A lifelong athlete and WWII Navy Pilot, my dad had always been strong, muscular and handsome – my hero. When he had a stroke a few years ago we didn’t know if he would ever walk again. Then two years ago after surgery for a cerebral hemorrhage, he also became forgetful and at times lethargic. Then last year after his 89th birthday he began to bounce back. I was able to take him to physical therapy several times a week and he was soon able to use all of the machines; but he still couldn’t walk. After he and Mom celebrated their 67th wedding anniversary last September, it took us several weeks to convince him he would turn 90 in February.
As everyone began to tell him how good he looked and how well he was doing, he set a goal for himself. For his 90th birthday he wanted to go to Florida, take all the family with him and celebrate by going to dinner and out to dance. Mom and dad had been married during the big band era and they were the Queen and King of jitterbug. Just 10 years ago they even won a jitterbug contest in Las Vegas Nevada. Unfortunately being able to dance was something my father’s Dr. told him may never happen again. But Dad didn’t remember this, and so we began exercising and training for his big event.
In all honesty, none of us – especially Mom – could envision this event actually coming to pass. But were we ever wrong! We had spent the week having fun at Disney World, the Holy Land Experience, basking in the sun and visiting with friends and family. Still, Daddy kept talking about the big dance event coming up. The only dinner and dance club we could find, was BB King’s House of Blues. Hundreds of young people gather there on a Friday or Saturday night; I doubt that very few, if any, have ever celebrated their 90th birthday there.
After a four-course filet mignon dinner, I accompanied my mother into the restroom, where I saw she was visibly nervous and very apprehensive. Daddy had not walked by himself in three years, and Mom had given up on the idea of them ever dancing again. I explained to her that my brother was going to help Daddy to the dance floor when they announced his birthday and he would hold him up while they symbolically danced for 30 seconds or so; but Dad had far different plans.
As the club was jam-packed, my brother and I tried to figure a pathway from our table to the dance floor. Knowing that he would practically have to carry Daddy and maneuver him through the crowd, we came up with a new idea. Seated at the front table were two nice young sales executives in Florida on business who graciously agreed to let our parents sit at their table for a few minutes until the band’s lead singer announced Dad’s birthday. Three songs and an eternity later, my brother was still standing near the front while our parents chatted with the young men.
Finally, the moment had arrived. As I watched the lead singer stride toward the front microphone and glance toward my parents and smile, I gripped my video camera and headed to the dance floor. I shamefully admit my intention was to catch 20 seconds or so of my parents in an embrace without showing my brother holding Daddy up. All I remember from that point is praying, “God please help Daddy stay up!” Yes, I still believe in miracles, but what transpired even I had never anticipated. The entire dance floor cleared away – including my brother. I saw the panic on my mom’s face, but it was indeed short-lived. Through a soulful, bluesy four-minute rendition of “Ain’t Nobody’s Business” Dad and Mom danced, embraced, and even kissed as hundreds of young people applauded the celebration of a 90-year-old World War II veteran’s promise to himself and his bride of 67 years, that they would dance. And indeed they did.
I would like to be able to say that Dad was able to walk back to our table by himself, his legs perfectly healed; but that had not been his promise – or our prayer. As my brother helped him through the crowd, there were cheers, tears, and a standing ovation for the beautiful white-haired couple who were not through celebrating life. As a matter of fact, one of the young men who had shared his table by the dance floor with them walked back to us and announced that he had picked up the entire bill for our whole table – steaks, drinks, tips – everything. We practically insisted that he not do this, but through tears he explained, “You see, I recently went through a nasty divorce. Seeing your mom and dad so in love after all of these years has given me renewed hope that God may have the right one still waiting for me.” Perhaps it was for him, as well as the rest of us, that in that miraculous moment, on his 90th birthday, Daddy danced!
Dr. Debra Peppers, a professional speaker for 25 years, is one of only five inducted into the National Teachers Hall of Fame, which followed her retirement from Lindbergh High School. A member of the National Speakers Association, she has traveled to all 50 states and 60 countries teaching others that if she can go from being a 250-pound high school dropout, to Teacher of the Year there is hope for every child and adult. Her web site is http://www.pepperseed.org.