One of my friends at Langley High was Pennie. She was Catholic & lived in McLean. We were in World Civ’ together. She’d sometimes stay over at my house & I’d sleep at hers off & on. She thought my father & brother were “dreamy.” I loved her parents. They were kind & patient. They had to be, with six kids!
On a beautiful October day, walking up to school from the bus, Pennie caught up with me.
“Dixie! Do you want to go to a dance Saturday night? There’s this club called The Subway.”
“Where is it? Dad would never let me go to a nightclub in DC!”
“No, it’s for teens, in McLean. My father will drive us. You could spend the night. I’m having Peggy & Cindy over, too. Ask him & let me know.”
The idea flashed into my mind 900 times that day. All during class, “Blah Blah Blah Egyptian dynasties, The Subway, Greek aristocratic intellectuals…” my teachers were young, intelligent & their lectures usually fascinated me.
But I was Born to Dance! My parents had two photographs in an album. One was of Dad holding me by the hands as I danced on Miz Bonnie’s bed in Georgia. The other was of me “doing the Charleston” on a chair in Grandma Thurston’s house. You could see Mom’s hands holding my ten month old body up but my legs were kicking!
At dinner that night, I sussed Dad’s mood. Not too bad. He was talking about UFOs, a good sign. After he finished expositing about the origin of the species: aliens populating Earth with volunteers who ended up mating with Neanderthals, I asked:
“Could I stay the night with Pennie Saturday? Just her & me & two other girls?”
“Are boys coming over?”
“No, Dad! You know her parents are super strict.”
“Damned Catholics,” my brother grinned.
He knew our father was prejudiced against Catholics. When his father died, ten year old Cullen went begging for food at his hometown’s Catholic church. The priest turned him away, “Beg at your father’s Methodist church.” Little 10 year old Cullen had to sweep dirt yards & run errands to earn money to feed his mother, himself & two younger brothers. His mother had a breakdown when her husband died. So she was unable to work at all. From that time forth, our father blamed all religious people (especially Catholics) for the poverty that tortured him as a boy.
“Bobby Elder,” mother snapped. “We do not sneer at any race, color or creed.”
“Race to the finish!” Bob shouted, as he scraped his plate in the kitchen.
“Your mother will call Pennie’s Mom to find out what’s going on with this party.”
“God!” I wailed, heading to the sink for dish washing. Kathi joined me. Bob ditched out to play baseball with his pals.
“Don’t take the Lord’s name in vain in My house!”
“He doesn’t even believe in ‘the Lord’” Kathi whispered.
But my parents OK’d the trip to McLean. Dad drove me to Pennie’s in his big, grey Bonneville.
I kissed his cheek, then ran up to the front door & rang the bell. Pennie answered.
“YAY! Come on down to the basement.”
We teen girls gabbed while doing each others’ hair. Then it was dinner-time. Pennie’s Mom was a great cook, like me. We girls helped set the table & brought the food out for mass consumption.
Then we helped clean up the kitchen, ran downstairs & got ready to Dance!
Pennie’s Dad dropped us off at The Subway. “Back in 2 hours.” He called after us as we flash ran toward the door.
All that school year, one of the fathers would drop us off to dance, either at the McLean Teen Club or The Subway. One night, it was my father’s turn. He asked each girl what their plans were for the future. The Future? We just wanted to Dance!!
But all my friends were super smart. “I want to go into law,” said Peggy.
“I’m hoping to get into Harvard & study history. Teach, then get married & have kids.”
“Travel after graduating from Langley, study French in Paris & teach. Or be an airline stewardess.”
I was silent. My plan was to leave home as soon as possible. Move to California!
“Good plans, ladies. OK, I will be back at 9:30. You will all be home by 10:00.”
Dad was the least lenient of all the fathers. 9:30! We’d barely have time to buy a coke, make eye contact with a boy & dance to 3 songs! I apologized to my friends for my father’s strictness.
“Dixie, your father looks like a movie star! Who cares?”
This was my father’s Navy ID photo. He still looked like this in 1967! Movie Star
My friends rushed out onto the cement floor & began twisting. It was an old dance but still fun.
I loved dancing but a friend of my older cousin Suzanne had made me feel klutzy the previous weekend. We were in Suzanne’s parents’ basement. Suzanne said, “Dixie, show Rob how you dance.” I did a jolty boog-a-loo. They laughed. Rob said, “Dixie you really need to loosen up!”
So I stood alone, worrying about how I’d look on the dance floor. Then a gorgeous young man approached me. He was dark-skinned, nattily dressed & had a perfect Afro!
“May I have this dance?’
“I’m not that good of a dancer.”
“I can give you some pointers if you want.” He took my hand.
We grooved to “I Was Made to Love Her” & “Heard It Through the Grapevine.”
I tried to follow his hep cat moves. Lord, he could move his hips & shoulders right to the beat!! I got into the loud music. Suddenly, his pals surrounded us, doing hand jives: clapping, beating their chests & thighs percussively as they spun around to the tunes.
It was so fun, I didn’t notice the time. Pennie rushed over,
“Dixie! Your Dad’s here! Peggy is fending him off so he won’t come inside & see you…um, right now.” I waved at my new-found friend & they all gave me the peace sign.
We ra to the parking lot. Tumbled into the car. Dad began driving toward Peggy’s house.
“Dixie danced with Negroes tonight,” one girl said.
“What the Hell? You know guys from DC are up to no damned good. They come here looking for younger girls to prey on. Jesus H. Christ.”
“Geeze, Dad. I was Dancing. Not eloping.”
My friends giggled nervously. They knew my father had a temper. He was usually upbeat but he could blow up suddenly.
“You are Never coming back to this God-damned place. Ever.”
I knew better than to argue. Besides, there was the Teen Club & a new dance hall recently opened up in Herndon. I’d get RW’s older brother to drive RW, Al’s girlfriend Shelia & me there. RW didn’t like dancing but he was nice. We always had something to talk about. Plus, he was a muscle man Hunk-a-deliac!
Dad let each girl off at her home, utterly silent. As soon as we were alone, he flew into a rage. Ranting about how older guys will rape teenaged girls & leave them dead in a ditch, blah blah blah. For God’s sake, it was the first time I felt like I could really dance in my entire Life!
We got home & Dad shouted to Mom, “She is on restriction for the Duration.”
Without a command, I went to my room. Sighed. Took out a scroll & began writing with my pink marker. “Great night dancing but Dad ruined everything.” Smiley face with a big frown & squiggly marks coming off it to indicate fury. Dad wasn’t the only one with a temper!