My Dad was dead. My husband had been voted off the island. And my mother and I were at a seniors’ dance hall called The 39 Club. I thought it was named for people born in ‘39, but actually it was for people who wanted to pretend to be 39. I asked if I could tag along because I wanted to see what the big attraction was.
When I asked her what I should wear, she said, “There is no point in wearing a push-up bra. We aren’t there for any hanky-panky.”
My mother shook her head, “Men are the same no matter what age they are. After your father died, they came out of the closet.” I think she meant “woodwork.” I was going to correct her and say if they came out of the closet, she had no need to be worried. But I didn’t. As it turned out the sniffers were far and few between. If you think there’s poor selection at fifty, try eighty. It’s like Grade Eleven but with age spots instead of acne. Besides, let’s face it — most men don’t dance. Sure, after a few cocktails you might get one to move up and down like he’s pumping a well, but not many have mastered the art.
From an early age, I knew men were not necessary appendages for dancing. I was thirteen when my parents took me to Beaver Lake Pavilion (no double-entendre there — just the name of the lake next to the dance hall). The men stood outside in short-sleeved shirts shooting the breeze, while the women rocked it inside. I remember sipping lemon gin from a Wink bottle, watching my Mom’s skirt flare out as she jived with her sisters. When the music slowed down, she’d try to teach me to two-step, but I always tried to lead. “You have to let the man lead,” she’d say, which I found crazy since most of the men were outside drinking by the truck.
Flash forward to present day in The 39 Club. The band played dance music you need a partner for, and because so many single women attended they developed what they call “opportunity dances.” During certain songs, the music would stop several times so men could ask the single women to dance.
My mother poked me in the ribs. “Target your man. Because when that music stops, the women get aggressive.” Well, I’m not going to hip check an eighty-year-old woman so I can get asked to dance. She’d kick with her metal knee. Besides, I don’t mean to sound picky, but I like a man without yellow toenails. As it turned out, when opportunity knocked, neither one of us got asked to dance. So I asked my mother if she wanted to kick it up old school, once around the room for old times’ sake.
“All right,” she said. “As long I get to lead.”
As she pushed me across the dance floor like a janitor with a broom, I tried to tell her how much fun I was having. But she just stared off into space. Perhaps she was checking out the sniffer with the psychedelic walker giving her the eye. But more likely she hadn’t heard me because she’d left her hearing aid in her purse.