When I was seven or eight years old, I got the Gene Autry gun and holster set for Christmas and I worn them to bed more than a few times. I was in love. I even crawled up on my daddy’s lap once, sighed deeply, and told him that when I grew up I was going marry Gene Autry and his horse. My dad had the good graces not to laugh. It could be he was trying to figure out which one I was lusting after the most---the horse or the man. I still have that gun and holster and all of my Gene Autry fan club memorabilia. I never did anything half way, even my first crush.
I don’t know where I’m going with this trip down memory lane. Perhaps I’m looking at my life as if its film that I can edit and splice together into a movie titled: How to Grow up in Ten Easy Lessons, Plus One Really Hard One. Until I became a caregiver for my dad---in the five years before my husband’s stroke---I really hadn’t grown up and I was in my fifties at the time. My life was carefree and fun in my pre-caregiver days. Oh, I’d had my share of disappointments and pain. Who could get to be a half a century old without having a few monsters in their closet? But I try to learn my lessons and move on. Always wear the white hat. Mr. Autry would be proud.
Do you know what I miss? Dancing. I was never good on the dance floor. I have no grace, no natural rhythm, even though the Arthur Murray Dance Studios did their best to chance that when I was a kid. Never the less, I miss it all. Especially the tap dancing lessons I took when I so young that I still worn underpants with the days of the week embroidered on the fronts. Light bulb moment! If I were on the board of directors at Hanes, I’d expand that embroidered panties idea into a days-of-the-months set of cotton briefs for seniors. That way, when folks like me are at the store writing a check, and we can’t remember what day it is, we’d always know where to look to find out.
I also miss the square dances of my pre-teen days; my petty coats swinging and swaying with our do-si-dos and falling on the floor in a fit of the giggles. I miss the rock-and-roll record hops that came a few years later. (Those late night Time-Life R&R commercials are aimed at my generation.) I miss the rhythm and blues clubs and slinky dress dancing of my twenties. And disco. Don and I did some serious courting during disco. How could I not fall in love a guy who once told me, as I roller skated by, “You look like a refrigerator on a dolly.” Did I mention he could dance on roller skates far better than without them?
Most of all I miss the dancing that Don and I used to do in the 80s, the western stuff that came straight out of the movie, Urban Cowboy. Oh, we were never like John Travolta and Debra Winger struttin’ their stuff at Mickey Gilley’s. We just watched that fancy stuff from the side of the dance floor. But we had our county-western moments when I felt like there was nothing more fun than belly rubbing around a dance floor, thighs brushing from time to time, words passing back and forth---Gosh, I have to stop typing and go get a few ice cubes!
Don was far from a Gene Kelly or Patricia Swayze, and I was certainly never a Ginger Rogers, but I miss the magic and energy that dancing inspires. I miss the honky-tonk bars out west on vacations. Had I known the last time we danced that it would be the last time we dance, I would have taken a mental snapshot. But the sad fact is I don’t actually remember percisely when that was.
I do have a mental snapshot of the last time my dad danced before he passed away. It happened in the parking lot of a KFC. I had been chauffeuring him and his girlfriend around on a date and the tape deck was playing a song from the 40s when my dad asked Martha to dance. He had just been diagnosed with terminal cancer. We all knew he was dying. We all knew it was the last time they’d probably dance together. It was such a bitter-sweet moment, so private and personal---the way they looked at each other---that I had to look away. I’d like to think that if I had a snapshot of Don’s and my last dance, it would be like that---too intense and personal to share with others.
My dad was a special guy. Even in the last years of his life, when our relationship was often more like mother and son, than father and daughter, he could still make me laugh. One time, when he was being tested for cognitive abilities---something that was done frequently because he was in the first wave of people getting a new Alzheimer’s drug---the psychiatrist had asked him what year it was. Dad gave the wrong answer and when the doctor corrected him, Dad said, “My daughter tried to tell me that in the parking lot, but I didn’t believe her.” Caregiver humor, you’ve got to love it. Another time, in a restaurant, my brother asked my dad if he was taking the noodle on his shirt home for a midnight snack. My dad, picked the noodle off his shirt, threw it over his shoulder, and said, “Hell, no!” and kept right on eating.
painting by Zille Heinrich