From the time my little sister and I were toddlers sitting with Mother on a daybed in a one-room flat on Elm Street in downtown Cincinnati, we heard her tell about her days as a teenager and how much she loved to dance. She gloried in the days when she would go to local grange dances with her friend, Ruby, and they would dance together all night long – never mind trying to meet a boy.
Mother sat with us in her plain cotton house dress and talked about the joys of getting dressed up and going out for a night of dancing. I remember she owned one tiny sample of Tangee lipstick in a natural tone, a small disc of rouge, and a sample bottle of Jergen’s lotion. These were her cosmetics and she had to use those sparingly, both to save money and to keep her young husband from noticing and denouncing her as a floozie.
I remember Mother listening to my Great-Aunt Anne talking about the wonderful barn dances they used to have when she was a young girl in the early 1900s as she described in detail the fiddlers, the girls in their best dresses, the noise and fun of everybody kicking up their heels with great gusto. In the 1970s after my father was gone, my sister talked her into taking square dance lessons. Since she didn’t have a partner, she danced with other club members and practiced the calls in her mind constantly. Finally, she got to the point where she was out of class and could go to easy level dances. It was there that she met a refined, soft-spoken gentleman named Norton and they set off on a whirlwind of dances, both round and square, all over the area.
Mother loved sewing the square dance dresses and then finding matching petticoats, pettipants, shoes and even earrings. When my youngest daughter was three years old, Mother made matching square dance skirts for them.
Mother continued to dance whenever she could, going often with her friend, Edna, and never being shy about taking the man’s part. She survived breast cancer for five years and continued to dance three or four times a week.
When she was 72 (1989), Mother made a tape of old family stories and reminiscences:
“As long as I can remember I’ve always loved to dance. My father died of the flu during World War I and I always wondered where I got my love of dancing and Aunt Mabel said I got it from him. He loved to dance and he would dance as long as anybody would play music.
My girlfriend and her mother liked to go to dances and she’d take us and we’d get out there on that floor – I was only about 10 years old – and we’d Charleston and we would dance and I’d go home and I’d wind up that old Victrola and put on records and I taught everybody around how to dance. I taught Alice Mae (her older sister) and her girl friends, they’d come in and get me to teach them how to dance. Alice Mae never could dance and she’d get so mad because I could teach them how to dance. I guess I still love to dance to this day – I guess you never lose that.”
Mother died on July 31, 1991, and I sat under a clear blue sky in the back yard and wrote in my journal:
Mother went dancing today with her skirts swirling and petticoats flouncing, her golden red hair in perfect order and wearing her matching shoes and earrings. She was smiling and light on her feet, happy at last to be able to promenade and do-si-do and twirl and swing. She barely glanced back at the rest of us still struggling with our affairs. She was going dancing!