After Esposo passed away she did not go to the dances. But her sons went often, following traditions learned in childhood. Now grown, the men looked to the dances for the little engaging social activity that could be found in such a small ranch community. Working long days at manual labor, unfulfilled in the drudge of the daily routines, all week long they anticipated the good times, good music. And for the ones not yet promised to another, maybe a spark of new romance.
The dances went on late into the night with blessings from the sheriff who obligingly ignored the local curfew. When they were over, everyone retreated to Mama’s knowing they would find her in the kitchen preparing to feed the appetites they would bring.
While she cooked, she listened to their accounts of the dance; tales of old friends reacquainted, new romances budding, weddings planned, babies born and newer ones expected. She admired the ladies’ colorful dance regalia and listened as they hummed the music still fresh in their minds.
“Come with us next time, Mama,” the boys pleaded. “Everybody asks about you.”
“Oh no, hijos, I can’t. Esposo has been gone just a short time. It will have to wait.” And the daughters nodded encouraging affirmation that it was proper to show such respect.
But Mama feigned acquiescence when under the managing eyes of her daughters. It was easier like that. She had her own ideas but held to them quietly. Life had taught her that it is the calmer breeze that blows distant from the crashing waves. She had only to bide her time; the girls could not always attend her.
She yearned for times when she could be apart from them, those moments to savor, when without their condescending ways, she could be what she wished. She still owned a youthful heart where longings could not be shackled by righteous admonitions from them. She was paid up, her dues all given with a lifetime of toil and sacrifice without complaint. Now she could live a little. It was her turn.
Mama’s public mourning for Esposo ended the next spring when the Mother’s Day dance came to the VFW hall. Everyone was going; the whole community would be there. “It has been a long time,” she thought. “Maybe I will go.”
Her daughters argued that it was disrespectful, people would talk, but her sons wanted her along. “It is not right for you to stay home by yourself. It’s been long enough,” they told her. “Besides, there is nothing for anyone to think as long as you are with us.”
The dances were her generation’s rituals, celebrations of culture and community attended with the same zeal as the Catholic faithful congregating at Sunday mass.
There was high spirit there. The enchanting guitar rhythms in tandem with the roaring trumpets, the tambourine’s jingle-jangle and the rich melodies of the ubiquitous accordion stirred life into the revelers and sustained it all night.
This time she would go. Immerse herself in it. Know if youth’s pulse was still alive.
Her friends showered her with warm hugs and kisses in displays of affection that told Mama she was never a stranger there. And the welcomes went on all through the night erasing remnants of guilt that she had returned too soon.
She had the blessings of the community, tight-knit, neighborly, characteristically small-town. They knew the despair she felt. They had those times, too. And they knew how to get over them. They knew that moving on sometimes meant you had to take along a little of the past.
“We’re glad you’re here,” they told her. “There will be good music tonight.”
Mama already heard them; the conjunto players tuning their instruments, the acoustic guitars, trumpets and accordion finding the discordant notes and smoothing the edges, like spring arriving first making its last thrust through the residue of a harsh winter.
“Senoritas y senores, bailemos!”
“Ladies and gentleman, let’s dance!” The instruments boomed to life, the dance floor reverberated and the music pulsated a warmth to Mama’s feet that long had been cold.
“I want to dance,” she said as she extended her hand to her oldest who whisked her to the dance floor and lifted her into the musical stream where quickly she was harmony to the band’s raucous melodies, showing her absence had not stolen her steps.
Sons and nephews, one after the other, vied for a dance. She made no refusals, each dance a revival of skills naturally honed and every one renewing a confidence that none of it was lost. She amazed everyone with her energy and grace and the smiles of her friends as she danced by said she was not alone in her happiness.
Her boys said she looked hell-bent to make up for lost time. For them it was a relief. Their old worries began to fade, worries of Mama’s solitude, her absence from friends and distance from familiar things, all yesterday’s problems erased by the company of her friends and their stories, the music and the dancing in sync with the tunes and the rhythms her memories had stored.