Friday, October 26, 2012


“Memories light the corners of my mind,
misty water-colored memories of the way we were.” 
Alan & Marilyn Bergman

“Already old Fred’s face was creasing up in the soft expression
of someone who has been mugged in Memory Lane.”
Jingo by Terry Pratchett

Memories are funny things. Sometimes they well up at the most inconvenient time and you find yourself in tears or angry and sometimes they bubble up and you find yourself laughing or blushing. All sorts of things can trigger a memory. One of the strongest triggers for memory is odors. For instance, the combination of stale cigarette smoke and diesel fumes takes me straight back to being 12 years old and waiting for the bus to school in England. Don’t ask me why but it does. I know that 40 years from now if I get a whiff of Estee Lauder’s White Linen perfume, it will always remind me of my mother getting dressed for church.

Part of what steered me towards this subject was a particular memory that came up recently and has stayed with me for days now. It is of my elderly grandmother demonstrating the Macarena. Every single time I think of it, I hoot with laughter almost without meaning to do so. It would help if you knew my father’s mother. I have talked about her on this site several times. She was born in England in 1920. She survived World War II there and married my Canadian grandfather and eventually ended up here in Washington State.

She embraced American citizenship wholeheartedly as did my grandfather. They settled down, worked hard and eventually retired to a lovely old apartment in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle. In July of 1992, my family moved back down to the Seattle area from the Olympic Peninsula. I got a job in downtown and went to live with my grandparents so I was close to work. They were very good to me that long hot summer and the only time I felt a bit put upon was during the Republican and Democratic National Conventions. My grandparents watched every minute of both of them. It was agony. I spent every night of the conventions out on the stoop of the building.

Four years later in 1996, I was still living in the apartment on Capitol Hill and my sister had joined me there while she was going to the University of Washington. My grandparents were living close to my parents south of the city in order to get the extra care they now needed. As I blissfully watched everything but the conventions that summer, my grandparents were once again glued to the television.

As I am sure you are all aware, goofy things happen at the conventions. It is a red letter year when some bizarre event from one convention or the other hasn’t made the national headlines and 1996 was no exception. “Macarena” had spent 14 weeks on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 singles chart in 1996. The song was everywhere along with the corresponding dance and at the Democratic National Convention, “was frequently played between activities, and large groups of delegates and other attendants would be seen doing the Macarena dance.” [Wikipedia]

Enter my grandmother. In the summer of 1996, she was 75 years old. She also had suffered from a slow progressing form of Parkinson’s disease for several years. As a result, she shuffled when she walked and she had a pronounced tremor. She had sat watching the convention for a week. She heard the song over and over and saw the delegates doing the dance so that when my sister and I arrived home to spend the weekend with our parents, she was ready for us.

We went over to see her as we always did when we came home for the weekend. She practically met us at the door and she was FULL of gossip about the Democratic National Convention. But mostly, she was determined to show us the dance they kept doing. So she stood up and proceeded, “Now they keep doing this dance and they put one arm out like this.” A right arm was shakily thrust out at shoulder height. “And then they put their other arm out like this.” A left arm did the same. “And then they put first one arm and then the other arm behind their head like this.” She almost overbalanced with both arms bent and her hands grasping the back of her neck. “Then they put one hand on their hip like this.” A right arm trembles all the way down until a right hand is resting on her right hip. “And then the other one.” A left hand joins the other but on her left hip. “AND THEN they waggle their hips about.” My 75 year old grandmother managed a hip waggle that would have been the envy of any of the girls in the Macarena video. At this point, all of us are laughing and laughing hard. It was just as well none of us had a full bladder because odds on that one of us would’ve had an accident.

Nearly twenty years later, I can still see in my mind’s eye my gran doing the Macarena and it makes me smile every time. Thanks for the memory!