I could have danced all night

My parents used to have parties when I was little—parties with lots of people; invariably my mother on the piano and a stack of records on the record player.
They danced. I suppose they drank, though I don’t recall that part. My sister and I watched, through the heat grate in my parent’s bedroom, strategically placed above the living room sofa.
We felt like spies while we stretched out on the floor on our tummies; our noses pressed to the grate as the cigarette smoke wound its way up through this strategic hole in the floor and around us.
We were part of a covert operation to take in the details of what it was that adults do when they get together, when children are not allowed.
We were sent up to bed early on those Saturday night parties. I remember sensing my mother’s excitement. She was a great supporter of fun and laughter and people. She liked nothing better than her house brimming with friends, and chatter and stories and music.
The house was shining clean before such an event; everything put where it belonged, the furniture freshly-dusted, the doilies placed perfectly beneath lamps and knick-knacks.
The thing I recall most about these parties, in addition to their regularity, was the fun these people knew how to have—the dancing, the animated conversations, the knee-slapping story-telling.
Times have changed. No one smokes indoors when they are guests. No one drinks and drives, though when I say no one, I mean no one should (but obviously if you listen to the news, we know that is not completely true, but there most certainly is a heightened awareness and arrangements are made to get home safely).
Neighbours and friends do not get together with the same frequency and in the same manner as they did when I was an on-looking child.
We had friends that we visited often, north of Brandon, when I was a youngster. That community had a dance every Saturday night and most patrons came with their children in tow; the children playing under the tables and or outside with a game of hide-and-seek and getting into mischief of just about every kind.
Wax was sprinkled on the floor while the band was tuning up and when the music started, those dancing feet began with everyone on their feet, sliding and shuffling around the dance floor and a look of complete pleasure on the faces.
I watched from under the punch table and I remember thinking, “How do their feet know where to go?”
Everyone knew how to dance; it was as automatic as riding a bike. There was no standing in one place leaning back and forth; it was real dancing.
And these parties and dances gave off a defined sense of community, of belonging. Where has that gone?
Now we seem to be content to watch movies on television on a Saturday night, or search the Internet for information on any number of topics, e-mail, and Facebook. Many of us haven’t even laid eyes on our neighbours, don’t know them by name, and certainly don’t dance with them or have them over for parties.
We are reluctant to invade someone’s privacy, show up at the door when new people move in offering them our best muffins, or bring chicken soup when we’ve heard they are under the weather.
We have become suspicious of one another; distrustful, reluctant to let our children meet at the playground without our knowing who exactly they will be with and for how long and what they will be doing.
I know life has changed and I know nostalgia doesn’t always allow for total accuracy. But I think the information highway, the instant and immediate spreading of news and the evils of the world, has tainted our perception of one another.
I enjoyed spying on my parents and their friends.
I often fell asleep over that grate dreaming of the days when I could have parties of my own, where friends would come and laugh and sing and dance.
wendistewart@live.ca

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