On a hot Saturday night in July our family ate supper a bit early and then Dad washed the dishes while Mom got the rest of us ready to celebrate the marriage of my cousin at the wedding dance in town. Dad was already dressed in dark pants, white shirt, striped tie, happily ready to go to celebrate. My two little brothers wore miniature versions of my dad’s clothes, except their ties were clip-on bow ties. My pale pink dress with red flowers was perfectly ironed, my Mary Janes were polished, and Mom had tortured my hair into short Shirley Temple curls, using the curling iron she heated on our kitchen stove.
While Mom put on her nylons and pretty dress, and her makeup, and her amethyst engagement ring, Dad’s job was to keep the three kids clean and un-mussed. He marched around the dining room table, his hands locked behind his back, kicking up his heels as he bellowed his Pied Piper song: “My hat it has three corners, three corners has my hat.” My brothers and I marched single file behind him as he sang “My hat” – kick back left heel – “it has three” – kick back right heel – “corners” – kick back left heel. “Three corners” – right heel – “has my hat” – left heel. “And had it not” – right heel – “three corners” – left – “it would” – right – “not be” – left – “my hat.” Over and over we sang the song, trailing Dad around the dining room table, as we marched, shouting the words to the song and kicking our heels up until they sometimes punched our behinds.
When Mom appeared, we were all clean and ready to get into our car after being instructed by Mom, “Now, sit still. Phyllis, don’t crush your dress. Sit straight.” I sat on the edge of the back seat of the car with my skirt spread out around me and warned my brothers not touch me as we drove the three miles to the dance hall.
When we walked into the hall the polka band was playing, blue and white crepe paper streamers hung over the doorways, and the punch and cake table was guarded by Aunt Lilly and Aunt Rose who could be depended upon to deter anyone who was threatening to have fun. To my adoring eyes, the bride was movie-star-beautiful, as her lacy white dress swayed and whirled while she and her groom danced. When the guests were invited to join the bridal couple my dad leaned forward, took my mom’s hand, and asked her to dance, and then Dad, tall and strong, and Mom, a bit chubby but gloriously happy, were polkaing around the dance floor.
When the male guests were invited to dance with the bride, Dad was first. As he wiped his hand on his pants to make certain sweat wouldn’t stain the white satin, a bridesmaid handed him a safety pin. Awkwardly, in spite of the jokes and laughter, he pinned a dollar bill to the skirt of the bride’s gown. After a few dance steps he made a show of reluctance as he handed the bride to the next male, who then pinned a dollar bill to her dress. Soon the green bills covered much of her gown.
As I watched the ritual repeated, my concern over the holes they were making in the white satin competed with the awesome sight of a dress almost entirely covered with more dollar bills than I knew to exist in the world.
When the real dancing began Dad came to me where I was sitting, held out his hand, and grinned as he asked, “May I have this dance, pretty lady?”
Self-conscious and proud, I stood up, and after carefully placing my Mary Janes on the polished toes of his Sunday-best shoes, we twirled around the dance floor, my short skirt billowing around me, my curls bouncing, and I knew at that moment I was as beautiful as the bride, and I had something that the bride’s dollar bills could not buy. I had my dad and he loved me.
Phyllis Henry writes from her perch overlooking a retaining pond in Gig Harbor.
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