My mother taught me to dance. This wasn’t some white-glove ballroom foxtrot; my mom could do a hot lindy. She could shake it. Family lore has it that as a teenager she was prancing in front of the bandstand at Hunter College in New York City one night when Dizzy Gillespie looked down and invited her backstage to dance with him after the show. She chickened out, but that story gave her bebop bona fides for the next sixty years.
I love to dance. My mom taught me the basics and I was more than happy to add to her repertoire. I lost her with the Funky Chicken and the Boogaloo, but she could bop with the best of them. In the ’60s, I was widely acknowledged as the best white male dancer at Middlebury College. Faint praise, indeed.
When my mother was eighty-four years old she was deep into her Alzheimer’s. She had been a firebrand; a biting, caustic political speaker with a hard spirit and an agile mind who trusted no one. She used to read the newspapers and spit. Now her mind was at a crawl and she barely moved. Where she once had been fueled by radical passion, there was no fire behind her eyes. She hadn’t walked in several years. One morning she woke up and had stopped speaking. It was with tremendous effort that she was able to raise her hand from her lap, and when she finally got it to her face she had forgotten the reason for all that lifting. Her dancing days were over.
My mother was not an easy woman to satisfy; nothing was ever quite right. When I played her the first Bob Dylan album, enamored as I was with his smart and gritty folkiness and because I wanted her in my world, she said, “He’s no Pete Seeger.” When I played her the groundbreaking rock of Dylan’s electric