It was a rare, rainy Utah day, with a socked-in kind of permanent drizzle, like the springtime of my childhood in Pennsylvania. I was in the nursery at the old-old house on Kensington Street, tidying up a bit while the baby played in her crib. We never did have a “real” nursery, even with 4 babies. I was young and unable to justify spending money on beautifying the baby’s sleeping space. I regret this.
The nursery was a small room, attached to the master bedroom, with French doors dividing the two spaces. It had a used crib, and the old antique rocker I bought at auction when we first moved out here, the one I had re-upholstered in 5 Hour Store leather a few years back. It currently sits in our family room. The upholstery was in pretty bad shape then. The big old metal springs had sprung out of the seat, so I plopped a pillow on top of the springs and that is where I nursed my babies each night. It had nice wide, flat arms that held my elbow as I held the baby, and it had a high leather roll at the top, where I rested my head as I patted my little one’s back and hummed music into her ear. There was also a little four drawer dresser and a diaper pail, and the little square rolling cart from our law school days which held Dave’s old stereo. I’m pretty sure there were also piles of stuff in the corner. I am sad to say that piles of stuff have been haunting me all my life.
So, on one of those days when my conscience yelled loud enough that my feet responded, I made an attempt to address the “piles of stuff” in the nursery. One of my big problems is that I think too much. I think about this thing or that thing, as I pass my fingers over it, and I decide I should put it back in the pile because I might need it someday. So it’s best for me to divert my mind so I won’t over analyze. I pushed the power button on the stereo and found a radio station with palatable pop-rock music. This was the 80’s, and I could not bear the techno-mania that had overtaken the airwaves, but the station I finally found was filled with the more delicious music of the 60’s and 70’s.
I was steadily moving through my pile of stuff when the strains of an old Jim Croce tune shot through the air.
“Well, I know it’s kind of late, I hope I didn’t wake ya
But what I have to say can’t wait, I know you’ll understand….”
I instantly felt that familiar little tingle of young love as it rose up from the inside out. I shivered with warmth and the burn of unbeckoned tears washed over my eyes.
“…every time I tried to tell you the words just came out wrong
So I’ll have to say I love you in a song.”
I sat myself in the seat of that old sprung rocker and allowed myself to weep. The weeping with a slow exhale, where memories flicker through like a movie and you don’t want it to end. I saw myself at the dance on evening #2 of a young adults conference at Slippery Rock college, 6 weeks after my high school graduation. Dave Connors was there, fresh off his mission to Italy. He was so handsome, with his dark hair and olive skin and square shoulders, and he was always in the center of a swarm of girls that weekend. They flirted with him, unabashedly. It was a real turn off to me, though I thought he was painfully beautiful. I kept my distance just to be out of the swarm. But somehow he saw me, and he asked if I’d like to dance. I was shocked, seriously, that he would even look at me. We danced the dance of untrained youth, a slow one, and I can feel almost exactly that thrill of his hand on my waist, his other hand lifted palm-up expecting mine to join it.
You have to know that I was not an “experienced” girl in the love department. I had hardly dated in high school, and I didn’t have any experience with how to effectively interact with a guy when those kind of feelings shot like bottle rockets through the invisible space around us. Dave, on the other hand, knew that stuff pretty well.
As the final strains of the music ended, Dave lifted my hand and kissed my fingers.
I swooned. Almost fell over there on the gym floor. But my pride made me fake it. He asked me to dance again, but it was the last dance and I had promised it to another. I really, really, really wanted to break that promise! That was my first true lesson in being sure before you make promises. I thought I’d lost my chance, that the swarm would consume him and he would never notice me again. But back at the dorms he waited in the lobby and asked if I had brought my guitar. Of course I had. And so had he. We sat in the lobby of the dorm into the wee hours, playing guitars together. I was smitten. Painfully smitten. Sure that someone of his caliber would never consider someone from my world in any serious sort of way.
I was wrong. Blessedly, thankfully, fabulously wrong.
Two weeks later Dave drove out to Utah with my brother so he could begin his education at BYU law school. A week after that I drove out to Utah with Ann Marie’s fience-of-the-month so I could begin my undergraduate education. Dave and I were engaged three months later. He never did play his guitar much after that first night in the dorms at Slippery Rock. But for Valentines Day, when we were engaged, he gave me this fine gift. He had bought the sheet music to Jim Croce’s tune, “I’ll Have to Say I Love You in a Song” and had taught himself how to play it. It was the sweetest, most touching gift, his fingers sweeping over the strings, his head slightly cocked to the side as he sang the words. His beautiful brown eyes looking straight into mine, those sweet luminous orbs resting in small pools of water by the time the song ended.
So when Jim Croce’s guitar started repeating the tune on the stereo that day, I was swept off my feet again. HOW BEAUTIFUL THE DANCE is an old song, written when I was probably 25 years old. I would not write it that way now. I tell my lyric writing students to rewrite songs like this. It’s not truly conversational. You would never say, in conversation, “for cold am I….” And melancholy is a cliché term. But the song filled a space in our lives, and it fits like a snapshot of us when we dressed in the fashion of the 80’s. Wouldn’t be caught dead in that now, but it was fine for then, and it is part of who we were…so it is part of who we are.
“So kiss my hand, then kiss my lips, then say a soft “I do”
Though there are days I question it, the words have still been true.”
It was how I felt then. And how I feel now.
HOW BEAUTIFUL THE DANCE
It’s cold outside and drizzling,
than it seems
For cold am I, imagining
In melancholy dreams
song in stereo,
One that warms me through
Comes a flood of memory
When I first danced with you
When I first danced with you
feel you take my hand again
And I can see you smile
As you lead me
‘cross the wooden floor
I loved you all the while
So kiss my hand,
then kiss my lips
Then say a soft “I do”
Though there are days I
The words have still been true
Kids are growing rapidly
And we’re settled it
But play a song you sang for me
feelings come again
The feelings come again
Though the songs we hear
are different now
The words are still romance
Though the steps we take
have changed somehow
How beautiful the dance