36: A Dance with My Grandmother

36: A Dance with My Grandmother

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Grand and Great

A Dance with My Grandmother

The capacity to care is the thing which gives life its deepest meaning and significance.

~Pablo Casals

When I married my wife, Martha, it was the most beautiful day of my life. We were young and healthy, tanned and handsome. Every picture taken that day shows us smiling, hugging and kissing. We were the perfect hosts, never cranky or tired, never rolling our eyes at pinched cheeks or embarrassing stories from friends and loved ones. We were as happy and carefree as the porcelain couple on our towering wedding cake.

Halfway through the reception, in between the pictures and the cake and the garter and the bouquet, my grandmother tapped me gently on the shoulder. I hugged her in a flurry of other well-wishers and barely heard her whisper, “Will you dance with me, sweetheart?”

“Sure, Nonny,” I said, smiling and with the best of intentions, even as some out-of-town guests pulled me off in their direction. An hour later my grandmother tried again. And again I blew her off, smiling and reaching for her with an outstretched hand but letting some old college buddies place a fresh beer there instead, just before dragging me off for some last-minute wedding night advice!

Finally, my grandmother gave up.

There were kisses and hugs and rice and tin cans and then my wife and I were off on our honeymoon. A nagging concern grew in the back of my mind as we wined and dined our way down to Miami for a weeklong cruise and then back again when it was over.

When we finally returned to our new home, a phone message told us our pictures were waiting at the photographer’s. We unpacked slowly and then moseyed on down to pick them up. Hours later, after we had examined every one with fond memories, I held one out to reflect upon in private.

It was a picture of two happy guests, sweaty and rowdy during the inevitable “chicken dance.” But it wasn’t the grinning couple I was focusing on. There, in the background, was my grandmother, Nonny.

I had spotted her blue dress right away. Her simple pearls. The brand-new hairdo I knew she’d gotten special for that day, even though she was on a fixed income. I saw her scuffed shoes and a run in her stocking and her tired hands clutching at a well-used handkerchief.

In the picture, my grandmother was crying. And I didn’t think they were tears of joy. That nagging concern that had niggled at me the entire honeymoon finally solidified: I had never danced with my grandmother.

I kissed my wife on the cheek and drove to my grandmother’s tiny apartment a few miles away. I knocked on the door and saw that her new perm was still fresh and tight, but her tidy blue dress had been replaced with her usual faded housedress.

A feeble smile greeted me, weak arms wrapped around me and, naturally, Nonny wanted to know all about our honeymoon. Instead, all I could do was apologize.

“I’m sorry I never danced with you, Nonny,” I said honestly, sitting next to her on the threadbare couch. “It was a very special day and that was the only thing missing from making it perfect.”

Nonny looked me in the eye and said something I’ll never forget: “Nonsense, dear. You’ve danced enough with this old broad in her lifetime. Remember all those Saturday nights you spent here when you were a little boy? I’d put The Lawrence Welk Show on and you’d dance on top of my fuzzy slippers and laugh the whole time. Why, I don’t know any other grandmother who has memories like that. I’m a lucky woman.

“And while you were being the perfect host and making all of your guests feel so special, I sat back and watched you and felt nothing but pride. That’s what a wedding is, honey. Something old, something new. Something borrowed, something blue.

“Well, this OLD woman, who was wearing BLUE, watched you dance with your beautiful NEW bride, and I knew I had to give you up, because I had you so many years to myself, but I could only BORROW you until you found the woman of your dreams — and now you have each other and I can rest easy in the knowledge that you’re happy.”

Both of our tears covered her couch that day — the day that Nonny taught me what it meant to be a grandson — as well as a husband.

And after my lesson, I asked Nonny for that wedding dance.

Unlike me, she didn’t refuse....

~Rusty Fischer
Chicken Soup for the Every Mom’s Soul

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