The Dancer

The way she cooked was an art. Her hands may have been deeply veined and her callused fingers worn due to the tumultuousness of a life of survival during a world war, immigrating to a new country, and raising a family with meager means, but there was a lightness to the way she operated. Her hands danced across the ingredients with a liveliness that could only be cultivated through the experiences that wore them. There was no thought as she tossed, stirred, and kneaded letting years of cooking guide her.

Suddenly her hands paused over the dough and she turned to me.

“Do you know how I met your grandfather?”

I shook my head. He had passed away years before I was born. I had only seen pictures and heard stories of him, seeing the ways in which those traits came to life through my dad and his siblings. My dad rests the palm of his hand on his cheek in the same manner that my grandfather did in dozens of black and white photos. A simple gesture, but an everlasting one at that.

She turned to me, a sparkle in her eyes I had never seen before.

“My sister and I went dancing one night.” She was looking at me, but her focus was far beyond the present. As if she could see something in the distance, miles and miles away. Her arched spine had suddenly straightened, and her pursed lips stretched across her teeth in an innocent smile.

She pulled back a few strands of silver hair behind her ears. “I saw him across the room because he looked so dashing in his uniform. All the girls whispered about him.”

She looked away from me and reminisced in a memory that would never lose its luster.

“He was very handsome. So neat. So sophisticated.” She whispered something in German that I couldn’t understand. Her giggle implied that I was not meant to understand it.

I smiled as the decades between us melted away.

His reflection in my grandmother’s nostalgia was the most powerful image of all. He was no longer a static image in a picture. He came to life as I imagined the man who could still tease that gentle smile on her face.

“My sister introduced us. And he asked me to dance to the Fox Trot.”

She paused for a moment. Those hands that had been pounding away at the dough, now rose delicately in the air, one floating on the arch of my grandfather’s shoulder pad, and the other gently held in the palm of his hand.

Eyes closed, she swayed ever so slightly. “He was a very good dancer.”

She swayed for a moment longer enveloped in her past. She opened her eyes and met mine. Suddenly back in the present, she’d return to the memory at another time.

She turned back to the dough. The curve of her spine returned and a few strands of her hair fell from behind her ears. But just for a moment, she rested her hand on the counter, palm up, in the everlasting embrace of the dancer she met that night.