Last week, my community turned out for Martha’s memorial service. It was a celebration, what I imagine a New Orleans’ funeral might be.
Martha was one of seven kids and many of her siblings, nieces, and nephews are musicians. They told funny, touching stories and sang spirituals and favorite family songs accompanied by guitar, folk rock style. It was an antidote to the suffering of Martha’s last years and her husband Sam’s grief.
No one said Martha was too young at 62 or life was too cruel. Instead, we gave thanks. After the main service, chairs and rugs disappeared, and a dance floor appeared along with drums and more musicians. As always, I was one of the first on the dance floor.
My first dance partner was my brother Jim. When I was twelve and he was 16, he needed a partner to learn the best moves for American Bandstand swing, the stroll, and the twist. When Jim went to college, I danced with my girlfriends after school or we went to live Motown shows in Detroit and danced to the Supremes or Little Stevie Wonder.
My husband Vic loved to dance. I would never fall for a man without rhythm and good moves. In 1966, we danced to the Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Beatles, The Band, and Bob Dylan, alone, at parties, and with friends.
When I was seven months pregnant with our first baby, we returned to Ithaca after a year in California. We had no place to live until our rental house was available. Our closest friends, Richard and Evelyn, who loved to dance as much as we did, let us move into their tool shed for a month. No plumbing, no electric, but a roof. It was large enough to throw a mattress on the floor and pile a few suitcases and boxes in one corner.
Vic craved electricity, not for lights or a hot plate, but for a sound system. In two days, he pick-axed an underground trench from the house to the tool shed—a few hundred feet of hard rocky soil. He laid an electric cord in that trench and wired the cabin for sound. From Evelyn’s kitchen, I heard The Band blaring. I ran outside and there he was, snapping and tapping in the doorway, proud and happy. Vic took me in his arms, and we danced.
Take a load off, Fanny
Take a load for free
Take a load off, Fanny
And (and) (and) you put the load right on me
At Martha’s memorial, they played that same old song. I shouted the words with everyone else. Sam danced his grief and love, alone and with rotating partners. Then, unplanned, a circle of four held hands—three women whose husbands had died and Sam. Friends stepped back and gave us space. The widows and the widower swayed and stepped, wounded but still grateful, laughing and longing, tears held back or rolling down our cheeks.
“We’re still standing, so we may as well dance,” I yelled at Sam. He grinned, tossed his head back to shake off the tears, and kept right on dancing.
This is dedicated to Martha, Sam, Amber, and Josephine. Does music or dancing help you deal with grief? If you like stories about my early life with Vic, you’ll enjoy California Hippie Capers or A Call in the Redwoods: My Hippie Intuition.