Momma was happy today.
No there had to be a better word for it, Momma was jubilant, ecsactic really. She hummed a tune as she danced around the kitchen. She was making the family oatmeal cookie recipe. Sarah always helped make the cookies.
Sarah knew the recipe by heart because she made it every time she stayed at Grandma’s house on the farm. Next week, she would get to stay for a month. It was summer and she could hardly wait. They’d gather the eggs from the henhouse, pick the beans and tomatoes from the garden, hang out the wash on the line and, of course, cook.
Grandma fixed a really big supper every night for Papaw. It was just what she did. Sarah thought Grandma didn’t realize she was cooking for only three people because she always had food left over.
Momma didn’t like leftovers.
She said they were wasteful. She only cooked five hamburgers, pork chops or chicken. “You and your daddy will just be tempted to eat more if there is more,” Momma said. “Better to have an adequate amount and keep a trim waist.”
She also wanted the family to eat a balanced meal and she made sure there was a green vegetable, potato or starchy substance and meat at every meal. Usually she had a dessert like jello, fruit cocktail or peaches. Once in awhile there was something special like tonight’s homemade cookies. She had learned all about the food pyramid in Home Economics class. It was the food gospel that she lived by. Her trim figure showed that it worked.
Today was a special day.
Sarah wasn’t sure why. But she knew it was special because she was humming a tune and doing a dance step to it as she set the timer and put the cookies in the oven.
“Does that song have words, Momma?”
“Sure does. Want to hear them?”
Sarah shook her head so hard she could hear it rattle.
Sometimes Momma would sing in the kitchen while she was cooking or cleaning. But not often because it was not often she was in the mood to cook, clean or sing. Most of the time those chores fell to Sarah. Now, Sarah was about to be treated to a one of a kind performance.
“Oh well I’m the type of guy who will never settle down where pretty girls are well, you know that I’m around.
I kiss ’em and I love’em ’cause to me they’re all the same. I hug ’em and I squeeze ’em they don’t even know my name.
They call me the wanderer, yeah the wanderer. I roam around around around…”
Sarah stood mesmerized.
It was quite different from the songs sang at church though those could be lively as well, especially with the organ and piano pounding out some good gospel beat.
“Is that about somebody who is wandering away from Jesus?” Sarah asked her eyes big. Sarah wasn’t sure but that’s kind of what she got from hearing the words.
Momma laughed. Her blue eyes were actually sparkling. Sarah could see she had done her makeup. She had on bright red lipstick and powder to cover imperfections in her face.
“You are the innocent one, now aren’t you?”
“What do you mean, Momma?”
“Just that there are things 10-year olds really shouldn’t know about.”
“I know about Jesus.”
“Yes, you do, thanks to your Daddy.”
“I love my Daddy,” Sarah said. For some reason she felt the need at that time to defend him. “And, you, too, Momma. I love you, too.”
Sarah was afraid Momma might be mad, but she just laughed again. Then she started singing the second verse of the song and sort-of dance-stepping around the red topped kitchen table with chrome trim.
Again, Sarah was awe-struck. She was dancing. Dancing was a sin. At least Sarah had heard that at church. Daddy would not be happy. Sarah shouldn’t even be looking. But Momma was so beautiful in the way she moved.
“What is that called?”
“Wow,” Sarah said awestruck. “I wish I could do the Jitterbug. But I guess it’s a sin for girls.” She hung her head. She really wanted to have fun with her Momma. She was overwhelmed by how light Momma’s feet moved across the black and white checkboard tiled floor.
“No, it’s only a sin if you dance with boys. It’s not a sin if you dance with your Momma. Here let me show you. It’s pretty simple really. You just step one, two, three and back and four. And then do it again. But you do it all to the beat of the music.”
Mother took daughter’s hand in hers.
Patiently she began to show her how to do a kind of line dance version of the jitterbug. Sarah was clumsy on her feet but her mother was a good teacher. They were dancing side by side as Sarah’s mom continued to sing.
“Oh well there’s Flo on my left and there’s Mary on my right and Janie is the girl with that I’ll be with tonight
And when she asks me which one I love the best, I tear open my shirt I got Rosie on my chest
‘Cause I’m the wanderer, yeah the wanderer. I roam around around around…”
Sarah seemed to be tripping over her feet more than dancing. But she and her mother giggled as Sarah tried to keep up. Then Momma told her to try it on her own. Momma kept the beat by slapping at her waist and continuing to sing,
“Oh yeah I’m the type of guy that likes to roam around. I’m never in one place I roam from town to town.
And when I find myself a-fallin’ for some girl, I hop right into that car of mine and ride around the world.
Yeah ’cause I’m a wanderer, yeah a wanderer, I roam around around around…
‘Cause I’m a wanderer, yeah a wanderer, I roam around around around… “
Then Momma made an incredible offer.
“How about I play the record for you and we can dance together?”
“Really? You have the record? And you’d play it for me?”
“Sure, let’s go in the living room. There’s more room there.”
Her mother found the right album and turned on the wooden box with cloth covered front panel. Before setting the needle on the track, she looked at Sarah and said, “Now, just go with me cause I’m going to lead. Be prepared. I might twirl you!”
Sarah was nearly chest-high to her mother.
Momma showed her how to place her hands in the proper position. She set the needle down and ran to join Sarah just in time. Then, as Dion’s voice wafted over the stereo mother and daughter danced a modified version of the jitterbug. Perfection was not the key. Just good old fashioned fun.
At first Sarah was concentrating so hard on the steps that she couldn’t seem to keep time with the music.
Momma said, “Relax, Sarah Girl. Just have fun. We can make up some steps if we want.” Then with one flick of her wrist she twirled Sarah around. They both laughed as they did the steps, one, two, three and four. Then Momma twirled her again. At the end of the song when Dion sang “around around around” she twirled Sarah three times to correspond to the words.
She sank exhausted into Grandma’s rocking chair. Momma collapsed on the red couch. The next song by Dion started to wail over the stereo. What she did next actually scared and enthralled Sarah at the same time.
She let out a gigantic, “Whoop,” and doubled over laughing.
It was contagious even though Sarah was dog-tired, she joined in. Sarah laughed so hard her sides hurt. Momma laughed til she cried. It was a good laugh, one of those purging kind of laughs. In that moment, Sarah could not think of one difficult moment she mother and her had ever had.
Oatmeal cookies with nuts and cinnamon and maple flavoring wafted through the air. Momma continued to hum the song as she took the cookies from the oven. She was doing a little jitterbug step every now and then and Sarah joined in feeling in sync with her for perhaps the first time in her life.
“Can Daddy dance with us when he gets home?”
The sun had been shining brightly but at that moment, clouds quickly moved in.
“Your Daddy is to never know about this. OK? “ she said quietly. Then louder, “Never. Do you understand? Never.”
“Ok, Momma, but can we dance again sometime?”
“We’ll see,” came the quiet answer. “We’ll just have to see.”
It was a few days after that when Sarah went to throw away the garbage that she noticed all of Momma’s albums in the trash can.
When she came back inside, she asked her mother about it. “Momma, why are your albums in the trash?”
Her mother was reading a book. She liked to read, a lot. She glanced up at Sarah and then back at the book in her lap.
“Your Daddy says they are sinful and they will lead to my demise. Perhaps they will. I threw them away.”
Sarah was sad. “All your wonderful music?”
Her mother didn’t seem to hear her comment. “And you should never dance the dance I showed you. It would be bad for you. It might lead to boys and boys can be real trouble. I hope you understand. I was wrong. I should have never shown you how to dance. I’ll blame myself if you ever, well, do anything to get yourself in trouble.”
“I won’t Momma.”
Momma took Sarah’s chin in her hand and tilted it up to where Sarah could see every fleck of hazel in her blue eyes. “You be a good girl. You understand.”
Sarah said, “I’ll be good.” But she wasn’t quite sure what that really meant.
“Ok, then. I guess I’ll just have to trust you.” And with that she turned to leave the room.
“Momma, you are so beautiful when you dance.”
“It will be Ok. It will all be Ok. It will just be Ok. Someday.” She had a faraway look in her eyes. Sarah wasn’t quite sure what she meant by someday.
Then, Momma went back to her reading. But she was humming a tune but Sarah couldn’t quite make it out.
Sarah went into her room. In the corner was her Misty doll, a tiny little girl doll she used to be a pretend child for her one Barbie doll. She loved playing Barbies. Misty and Barbie went to the grocery store. They cooked. They watched TV. They went to church where they sang songs like, “I’ll Fly Away.”
Today, though, with Dion singing in her head, Misty and Barbie had fun. They sang. They laughed. They giggled. And together they danced the jitterbug until it was time to for all Barbies to go to bed.
In the morning they would get up again, glad.
Then she knew. She knew what Momma had been singing. And the song sang her to sleep.