers.
Mom kicked her shoes off, threw her apron in my face and …… well, “I’ll be darned!” “She really can throw her legs around in that crazy dance!” “How does she make her hands go back and forth over those knees that are banging together?” “How does she throw those feet up and out to the side and not fall down?” “This is my ‘old’ mother!” “I’m toast!” “I won’t hear the end of this challenge for weeks to come.”
My dad laughed in delight, both from watching his wife dance the Charleston again and from the look of what? … the disbelief on my face? …. my slack jawed gaping? …. the pure enjoyment of watching a teen being put solidly in his place?
Yeah. All of the above.
She kept on dancing from then on. She even showed my kids how she could dance the Charleston. They didn’t appreciate what they were seeing … an ancient of days moving in improbable ways to the rhythms of Harry James and Duke Ellington’s bands.
That’s the story. I inherited my fathers dancing genes, but even with that impairment, I can still say … “I’m the son of a Charleston dancer.”