"May I please have this dance?"
Two months after my father died when I was home visiting my mother, some of her friends stopped by and invited us out to dinner. They were going to the Elmo Club and afterwards they were heading to the big senior dance in Platteville to listen to the Busch's Swing Band.
My mother immediately declined, insisting it was too soon for her to be seen out in public. But I knew what the alternative was, the two of us sitting in the living room watching television and eating a liverwurst sandwich. So I coaxed Mom along reminding her how much I loved to go to the Elmo Club. My parents used to take me there when I was a kid and my dad always ordered a kiddy cocktail for me.
"Couldn't we just go for an early dinner Mom, and then come right home?"
And she finally agreed.
At the Elmo club, I knew all of the women sitting around the table, most of them were moms of the kids I used to play with and if I didn't show up on time for dinner, my mother would call looking for me. The 78 year old woman sitting across from me was one of my teachers in high school. So it did feel a little strange at first--switching roles, but now here we were having dinner together, all talking on the same level as if it had always been this way.
The Elmo Club didn't disappoint me. The food was just as good as I remembered, though I didn't order my usual kiddy cocktail. Yes, it was a great idea going out to dinner. Mom looked a lot more relaxed, until someone mentioned the dance again. But before my mother could refuse, there was kind of a group intervention. All of Mom's friends were widowed too, and they insisted she needed a night out. So after a little coaxing, we were all on our way to the dance.
The parking lot was full and buses were dropping off seniors near the front door. It was a huge dance hall, decorated with crepe paper and balloons and a sign on the way in reminded: "Get your name tag and sign up for door prizes!" We were lucky; we found a big round table near the front. The band had already started playing, but no one was dancing. I was thinking, 'This is pretty much like the beginning of every dance I've ever gone to. Who is going to be the first couple on the dance floor?'
And two songs later, when the slow beat changed to a swing, the first couple, two women who must have been in their late 70s, braved the dance floor. Hands clasped together, not the least bit concerned—all eyes were on them--they held the dance floor alone, and when the song finished they stayed put, anticipating the next number. But when the music started again, couples (mostly women dancing with women) flooded the dance floor and soon it was standing room only. "If you want to dance," one of my mother's friends advised, "you'd better not wait around for a man to ask, because there aren't enough of them to go around."
I noticed my mother tapping her foot and there was a remnant of a smile on her face when she leaned over and whispered to me, "May I please have this dance?"
Now it was a very strange thing, to be dancing with my mother. At first I just stood on the dance floor staring at the 5-foot woman, my dancing partner, my mother—who I'd never, ever, seen dance before. I was shocked. Her hips swaying side-to-side, shoulders loose, keeping time to the music. Just when did my mother learn how to do this? I had no idea how to do these dance moves, but it didn't matter. The next thing I knew my mother took me by the hand and I was twirling around the dance floor. On second glance, I could have sworn her dark brown hair was pulled back in a pony tail and she was sporting white bobby socks and saddle shoes.
Breathless and a bit stunned, I started walking back to our table when the song was over, but instantly the music started again and so did my mother. We danced another dance, and another dance, and another dance after that--it was all kind of a blur, and finally when the music moseyed its way into a slow song, I was so thankful, thinking I'd finally get to sit one out.
But my mother stood her ground, forcefully grabbing my elbows, and then gently looking into my eyes, letting me know that for whatever reason, she had to keep dancing. Then she slid her arm around my back, our hands came together, my mother closed her eyes and some of her sadness melted into a smile as we glided around the floor.
It was the most memorable dance of my life. Slow dancing with my mother.
Me and my mom clowin’ around at the Cuba City Parade. One year we even won a prize.
Thanks for reading with me. It's so good to read with friends.