My dad is feeling it. He’s got his hand on his thigh and he’s getting low, making that mean-grooving face a person makes when the music hits just right.
Searchin’. Darlington County. Sweet Home Alabama. Me and Bobby McGee.
It’s 1975. It’s 1984. It’s 1991.
My mom is stomping her feet and shaking her head. It’s the “Pami March” and it’s just the way she does it, all side to side shimmy with some alternating shoulder shrugs for good measure. Her eyes sparkle and shine. She’s grinning up at my dad and simultaneously shooting her love beams in every direction.
My grandmother has both pointer fingers up in the air and she’s wiggling her Betty the Best ass like nobody’s business. White polyester pants and open-toe sandals, a navy blue top with white piping and a collar. Her boob-shelf moves in time like a roving unit. Her legendary bosom presents itself like an absolute force of nature, and by God, in her pre-cancer late 70s, it sure as hell is.
I can still see it. The dancing. All of us together.
It was common place in my house growing up. When the family got together for special occasions, we danced. Way back when, my cousins would come down from New Hampshire, or up from one of the Carolina’s (or Maryland). We would eat lasagna off Melamine plates, or Sauerbraten with red cabbage from an ancient cast iron pot, or juicy burgers off the Weber. While the Hummels watched from the shelves, we would clean the messy little lake house kitchen, the one with no counter space and no dishwasher, the one with just two cabinets and an assortment of painted cutting boards above the stove.
The adults would venture into the living room, the one with the Big Buck mounted above the fireplace, and they’d drink, and argue, and laugh, and smoke cigarettes. My uncles would tell us stories about the 50s and 60s—their youthful shenanigans, their high school years in the city, and being in the service, and first jobs, and how they met our gorgeous mothers.
Once upon a time, they were cool wanderers in slim pants, buffalo plaid, Woolrich jackets, and duck tails and black wayfarers. They had dogs, and rifles, and music collections. In photographs, the four siblings squinted at the sun and stood solidly together, in front of a snow drift, or against the backdrop of Candlewood Lake and the little lake house before my parents remodeled, before their lives changed with kids, and mortgages, and distance, and time.
Someone would eventually put a record on the stereo. Or press play. And that was all she wrote. We were up on our feet like hillbillies with no other place to be but home, and by God, in those moments, we sure as hell were.
Ripple. Still The One. Brick House.
Rock & Roll, Country, Motown.
Creedence Clearwater Revival, Hank Williams, The Supremes.
Out came the LPs. Out came the CDs. Out came the 45s.
We’d dance away our current realities. No war, no corruption, no personal struggle, no resentment. Our restless limbs found an outlet. We clapped away our fears. We emptied our worried minds. Our beating hearts pumped blood and rejoiced in our bursts of movement because it affirmed the obvious: we were connected, and whole, and not dead yet. When we danced, we somehow found a bit of refuge, just family being family in a way no other family could ever be.
In the summer, for Thanksgiving, at Christmas. All through grade school, middle school, high school, and college, they fused us cousins together. We lined up, all nine of us, oldest to youngest. We accepted envelopes from our grandmother, each housing a crisp, brand new 100 dollar bill. We put on skits to entertain them, we took turns falling down the basement stairs, and we went for long walks to the “big rock” just to get out of the house, or go get high, or find a place to chug some stolen beers.
But, we all came back. We came back in time for the dancing.
We danced to live in the present. And we danced to honor the past. We danced because we were drunk, indeed.
The image of my family intact, no one yet passed away, everyone with us, happy and healthy, crowding the middle space of our small living room flashes through my mind this time of year as if it was yesterday. I can hear us. I can see us. Little kids holding hands swinging in a circle. Adults leaning in, going for it with the harmonies. We danced until we were sweaty, until we had to sit down. We sang so much our voices grew hoarse. For me, it’s the “perfect intangible”—the unframed picture I hold near and dear.
Doesn’t have to be a holiday. Or a special occasion.
Put down your phones, tell a story about your youth, and dance with your family. Get up and dance until you have to sit down.
It’s one of the last great best things we can do.