This Life...

Save the Last Dance…

No, not the movie from 2001. I’m talking about the song from 1960 by Ben E. King and the Drifters. I just heard that song on the car radio yesterday.

Wow…how can you beat that music? I was a little girl when “Save the Last Dance” came out, but some of my clearest childhood memories are of hot summer days in the 1960s, spent playing in our front yard while my big sister had the radio on at full volume. I can still smell the Sea & Ski suntan lotion and see PJ and her friend lounging on the porch. Music, a chatty DJ, and ads for Rambler automobiles, Pepsi Cola, and Camel cigarettes drifted out the screen door from our console hi-fi. Most especially, I remember the music, the Drifters, Bobby Darin, the Ronettes, Sam Cooke…happy, romantic music that made me feel like all was right with the world.

Looking back, I realize those summer days weren’t really carefree at all–at least not for my mother. My dad had left us, Mom was working full time and going to nursing school full time–God only knows when the woman slept. I kinda think maybe she didn’t sleep for over two years. Money was scarce and I know now how worried she always was about keeping a roof over our heads and food in our bellies. My grandparents helped out as they could, but Mother shouldered the biggest part of the burden of four young children and a husband who’d gone AWOL.

Yet, I don’t remember ever being afraid or worried–life was safe and secure. I thought everyone had pancakes or eggs for supper a couple of nights a week. Sunday night suppers were always grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup–I thought it was tradition. It never occurred to me it was economy. I wore my sisters’ hand-me-downs that my Aunt Alice carefully altered to fit, and I felt very grown-up. And didn’t everyone’s Grandpa show up a couple of times a week with a bag of groceries? Housecleaning fell to us kids, and we did chores while Mom was at work or school. It was simply our life, nothing out of the ordinary.

Mom studied on weekends–I have a vivid memory of PJ quizzing her on anatomy while I read, curled up next to my mother on the sofa, squeezing close to her to avoid the place with the broken springs. I was amazed that she got almost every answer right. Today, I’m even more amazed–how did she do it? Study, work full time, take care of four children, and attend classes to get her nursing degree in just two years. I’m an empty-Nester, and yet as I try to fit editing gigs, caring for two houses, helping with yard work, the gym, meal planning, and writing into one week, I’m in awe of Mom’s drive and determination.

We never went hungry, we were dressed in clean clothes, homework got checked, and she always made time if one of us needed to talk. What she didn’t make time for was arguing among ourselves–“Ten minutes to pout and then you get it worked out” was her rule. I realize now that she didn’t have time or energy for kid drama and temper tantrums. Can we blame her?

Whenever I hear a Drifters song, it always sends me back to those childhood days–long, lazy summer days that were for me some kind of wonderful


  • Carol

    Lovely blog post honoring your Mom, Nan. My Dad played a lot of Mantovani before he passed away at the early age of 54. There was quite a collection of 78s and classical music. I remember him playing our piano with such gusto, it is one of my fondest memories of him. Also a lot of debt and lack of money. We were always clean, never knew we were struggling with finances, our Uncles and Aunt always helped with fresh veg and meat. And Mom taught me to sew before grade 8. Made a lot of clothes listening to music over the years.

    • admin

      Carol, Robena and Kieran–thanks for stopping by and sharing your memories. Music is a huge part of all our childhoods and the memories songs evoke can be both sweet and bittersweet, can’t they? Mom worked hard and taught all of to work hard, too. But she also loved to play….and music was a big part of her play. Couldn’t help but develop a love of it…

  • Kieran

    What a loving tribute to your mother, Nan!! It’s amazing what love can do–your mom taking care of all of you, going to school, keeping the family feeling safe and secure. She’s an inspiration!!

    I’m glad you have fond memories of your childhood, too. Music ties into mine in a major way–the Beatles were a huge part of mine.


  • robena grant

    I adore this, Nan, and also the memories that song evokes. My mom had seven children and my dad died at age fifty one, leaving her with four kids still in high school and a bunch of debts. They were tough times for her and I have absolutely no idea how she achieved what she did.

    One of the earliest teen memories of mine, in respect to music, is Blueberry Hill. They always played it as the last song at the Saturday night Town Hall dance. “I found my thrill….” I wonder how many guys took that song to heart as they asked a girl if they could drive her home?