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Monday, 20 May 2013


By Joyce Benedict

Marcy Belson’s 1942 piece last week jogged the memory bank of my mind. My mother surfaces and it’s the year FDR died.

My sisters and I came home that day to our little house in Corpus Christi, Texas. It was deathly quiet. Always mother would be ironing in the living room, a stack of clothes piled high on the floor, Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman and others blasting on the old Philco and my mother dancing away. That day silence.

We entered our modest living room quietly. There she was. Crying her eyes out. Her beautiful mane of hair over her face, piles of used tissues on the floor and swathed in her usual attire, an orange chenille robe with white trim.

When asked about her crying, sobbing she replied, “President Roosevelt is dead.” She cried for days.

My mother was beautiful. She had yearned to be an actress but her father, an Episcopalian priest, said she had to go to college first and then she could think about acting school.

Six months into college she met my father, married, had me in September 1936 and fifteen months later, my twin sisters. Her acting career never took off but a love of music and a dramatic flair for everything she did remained.

She was a cross between Rita Hayworth and Ingrid Bergman and she danced to every activity imaginable: doing dishes, cleaning, ironing, shopping. The music blared in the background while bathing us, feeding us, cooking and dashing us to tap dance lessons in Hollywood, Florida in her two-door Ford she had christened, The Green Goose.

Often she dragged us to a bar and grill called the Rainbow Room where she would meet her friends, put nickels in the juke box and enter her own private world of Miller, Dorsey, Goodman once again and dance.

We three sat patiently until she returned to us and reality.

Coupon books were distributed during those war days. You were allowed only so much sugar and other staples with them. Mother would drag us all in the store, (this included half-brothers years younger than we were) to get her groceries then load us and them back into the car.

To our astonishment, she proceeded to take off her dress. She would slip into an entirely different set of clothes and pile her luscious hair up onto her head tying a head band of sorts around it. She would apply a darker lipstick onto her full, sensuous lips, and attach large hoop earrings to her ears.

Her entire appearance would change dramatically. Off she would go to return to the store getting extra, badly needed staples for our family of seven.

Many times while in a grocery store or drugstore, the music of the bands came on and my mother would quickly glance around to see whether anyone was looking and break into a swing dance in the middle of an aisle, her skirt flying and saddle shoes really boppin’.

We three were frantic someone would turn a corner. “Mommy, Mommy stop,” we called out in unison, “someone is going to see you.” To no avail, we saw that inward disappearing act where only the strain of her favorite piece was lord of her mind at that moment.

She had wanted to be an actress. I had wanted to be a singer. In both cases marriage, children, responsibilities, divorces occurred and dreams were surrendered to reality.

In college I played the band records continuously. Even after marriage and children, I would be singing Chattanooga Choo Choo or blast St. Louis Blues March while I ironed.

Gene Krupa’s famous drum solo, Sing Sing Sing, would definitely get me going if fatigue came knocking on the door or when the full moon was especially bright.

I listen to Miller’s music and back on the shelves of my mind are memories that lay dormant and I, too, disappear to those dusty regions to read their old pages. I get dreamy, nostalgic, misty eyed. I picture myself singing with his band. I dance to the familiar refrains. I say to my mother in spirit, “I understand.”

Glenn Miller’s band was one of the most popular and best-known dance bands of the swing era, his music a careful mixture of swing, jazz, improvisation which received praise from audiences and critics alike.

With each passing year I appreciate and love it more and more. It filled longings in my mother unrealized; it does the same for me.

[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Please read instructions for submitting.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


Excellent piece. You bring both your mother and an era back to life.

FDR died on a Thursday. Every Saturday, my favorite aunt, "Lala" (the babytalk name I gave Aunt Lillian),took me to a matinee at one of the six movie theatres in town.

That Saturday, 16 April 1945, As usual, we went to a movie.

After the Coming Attractions, the newsreel began with a picture of FDR sitting at his desk in the Oval Office.

The camera stayed on the president as the announcer said, "President Franklin Roosevelt has died in Warm Springs, GA."

I was four years old.

This is a cool, very vivid story. Your mom sounds like a whirlwind beauty!

Wonderful story of dreams unfulfilled yet still alive in your mind like they were in your mother's.

A wonderful story!

Thanks for sharing, FDR was saint to my parents, I would have been four years old too like many of us readers...In a life of many small and large dramas, apparently this one slipped by me...it must have been a day like the JFK and RFK. Funerals...thanks for sharing...

I have a friend who so vividly remembers the death of FDR.I do not believe kids of this generation can understand the kind of influence he had on the people of that generation. Perhaps the boomers had that connection with Kennedy, but FDR was in a class of his own. Thanks for sharing the memories of that time and the exception personhood of your mother.

Entertaining story. I'm proud of the fact that the legendary Glenn Miller pledged Sigma Nu fraternity at the University of Wisconsin, as I did many years later. However, he transferred to another school and I don't know if he became an active member there. In any case, his music is just great.

I remember that day well. Whenever it is mentioned, I see myself outside playing with my next door neighbor--I was 9; she was 8, and one of our parents must have called the news out to us as we played. My memories are as strong as when I heard of JFK's death and MLK's, only I was an adult then. Memory is an amazing thing. Thanks for your interesting walk down memory lane, Joyce. Your mom sounds lovely.

Oops! I read 1942, rather than 1945, and it didn't sound quite right. I was not 9, I was 12.

I remember the only radio programming that day was
very somber music.

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