I am dancing with my father at my parents’ fiftieth wedding anniversary. The band is playing an old-fashioned waltz as we move gracefully across the floor.
His hand on my waist is as guiding as it always was, and he hums the tune to himself in a steady, youthful way.
Around and around we go, laughing and nodding to the other dancers. We are the best dancers on the floor, they tell us. My father squeezes my hand and smiles at me.
As we continue to dip and sway, I remember a time when I was almost three, and my father came home from work, swooped me into his arms and began to dance me around the table.
My mother laughed at us, told us dinner would get cold. But my father said, “She’s just caught the rhythm of the dance! Dinner can wait!”
And then he sang out “Roll out the barrel, let’s have a barrel of fun,” and I sang back, “Let’s get those blues on the run.”
That night he taught me to polka, waltz and do the fox trot while dinner waited.
We danced through the years. When I was five, my father taught me to “shuffle off to Buffalo”.
Later we won a dance contest at a Campfire Girls Round-Up. Then we learned to jitterbug at the USO place downtown.
Once my father caught on to the steps, he danced with everyone in the hall — the women passing out doughnuts, even the GI’s. We all laughed and clapped our hands for my father, the dancer.
One night when I was fifteen, lost in some painful, adolescent mood, my father put on a stack of records and teased me to dance with him.
“C’mon,” he said, “let’s get those blues on the run.” I turned away from him and hugged my pain closer than before. My father put his hand on my shoulder, and I jumped out of the chair screaming, “Don’t touch me! Don’t touch me! I am sick and tired of dancing with you!” The hurt on his face did not escape me, but the words were out, and I could not call them back. I ran to my room sobbing hysterically.
We did not dance together after that night. I found other partners, and my father waited up for me after dances, sitting in his favorite chair, clad in his flannel pajamas.
Sometimes he would be asleep when I came in, and I would wake him saying, “If you were so tired, you should have gone to bed.”
“No, no,” he’d say. “I was just waiting for you.”
Then we’d lock up the house and go to bed.
My father waited up for me all through my high school and college years while I danced my way out of his life.
One night, shortly after my first child was born, my mother called to tell me my father was ill. “A heart problem,” she said. “Now, don’t come. Three hundred miles. It would upset your father. We will just have to wait. I’ll let you know.”
My father’s tests showed some stress, but a proper diet restored him to good health. Little things, then, for a while. A disc problem in the back, more heart trouble, a lens implant for cataracts. But the dancing did not stop.
My mother wrote that they had joined a dance club. “You remember how your father loves to dance.”
Yes, I remember. My eyes filled up with remembering.
When my father retired, we mended our way back together again; hugs and kisses were common when we visited each other.
But my father did not ask me to dance. He danced with the grandchildren; my daughters knew how to waltz before they could read.
“One, two, three and one, two, three,” my father would count out, “won’t you come and waltz with me?”
Sometimes my heart would ache to have him say those words to me. But I knew my father was waiting for an apology from me, and I could never find the right words.
As the time for my parents’ fiftieth anniversary approached, my brothers and I met to plan the party.
My older brother said, “Do you remember that night you wouldn’t dance with him? Boy, was he mad!
I couldn’t believe he’d get so mad about a thing like that. I’ll bet you haven’t danced with him since.” I did not tell him he was right.
My younger brother promised to get the band.
“Make sure they can play waltzes and polkas,” I told him.
“Dad can dance to anything,” he said. “Don’t you want to get down, get funky?” I did not tell him that all I wanted to do was dance once more with my father.
When the band began to play after dinner, my parents took the floor. They glided around the room, inviting the others to join them.
The guests rose to their feet, applauding the golden couple. My father danced with his granddaughters and then the band began to play the “Beer Barrel Polka.”
“Roll out the barrel,” I heard my father sing. Then I knew it was time. I knew the words I must say to my father before he would dance with me once more. I wound my way through a few couples and tapped my daughter on the shoulder.
“Excuse me,” I said, almost choking on my words, “but I believe this is my dance.”
My father stood rooted to the spot. Our eyes met and travelled back to that night when I was fifteen. In a trembling voice, I sang, “Let’s get those blues on the run.”
My father bowed and said, “Oh, yes. I’ve been waiting for you.”
Then he started to laugh, and we moved into each other’s arms, pausing for a moment so we could catch once more the rhythm of the dance.