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Learning to Cha Cha

Some of my best childhood memories involve the dinner parties my parents attended on most Saturday nights. They had a close group of couple friends and everyone took turns hosting. These were semi-fancy affairs, a chance for the women to show off their culinary talents and use their wedding china. The food was always special and the laughter abundant. Among other things, there were discussions about the advantages of shaking a martini rather than stirring it as soft music played in the background. Yup, it was like a scene out of the television show "Mad Men."

In those days, the kids tagged along. When we were young, we were fed early and expected to play quietly. As we grew older, we dressed in our Sunday best and were given a seat at the grownup’s table. It was there that we were to be seen and not heard, and, of course, mind our manners. But we sure did learn a lot about life and people and the world as we pushed the peas around on our plates, pretending to be bored, all the while listening attentively to the adult conversation.

I think this inclusion is a throwback to the idea of the Cajun “fais do do,” which in French means "go to sleep.” Back in the day, our grandparent’s generation, the adults would dance the night away in halls and barns and houses, after putting the kiddos down to rest on makeshift beds. The term is still used generically to describe an adult dance, regardless of size or the presence of children.

And there was dancing on those Saturday nights, too. After dinner, they would put something more lively on the record player and push back the living room furniture. The adults sipped crème de minthe over crushed ice as they twirled around the floor, the sound of high-pitched giggles filling the air. In my eyes, it was magical.

I learned how to cha cha and foxtrot at one of these parties. I must have been ten and my dad’s friend, who was light on his feet and a patient teacher, guided me through the steps. I felt so grownup as I counted the rhythm in my head, careful not to stomp on his toes. I still know how, having practiced so much that the muscle memory is embedded in my body. If Dancing with the Stars calls, I am ready.

It was an innocent time when the country was optimistic. Folks didn’t lock their doors. We were perfectly satisfied with one bathroom, one phone, and one car. Food didn’t have a shelf-life of four years, and advanced technology meant not having to go outside to turn the TV antennae. Of course, I remember this time through the eyes of a child. I am sure that there are many who have different memories, tales of prejudice and oppression, but I suppose that there will always be such stories as long as society is made up of people who must limit others in order to feel that they themselves are somehow shining brighter.

It is funny how these months have taken me back to moments I had long forgotten. I guess that illness makes us pause and take stock of life, the instances that helped to shape us into who we become as adults. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it is kind of fascinating

Next time, I’ll tell you about my appendectomy when I was eight and how the appendage ended up in a jar at the LSU Medical School. Now that’s quite the tale.

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