Growing up, I spent a fair amount of time with my grandparents (my dad’s parents). I think they were probably in their late 50s and early 60s when I was in grade school, because I believe my grandfather was about 70 when he passed away, and I was about 19 or 20. I think now about people I know who are in their late 50s – they don’t seem old to me at all, although my grandparents seemed ancient.
Driving today in my car, I was listening to WMMR, which is one of only two stations in the Philly area that play modern rock / alternative music. They played a station ID which was backed by Glenn Miller’s “In the Mood,” a song I haven’t heard in ages. It immediately made me think of one of my favorite memories of my grandparents:
I must have been about 11 or 12 years old – old enough to stay home alone for a few hours, but not old enough to stay home alone overnight, even with my brother who was two years older than me. We were both staying with my grandparents for the weekend while my parents took one of their very infrequent vacations alone (I can only remember two or three instances before I turned 16 when my parents went on vacation without my brother and me). My grandparents had planned an evening out for us: dinner at a local diner-type restaurant followed by a movie. Somehow, before leaving the house, we got into a discussion about records. It was probably started by my curiosity about the dusty stack of slim albums on the bottom of their den bookshelf – I didn’t know what they were, really, and I always had an urge to flip through them, though I’d never had the courage to ask. But I imagine that night I probably just blurted something out about them, and suddenly my grandfather was pulling out the Glenn Miller Orchestra album and placing it on the record player.
I remember as the first bars of “In the Mood” came out of the speakers, I was immediately entranced. After a few more bars, my grandfather grabbed my grandmother’s hands and started dancing a modified sort of swing – I don’t know if it was a jitterbug or a foxtrot or what, but it was beautiful to watch them. I was laughing along with them – my grandmother, clearly out of practice, was laughing and trying to keep up with my grandfather as he pulled her close and pushed her out again.
The dance lasted only a few minutes, and when it was over, we went to the movies as planned. I don’t believe it ever happened again, that kind of spontaneous display of affection and fun. My grandparents were not prone to spontaneity – I think of my grandmother as a fairly cautious person, a woman who liked routine and having everything “just so;” my grandfather more interested in running out to a fire or paramedic call than playing board games with us kids. It’s not a moment I think of very often, either. But now that I’m older, I think it was a rare gift, an opportunity for me to see what these two people who were essentially strangers to me might have been like when they were younger – like my age.