“Your mother would have been dancing on the table,” a man said to me as my friends and I walked out of church.
“I was thinking the same thing,” I answered him, wondering how in the name of Tom Thunder this younger man could have known my mother that well.
I will say this though, the lady did get around. Along with other senior citizens, Dolores Watkins, June Youngblood, Janet Taylor Perry and I had just been to a Prime Timer’s program at Northminster Baptist where a local group, the D’Lo Trio had performed.
But let me pause right here and explain a few things about my mama. In her day, the lady had danced her way to the moon and stars, not once, but time and time again. As a grandmother, she was more akin to Zelda Fitzgerald than to Betty Crocker waiting for a fruitcake to pop out of the oven. My mama was not one to wear bifocals, sit in a rocking chair, tapping the floor with old lady lace-up shoes, intoning a pious, “Bless your heart.” Even though she clutched no prayer book in her hand, the lady surely had a Earth to Heaven land line because the Good Lord often told her what was going on down here on Earth.
So that reputations will not be tainted, I’ll simply offer up a few illustrations of how He talked to her and of how a few characters danced to her tunes.
Years ago, back when Stocketts had their riding stable, and The Hot Tamale man pedaled his cart full of steaming, spicy, delicacies along Capitol and Pearl Street there was a Curious Child, who lived on Eagle Avenue. This was also an era when one of the reasons why Jacksonians crossed the old Pearl River Bridge into Rankin County was to buy liquor.
One day back in those long ago times, Curious Child happened to be walking by herself up their gravel street headed home when she saw something she had never seen before, two dogs, making ‘whoopee.’ Sensing that this was something she probably shouldn’t do, Curious Child hid beneath a bush, sat down and watched the entire performance. When Curious Child arrived home, ‘Zelda’ met her at the edge of the front yard.
“What have you been doing?” she asked.
The land line must have been working that day.
“You can’t fool me, young lady,” an amused ‘Zelda’ said. She put her hand over her mouth to keep from laughing out loud, as she warned, “I’ll always be one step ahead of you.”
A few minutes later, Curious Child danced, not to the tune of “Careless Love” but to a switching. She was then sent to her room until suppertime while ‘Zelda’ did a Lindy Hop to her afternoon bridge game.
Some time later, Curious Child was invited to a Halloween party close to the Pearl River. On the night of the party, Curious Child and ‘Zelda’ drove along a gravel road down by the river to the party. Proud of her drawn-on charcoal mustache, fingering an artificial wart on her nose, checking the thick padding under her witches dress and brandishing a broomstick, Curious Child walked into the festivities. But what to her eyes should appear—not devils and trolls, but ballet dancers in net tutus;
Snow White’s; wand-wielding princesses and magical fairies flitting about. Witches probably aren’t supposed to cry, but tears filled Curious Child’s eyes. She tripped on her broomstick and fell to the floor.
“Where’d you get that costume?” one of the tutu-ed and sequined, young beauties pirouetted by and asked Curious Child when she got up.
“Zelda wouldn’t buy me anything,” she cried.
Now, ‘Zelda,’ who had been a good 50 feet away only three seconds ago, suddenly appeared at Curious Child’s side. “Young lady. Get in the car. This party is over for you!”
How she heard was a mystery known only to the Powers above.
And you know what? Before the night was done, ‘Zelda’ was probably dancing on the table. But, to this day, the sobbing Curious Child would never know for sure.
Curious Child grew into a Curious Teenager. One night, Curious Teenager and a few of her friends broke into a ‘haunted house’ on Grand Avenue. When, what to their wondering eyes should appear, not ghosts, but two policemen, with guns and flashlights. Curious Teenager and her housebreaking gang were carried to the police station. Curious Teenager called ‘Zelda.’
“Why are you calling me this time of night?” she asked.
“Oh, ‘Mama,’ she sobbed. “I’m at the police station. They say I might spend the night in jail. They’re charging me with house breaking.”
I had already figured out you were up to something. What time is it?”
“Bless your heart. I tell you what. If you’re gonna play, you’ve gotta pay,” ‘Zelda’ laughed. “You got yourself into it. Get yourself out of it. Your daddy and I went to a party. I’ve been dancing, and I’m tired. Call me back in the morning.”
Many years later, ‘Zelda’s’ granddaughter, Pretty Deb was making her debut. The band began playing “Billie Jean” by Michael Jackson. In perfect rhythm, ‘Zelda’ began dancing to the music of a generation more than seventy years younger than she. More than one person thought, put ‘Zelda’ in the middle of a table, shine a spotlight down, and she could be the floorshow for the evening.
All good things must wind down, so I send a comforting message to Curious Child, and Pretty Deb.
Wearing a ruffled, lilac flapper dress, high heel ankle straps halfway up her calves, rhinestone earrings dangling, ‘Zelda’s’ probably on a table up There. Maybe she’s jitterbugging with Bobby Boggan, boogeying with Elvis, or even dancing the Charleston with Scott Fitzgerald.
So, in ending this article, I will close with my Mama’s last words to me.
“Have a good time, darling.”