My mother stood, framed in the doorway of my bedroom, late afternoon sun streaming in behind her. “It doesn’t have to be a long nap, now,” she said, “but you need to get a little rest before tonight.” The door closed quietly behind her, and I was left alone in my pink-and-white bedroom.
I was seven years old. I didn’t take naps any more. But the promise of a new, exciting experience lingered on the horizon. So I scootched down beneath the covers and tried my best to go to sleep.
Yellows and oranges danced on the inside of my eyelids. My toes twitched. Sleep was elusive. Nancy, my best friend and favorite dollie in the world, wanted to hear about the fun I’d had today while I was away from her. I whispered in her ear about the train ride, and the water balloon fight, and the hot dogs, and the parade. I told her all the names of my 1st grade class that I’d seen throughout the day: Larry and Crystal and Robbie and Tasha and even Miss Green. And as I talked her through our afternoon picnic with Nanny and Pawpaw, I drifted off to sleep.
|Adam and I enjoying the Labor Day festival.
When Daddy woke me up, the street light burned outside my window. “C’mon, sleepy head. You’re gonna miss the street dance.”
I sat up, covers falling into my lap, and wiped the sleep from my eyes. Daddy tugged on my crooked pigtail and said, “Let’s go let Mom fix that crazy hair-do before leave, ok?”
I took the stairs as quickly as I could, holding onto the wooden stair rail for purchase. Mom sat in the living room, the evening news on the television. My Baby Brother snoozed in his bouncy chair just at her feet. “C’mere, munchkin. Let’s fix that ponytail,” she said softly. I sat at her feet, and tried not to wince as she pulled the brush through my hair, untangling the mess I’d made while napping.
Pigtails secured, she said, “Hop up.” I did, and she tucked my shirt into the waist of my shorts. “Your shoes are in the den. Hurry, now. Daddy’s ready to go.”
Excitement coursed through my body. I was going to the Labor Day Street Dance with my Daddy. I was a big girl, now. There would be grown-ups there, and funnel cakes, and loud music, and fireworks. I tugged my sneakers on, lacing them up haphazardly, and sprinted for the front door.
Daddy kissed Mom on the cheek. “Save a dance for me,” she said. And she winked.
The end-of-summer heat receded, leaving the evening balmy but comfortable. Lightning bugs lit out path to the sidewalk, and Daddy took my hand. We walked the few blocks to the party, waving at neighbors watering their azaleas, eventually joining a small clan of folks headed to the party. The air smelled of grilling meat, smoke, and fried food. We stopped to cross the street at the barber shop on the corner, and Daddy pointed across the street. My seven-year-old self quivered in delight.
The blacktop of the A&P parking lot was covered in lawn chairs. Six or seven vendors sold cotton candy, balloons and noisemakers, hot dogs. A large stage had been constructed at one side of the lot, lights flashing and horns blaring as the band warmed up. Children raced each other and squealed and shouted. A train at the historic station nearby blew her horn–two short bleets. The Labor Day Block Party was in full swing, and I was itching to jump right in the middle of all the fun. I looked up at Daddy with a huge smile on my face. “Can we go dance now?” I asked.
“You bet, chiquita,” he said. “But let’s find Nanny and Pawpaw first, ok?”
We waded into the teeming crowd, my hand gripped tightly in his, and made our way to the front of the stage. There, my grandparents had scouted out a perfect spot and set up a half-dozen lawn chairs for the family members that would meet us there. I gave Nanny a big hug, and Pawpaw planted a whiskery kiss on my forehead. “Gayle will meet us here in a little while,” Daddy told them. “Adam was still sleeping when we left.”
Daddy fished his wallet out of his pocket, took out a dollar, and said, “Here, baby. Go buy yourself one of those pink glowy necklaces.” My feet slapped the blacktop as I ran to the nearest vendor. Several minutes later, I had in my possession the prettiest glow-in-the-dark halo. I settled it onto my head, pigtails holding it in place, and skipped back to my family. As I approached them, a loud sound of feedback happened on the stage. It startled me, and I jumped into Daddy’s lap. “Don’t worry,” he said. “That’s just the microphones. The band is getting ready to come on! Are you excited?”
I nodded my head, my new halo sliding atop my head, but I stayed firmly on his lap.
A man came out on the stage and welcomed everyone to the annual block party. People yelled and clapped and hooted. And then the band came on stage. There were 5 or 6 men, all wearing goofy red Hawaiian shirts. I looked up at Daddy and giggled. The one guy at the front took the microphone in hand and talked for a few minutes.
And then the music started.
People abandoned their lawn chairs and hurried to the front of the stage, creating a makeshift dance floor. And boy, did they start to boogie. Dad tapped his foot along to the music, jiggling me in his lap, breaking the tension from moments before. He pointed at the old guy from the barber shop, who was wiggling his butt back and forth, and I giggled. Then I pointed out the couple doing intricate turns and dips. He nodded and said he’d teach me how.
The song changed, and Nanny and Paw got up and headed for the dance floor. Daddy looked at me and said, “Wanna go dance, Abby?” I nodded, and out we went.
He led me out into the sea of dancers. “Step up on my feet and I’ll show you the steps,” Daddy said, and offered me his hands to guide me. And so I did. He rocked back and forth, testing my weight, making sure I had my balance. And then he smiled his big Daddy smile and said, “Ok, here we go!”
I stayed focused on his feet, memorizing the steps. One two three, one two three, rock step. One two three, one two three, rock step. After a few minutes, I looked up at him, grinning. “Think you’ve got it?” he shouted over the music. I nodded and he lifted me off of his feet, spinning one, two, three times in the air. I was still laughing, big belly laughs, when he sat me back down on the pavement.
|A younger me, with Daddy.
The song changed again, this time to one I recognized. Daddy grinned wide and said, “Ok Lil’ Miss Dancer, let’s see what you’ve got.” He took my hands, counted down to a slower beat than the music, and walked me through the basic steps. The lead singer crooned about sunshine on a cloudy day, and Daddy counted: “One two three, one two three, rock back. One two three…that’s ok, rock step. Other foot! One two three, rock step. Look at you!! You’re shaggin’, girl!”
As I kept up to the tune on my own, Daddy joined the band, singing to me about bees and honey, and how I was his girl. And we danced.
When the song came to an end, he twirled me around again. Friends and family standing around clapped for us. I noticed Mom sitting in our lawn chairs, a big smile on her face, My Baby Brother bouncing on her knee. Dad ruffled my bangs and said, “You’re one terrific dancer, kiddo.” And my heart opened wide.
Later that night, as I sat in my Daddy’s lap watching the fireworks explode in the night sky, I would breathe in his smell of Old Spice and Irish Spring. I would hum the melody of that song again. I would learn one day that it was called “My Girl,” and it had been sung by a band called The Temptations. It would eventually become the song I associated with my Daddy, the song we would dance to at my wedding. But for that one night, the summer of 1987, it was just the song playing in the background of a magical childhood memory.
|Dancing to “My Girl,” seventeen Septembers later.
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