By Thelda Bevens
Dar and I loved to dance. It was probably the first thing we did together, long before we would share our lives. We grew up in a small Oregon mountain community where dances were held almost every Saturday night, sometimes at the Grange Hall, sometimes at the home of Nelson Nye. Nelson and his family loved music and dancing so much that they added a special room to their house, large enough to accommodate at least three sets of square dances. Once a month or more, they invited the entire community to a dance. Nelson played the fiddle and his daughter, Hope, played the piano while the rest of us danced.
In those days, the entire family went together – including the grandparents, the farmers and loggers, the schoolteachers and the store owner. We danced to songs such as "Golden Slippers" and "Red Wing," side-by-side with contemporary ones like "Red Sails in the Sunset" and "It's a Sin to Tell a Lie."
Smaller children always had a place to sleep among the coats, close at hand, when they tired. It was a family affair, one of the few entertainments in a small mountain town climbing slowly out of the Great Depression.
Dar was seventeen, and I was twelve, when we first danced. He was one of the best dancers on the floor, and so was I. We always jitterbugged. No slow dancing for us, nothing remotely romantic. Our fathers would stand along the wall and watch. They weren't friends. They didn't talk to each other, not even a casual conversation. Both good dancers themselves, they were proud of their kids. Every once in a awhile, Dar's dad would smile a little, shake his head and say, to no one in particular, but so my dad could hear, "Boy, my kid can sure dance."
My dad never blinked an eye; he acted like he'd never heard. But a while later he would say, to no one in particular, "That girl of mine can sure dance." And being of the old school, they never told us we were that good or had stirred that tiny bit of boastful rivalry along the wall.
Our dancing together stopped for five years while Dar was in the South Pacific in World War II. During those five years, I grew up. When we met again, Dar was twenty-two, and I was almost eighteen. We began to date – and dance again.
This time it was for ourselves – finding our moves, our turns, our rhythms – adjusting, anticipating, enjoying. We were as good together as we remembered, and this time we added slow dancing to our repertoire.
For us, the metaphor fits. Life is a dance, a movement of rhythms, directions, stumbles, missteps, at times slow and precise, or fast and wild and joyous. We did all the steps.
Two nights before Dar died, the family was with us as they had been for several days – two sons and their wives and four of our eight grandchildren. We all ate dinner together, and Dar sat with us. He hadn't been able to eat for several weeks, but he enjoyed it all – told jokes, kidded the boys about their cribbage playing, played with two-year-old Jacob.
Afterward, while the girls were cleaning up the kitchen, I put on a Nat King Cole tape, Unforgettable. Dar took me in his arms, weak as he was, and we danced.
We held each other and danced and smiled. No tears for us. We were doing what we had loved to do for more than fifty years, and if fate had so ordained, would have gone on doing for fifty more. It was our last dance – forever unforgettable. I wouldn't have missed it for the world.
By Thelda Bevens