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Girl, Put Your Records On (Do It For SWIE)

Girl, put your records on
Tell me your favourite song
You go ahead, let your hair down . . . .

from Corinne Bailey Rae's "Put Your Records On"

You don't need me to tell you that times are hard. The Dow fell over 700 points today. Folks are losing their jobs and their homes. Those who aren't are trying to make the same stagnant wages cover higher costs. It's tough all over.

Yet, it could be worse. It could always be worse. Ten years ago today I was experiencing one of the darkest days of my life: Making funeral arrangements for my mom, whom I refer to on this blog as SWIE (She Who Is Exalted). Mind you, my mother wasn't dead. But she was terminally ill with both cancer and Alzheimer's, and I was scheduled to return to my teaching duties in Mississippi. There wasn't much I could do for her but make funeral arrangements.

And even though this day ten years ago was one of my darkest, it doesn't color how I remember my mother. I don't remember her as she was before she died; I remember how she was when she lived.

My mother was a Dancing Queen.

Which leads me to ask all of you mothers out there:

When was the last time you danced with your child?

When was the last time you played board games or cards with your child and put your favorite records on? (or your CDs or MP3s -- you get my drift.)

We're all going to die, and if you're lucky, your kids will bury you and not the other way around. But do you want the most indelible memory they have of you to be picking out your casket instead of remembering you dancing to your favorite songs?

You see, SWIE loved music. Loved it! On the weekends my mother would clean her house or cook to the sounds of Aretha, Dionne, Etta, Whitney, Angela, Roberta, Stephanie, and Patti (Austin and LaBelle), among others. There was something about Aretha's "Don't Play That Song (You Lied) that would get my mom singing at the top of her lungs, "You LIED . . . baby, baby you LIED. . . ," as if she'd been cheated on just yesterday and Aretha was telling HER story. I heard that she cried like a baby when my father got saved and broke all her Dinah Washington records because he considered them "devil music." (Quite frankly, I think the devil gets a bit too much credit for some things, music being one of them).

And then there were her "boyfriends" -- the male singers whom she would swear up and down were singing just to her. My mother's "boyfriends" included Teddy Pendergrass, Smokey Robinson, Freddy Jackson, Billy Ocean (whom I referred to as "Billy Goat Ocean" because, well, he looked like a goat) and Lou Rawls, among others. Her first "boyfriend" was Sam Cooke. I'm told that although my mother cried when President Kennedy got shot, she had really cried when Sam Cooke died. He was, after all, her "first."

But her number one boyfriend? You guessed it: Luther Vandross. Or rather, "Lutha." Lutha could do no wrong in her eyes. Mom cha-cha'd to "A Better Love," and took long drags on her Virginia Slims while listening to "A House Is Not A Home," all the while listening as if he were singing just for her and just to her. She would routinely command us to "put on my boyfriend Lutha," while we were sitting around the dinner table playing gin rummy or some board game, and we'd go plowing through the vinyl records in boxes to find just the right "Lutha" record.

And she wasn't trying to hear anything about Lutha's sexuality, period.

As much as she loved music, she loved to dance as much, if not more. Mom would put on records just to dance with us. When we were little, she would scoop us up in her arms and twirl us around with her to her favorite Motown songs. As we became teens, she would try to learn our dances and she would in turn teach us hers. We taught her the bump; she taught us the cha-cha. We taught her the rock; she taught us the stroll. But after a certain point, she'd get tired of our dances and do her own dance that I affectionately call the "Mom Dance": Think Chubby Checker's twist, but slowed down, and instead of twisting in a horizontal plane, you twist in a vertical plane, side to side, with your hip movements more staccato. And when she got going good, she'd lift one foot, then the next. As she got older, I think she just got more comfortable in her own skin and did her own dance, no longer feeling the need to learn our dances. (Plus, I think the freak and the dog were a little bit too nasty for her tastes . . . .)

On weekends, Mom would put on her records and play cards and board games with us. Gin rummy, Monopoly, Clue, you name it. When she was flush, we'd have Coke, Ruffles, and French Onion dip. You couldn't tell us we weren't living the high life. When she wasn't, it was more like Lipton's Instant Iced Tea and Ritz crackers. Either way, it didn't make a difference. Like her, we learned to make the best of what we had to the point that each of us had our own iced tea "style" or "technique" (my technique : Combine the instant tea with the sugar first; add the fresh lemon juice and stir thoroughly into a syrup; then add the water slowly, making sure the instant tea and the sugar dissolve). Our tea styles were so distinct that we could tell who had made the iced tea just by tasting it. No matter. We're were just sitting around, playing cards or a board game, and hanging out with our mom, listening to her favorite songs.

And, true to form, my mom would sometimes cheat in cards by distracting us with a fart. Silent but deadly, she would let one fly and then blame it on one of us and snicker. By the time you got over the shock of the smell, you'd probably already shown her your hand. Game over.

These are the indelible memories I have of my mom. Not her illness, but her joy. Not her suffering, but the fact that she actually liked hanging out with her kids.

So, what kinds of memories will your children have of you?

I know that times are hard and people are stressed, but do you really want your child to have far more vivid memories of your struggles than your joy? Of picking out your casket instead of picking up cards and smiling across the table from you in a game of gin rummy?

Your kids need to see you happy, period. And you need them to see you happy, even if you don't know it yet.

So, do me and SWIE a favor: Put your favorite music on and dance with your kids. Break out the chips and Coke and Monopoly and spend the evening with them seeing you having fun and enjoying them. There are always going to be bad times; the key is to create the good times for you and your kids in the midst of the storm.

Girl, put your records on . . . . .

As for me, I'll just think of my mom doing the cha-cha with Lutha up in heaven while he sings "A Better Love" just for her.


Jacqueline said…
Now that my tears have stopped flowing, I can type these few words. I'm jealous. You'll ALWAYS be RICH. :-)

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