Note: A version of this column ran in the New Castle Courier-Times on Saturday.
by Donna Cronk
If you've followed recent columns, you know I'm in the midst of an extended home project. Because cleaning out our attic in one sitting is too overwhelming, we're doing it in slow motion.
That translates into one cardboard box, plastic tub, or prized relic a week. I find myself looking forward to that little jaunt up the ladder to see what memories are stirred.
Saturday before last, I delved into a container filled with memory clothes: A favorite blue sweater from high school that I wore to death; a junior-clothing, Brooks-store sundress worn to high school graduation; the "going-away" skirt Mom stitched for leaving our our wedding reception. (Those my age and older might remember the term "going-away" clothing.)
I can't fit into any of them and even if I could, I wouldn't. We parted company.
At the bottom of the tub was a Thom McAn shoe box. On the front in bold-black Magic Marker it read: Donna's tap shoes. I lifted the still-shiny patent-leather shoes and immediately, memories flooded in.
I never had a tap lesson in my life.
Half a century ago, the coolest girls in my hometown were Dixon Dancers, under the tutelage of dance teachers Rita and Joann. Surely those instructors were some sort of goddesses; so pretty, confident and capable of teaching those fancy dance steps. And the costumes! All tulle and fluff, sequins and silk, ribbons and ruffles.
My female relatives were Dixon Dancers, and each spring, Mom and I watched them sparkle in the annual dance review. Those sequin-studded costumes caught the light from a million directions as the girls bounced around the stage. There were square-dance and soft-shoe numbers, probably ballet and modern dance, but it was the tap-dancing that held me.
I loved the click-clack of taps hitting the floor, a sound you couldn't ignore if you tried. With every fiber of my being, I wanted to create those sounds from my own feet and put them to music.
The talent that filled that stage every year seemed as great to my young senses as that on the Dean Martin, Sonny & Cher and Carol Burnett variety TV shows of the era. Oh how I wanted to be not merely a Dixon Dancer, but a Dixon tapper!
It wasn't to be, as my parents wouldn't let me, despite classmate Starla Snyder's impassioned plea during Sunday school class for me to ask again about lessons. (Starla. Isn't that a perfect dancer's name?) But nope, it wasn't an option.
Neither was being a Brownie. I envied Christy Sweeney and her Brownie dress and beanie. She wore both on Mondays, if memory serves, prepared for those after-school meetings in the cafeteria. I missed out on the deep life lessons, but most importantly, on the refreshments and crafts.
I would have worn that uniform with pride!
My folks let me be in 4-H, and I suppose I made the most of that for the 10 years I maxed out my membership. Yet the yearning never waned to be a Dixon Dancer.
So I devised a DIY plan. I saved nickels and dimes (and I mean that in the literal sense as I got 15 cents for sweeping out and gassing up the school bus for my farmer-bus-driver dad). I also got a dollar a week for mowing the lawn; several bucks for the worst job of my life—picking up rocks in the fields for a couple weeks every spring. Summers meant odd jobs around the farm such as painting the white picket fence.
Finally, I had enough saved for a pair of authentic tap shoes exactly like those the Dixon Dancers wore. I walked right into Thom McAn and bought a pair. I must have been a fifth-or-sixth-grader. I didn't even need to prove that I was worthy of such a stately prize. Isn't America great?
If I couldn't be a Dixon Dancer, I could at least play one at home. I could also direct the variety shows my nieces and I put on where we sang songs from every genre we knew: "Put Your Hand in the Hand of the Man" (gospel); "This Land is Your Land" (folk); "The Charleston" (show tune, I guess); "If Ever I Would Leave You" (Broadway) or "Harper Valley PTA" (pop).
We combined song and dance with our own make-do costumes as well as my nieces' prized Dixon Dance wear. We invited neighbor kids over to view our shows. And of course, there was tap because I had to show off the shoes.
When I found the shoes in the attic, I immediately put them on. They were a little snug, but what's a cramped toe or two for the sake of performance art? So I clicked and clopped around the garage on that Saturday morning in my PJs, still relishing the sound of those taps.
Brian was inside the house, and I half expected him to emerge and ask what in the world was going on, that, "It sounds, oddly, like somebody tap dancing badly. I knew that wasn't possible!"
If he had, I might have broken into a rendition of "I Got You, Babe," and showed him my moves.
He would have thought I'd lost my mind. But I know the truth. I have a long memory lane.
I'm keeping the memories—and the tap shoes.