My mother attended the party last year, but was afraid to dance, worried she wasn’t steady enough and would fall. She was disappointed, she told me the next day. “Next year,” she said, a promise to herself.
Over the past 12 months, my mother has continued to exercise, but just shy of 89, she has come to rely more on her walker than her cane. Nevertheless, she kept her promise. She announced her victory first thing on New Year’s Day, when I called her from New York. “You’ll be happy to know that I danced last night,” she said. “I’m very proud of myself.”
I fired some questions at her as I tried to conjure the scene.
What did she wear? Her black pants, her embroidered red jacket, and her pearls, she told me. “What I always wear on special occasions,” she said. I knew the outfit; she had probably worn well-blotted red lipstick, too.
Whom did she dance with? First, one of the instructors. “I explained my situation and he said, ‘Don’t worry, I’ll hold onto you.’” Then she danced with one of the residents, someone she’d shared meals with in the dining hall along with his wife.
What music did they play? Jazz standards, old familiars. “I danced to ‘It Had to be You,’” she said, the song I’d heard her sing in the kitchen of the house she’d lived in with my father, and where she remained alone for seven years after he died.
There are two versions of that night that I picture in my mind. In one, my mother clutches the instructor’s arms as she moves her feet in tiny, tentative increments. She is small, a little stooped, and her skin is pallid against her short gray hair. She is concentrating, willing herself to stay upright, barely hearing the song.
In the other, she is gliding, her satiny pants flowing around her ankles, her pearls glistening in the light from a chandelier. Her lips form a rosy smile and her cheeks are blushing as she sings along with the music: “It had to be you, it had to be you…” She has forgotten her age, as have I.
~ Susan Hodara