Mama loved music. She probably had the widest range of taste in music of anybody I’ve ever known. From the Appalachian bluegrass of her childhood to the big band/swing music of her teens to jazz to classical music (we both loved violins, so Vivaldi was a shared favorite) to the music we kids listened to growing up (which Daddy called noise, for the most part), to all the grunge and indie and alternative music I introduced to her, it was a rare time when she said, “I don’t like that.”
But the other thing Mama loved to do was dance. She could square dance. Mama could waltz. She could line dance. Mama could throw down with the best of both disco and hip hop moves. If music was on – and it was a good bit of the time in our house growing up – Mama was likely to be dancing along.
When we were kids, she’d grab one of us and say, “Come dance with me!” And we’d laugh and immediately start with an exaggerated version of the tango because Mama would get cracked up, we’d get cracked up, and if Daddy was home, he’d stand or sit there with a huge grin on his face and shake his head.
I was never a great on-my-feet dancer. I could sit in chair and get one of half – upper or lower – of my body to cooperate well, but I lacked the coordination to get both halves of my body to move in any kind of sync. My efforts to dance, beyond the box step that Daddy and I retreated to together when we in a situation where we were forced to dance in public, were laughable at best.
But, you know what? Mama didn’t care. She wanted to dance and she didn’t laugh or criticize or ridicule. Instead, she was happy because her husband or one of her kids was dancing with her.
After dementias became a part of Mama’s life, there wasn’t a whole lot of dancing for Mama. There were a couple of times, early after the official diagnosis and proper medication for the horrendous symptoms she suffered, when we were able to dance. But then Mama’s balance got so bad that it wasn’t safe for her to dance or for us to dance.
In April of 2012, about four months before Mama died, I was playing of mix of bluegrass, newgrass, and folk-sort of music for Mama, and the song in the video – “Ashokan Farewell” (featured in Ken Burns’ documentary, The Civil War) – came up in the queue. Mama smiled and tapped her hands on her legs.
I asked Mama if she wanted to dance. I saw a flash of the old Mama sparkle in her diamond blue eyes, and I helped her up. I wrapped my arms tight around her to hold her steady and keep her from falling and Mama wrapped her arms tight around me because she was happy.
That was the last dance Mama and I ever shared. It will forever remain etched in my memory, and it’s prominent there today on the 6th anniversary of her death.
Rest well, Mama. I love you and I miss you. Please save the next dance for me.