Still dancing, after all these years
By JAMES STEPHEN BEHRENS
There was a luncheonette on a small street in the town where I grew up. I used to go there with my friends when I was in high school and we would sit in a booth and have sodas and French fries. There was no menu, just a chalkboard with the days offerings and those were few. A cake or a pie sat on a plate with a plastic cover on the long counter. On the wall behind the cash register were stacked rows of cigarettes -- the most plentiful item in the store. The floor was red linoleum. And it was there that she danced.
I remember the day I first saw her. I was sitting in a booth waiting for my friends and she was sitting on a stool at the counter. She was by herself and seemed to know the older woman who owned the place. They had that way of talking and laughing. She had blond hair and it was long and hung down her back in a ponytail. She wore tight pants and slippers and a white blouse. The shirttails of the blouse were tied in a knot at her waist. She was, I thought, so pretty. I watched her talk and laugh and then she took a cigarette from her large purse, lit it and inhaled and then thought of something that made her laugh.
She coughed and laughed at the same time, then took a long drag from the cigarette. She got off the stool and I then saw that one leg was shorter than the other. She had to drag her left leg behind her and her body moved up and down a bit as she made her way to the jukebox. She put a coin in and I watched the record rise amidst the colored lights beneath the plastic dome of the jukebox and then gently come to rest. The volume was turned up and I heard the hiss of the blank first seconds of the 45 and then on came Let Me In. Do you remember that song? I remember the melody and the words but not who sang it.
And I remember her stepping back carefully from the jukebox and then dancing by herself. The song has a shimmy beat to it, and her feet slapped the floor as she moved to the music. Her bad leg dragged behind her good one and she snapped her fingers to the beat and closed her eyes and danced. The woman behind the counter looked at her and smiled. I watched and had no idea then that I would remember that woman and her song and her dance for many years. For it was just a small place, and a pretty woman, and a rock n roll song and a kid who watched the pretty woman dance.
That was almost 40 years ago. Wherever she is, I hope she still dances and laughs. And I hope there are those who watch and learn to carry as well -- and with a song -- the hurts in their lives.
Let Me In was her special song. And let her in I did. I have never danced as well as she. But she is still teaching me, every time I sing that song in my head and think of her, moving across a red linoleum floor and not missing a beat, somehow still asking me to follow and learn.
Fr. James Stephen Behrens writes from Covington, La.
National Catholic Reporter, March 21, 2003