The 'Old Folks' Kick Up Their Heels Out Back

As young children often do, I once viewed my parents as being quite old. That is, until a certain November night in 1931. Then, under the dark cloud of a tropical storm that had blown up from Baja and hovered over Glendale, Calif., for days without raining, my perception changed.

That year had been the hottest and driest in memory. Our small town was nestled against the Verdugo Mountains, and usually after a scorching summer we had rain in the early fall. But here it was well into November, and still not a sprinkle.

''Crazy weather,'' my father said. ''Brush- fire weather.''

Toward the end of summer we saw the fire department's one red biplane, looking like a toy in the smoke-stained sky, search the hills daily for flare-ups. Full of volatile oils, the sage and manzanita were bound to burn; and burn they did.

After dark we could see the flames licking the ridges, outlining them in gold and orange against the velvet blackness. We were watching this spectacle uneasily on that evening.

We had rolled the Victrola out onto the patio, as we often did on hot nights, so that we could listen to music and dance with each other. Our parents sat on the porch swing, watching and tapping their feet.

''My! How I enjoy seeing young folks having a good time,'' Mama said.

I remember thinking: That's the way it is when you get old. You sit and watch other people dance.

Jean, my sister, asked, ''Why don't you and Daddy ever dance?''

''I used to, when I was a young girl like you,'' Mama said. ''Then your father and I got married, and you kids came along, and we just couldn't find the time or the money.'' She paused. ''Oh, it wasn't your fault,'' she quickly assured her four listening offspring.

She cocked her head thoughtfully. ''I think the Charleston was really the last straw. That dance was enough to make a person dizzy!'' She rolled her blue eyes. ''I just knew we couldn't dance that fast.''

''Oh, Mama,'' Jean said. ''The Charleston is passe now. But there's the fox trot and the waltz and the two-step.''

There was no budging her. Still she loved to hear dance music. Her favorite was a post-World War I song: ''It's three o'clock in the morning/ We've danced the whole night through.''

''Oh, if only it would rain,'' said Mama, fanning herself with a palm leaf. Jean and I lounged in sagging canvas lawn chairs. My little brother, Eddie, sat cross-legged on the lawn as my older brother, David, cranked up the Victrola.

''Here it is, a November night,'' Mama continued. ''And it must be 80 degrees, and humid to boot! This weather is unnatural. Do you suppose it will ever rain again?''

''The paper said the heat will break soon, honey,'' Daddy said. He glanced toward the peak of the mountain behind our house. ''And there is that cloud up there.''

''That cloud has been there for days!'' Mama said.

David put a record on the Victrola and clicked on the turntable. The voice of John McCormick swelled above us. '' 'Tis the last rose of summer/ Left blooming alone.''

We all joined in singing. Next came a change of pace with ''Somebody Stole My Gal.'' Jean and I jumped up and began to dance.

''Oh,'' Mama said, ''I wish I could do that.''

''You could,'' Jean assured her. ''You both could. Come on. Try!''

''Come on, Mama. Come on, Daddy,'' we urged.

Mama laughed. ''Hush now!'' She fanned more furiously. ''It's much too hot.''

Daddy looked over at the mountain. My eyes followed his. The cloud had gotten larger. It had reached the crest and was rolling back our way. I felt a tiny drop of moisture hit my upturned forehead, and was about to shout out my discovery when I looked at Daddy. He winked at me.

''Tell you what, children, your mother and I will make a bargain. If it begins to rain we'll get up and dance.'' I didn't say a thing, thinking of that wink.

Mama stopped fanning and raised her eyebrows. ''Why Dad! The very idea! Dancing in the rain!''

''Come on, honey! Is it a bet?'' My father put his arm around her and gave her a hug.

''Oh, you!'' She poked him gently in the ribs and stuck her head out from under the canopy, squinting at the sky. ''All right. But it's so silly. It's not going to....''

Suddenly, her eyes opened wide in surprise. ''Well, I declare!'' She touched the tip of her nose. Her finger came away wet. She licked her lips, tasting raindrops. Wiping a few drops from her face, she laughed, ''You tricked me!''

As the sprinkle turned to a steady patter, we kids shouted, ''Mama, you promised.''

Our father stood up and gave orders. ''Bets, open that umbrella and hold it over the Victrola! David, play 'Three O'Clock in the Morning!' '' Then he turned to our astonished mother and held out his hand. ''Madam, may I?''

And that's when time turned back. Suddenly an excited young couple stepped onto the floor. Mama took Daddy's hand in hers, while with the other she daintily held up the ruffled edge of her apron, as though it were the skirt of a ball gown. She came into his arms, and lifted her glowing wet face toward his. Around and around they turned, laughing, as the warm rain showered them and their delighted children watched them dance for the first time.

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