Tiny Dancer

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When she lived at the first assisted living place in Hollywood, which we’ll call Twilight Village, she was known as “the dancer.” That’s not a surprise, because she’d been a dancer all her life, and she came alive on the dance floor. At Twilight, they played swing bands and Tom Jones and a little bit of Frank, and she moved around with some of the other ladies, or in the arms of a loveable married guy who no longer recognized his wife. Or she moved by herself, all hips and pointed toes.

One holiday season at The Village, she entertained the room with an Irish rhumba,  circling the floor in kitten heels. If there was a piano, or a tinny boom-box to accompany her,  she stepped rhythmically across the glued down carpet, waving her scarf provocatively at the caregivers, wishing she had a cigarette.

All the years of training in classes and at The High School of Performing Arts paid off when she became a June Taylor dancer, an Away-We-Go girl for The Jackie Gleason show in the 1950s. She wore leotards or ballgowns, fishnets or tight-fitting dresses. And dancers moved in unison, leaping and dipping and keeping the beat of the orchestra.

Pat was lean, with shoulders that held her coats and peplum-sleeved jackets. She claimed to have had a 21-inch waist when she was fit model for Evan Piccone and others on  Seventh Avenue. She said she owed her figure to all the dancing and a diet of scramble eggs, cigarettes, and coffee.

In Spain, she danced with the Spanish toreadors, and years later, after a few drinks, did the Jitterbug and the Lindy with my dad at parties, or in our New York living room.  At my 8th birthday party, she danced groovy-style to Carole King’s “I Feel the Earth Move…”, while her colorful bangles clinked against her cocktail glass.

A few months ago, at the Armenian-run board & care in Atwater, they say she danced  in her wheelchair. Don, who wears faded jeans and tells stories about his brushes with celebrities, sings weekly to the weary and misshapen older ladies. They say Don did an inspired version of Billy Joel’s “Uptown Girl,” and Pat came alive, as if she’d never been gone. They say she looked as happy as a young girl, nodding her head and tapping her fingers on the side of the chair. Sometimes, I want to believe what they say.

Surfmaid Gets Crowned

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Some things that happen in 1951:

The Rosenbergs are sentenced to death for espionage.

A dozen eggs cost  24 cents.

In May, The United States performs the first thermonuclear test as part of Operation Greenhouse. 

The first coast-to-coast telephone call is made in November.

J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye is published by Little Brown.

I Love Lucy, one of the first scripted television shows using three cameras, debuts on CBS.

The term rock n’ roll  is coined by the disk jockey Alan Reed.

Seasoned labor activists and Marxists launch a radical vision for gay liberation by founding what they call a “homophile” organization.

A photographer spots my mother, 19, at a local beach in New York. He takes her picture and she is reluctantly entered into a beauty contest.

In 1951, Patricia L. is crowned Miss Surfmaid. Accompanied by her mother, Pat travels for the first time on an airplane to Spain. In her designer wardrobe and  jewels she tours Madrid and the countryside, crying at a bullfight, posing with a toreador. The press follows her, capturing the excitement, while she inhabits a Spanish alter-ego known as, Miss Playa de Nueva York.  

Cup of Tea



Before the diagnosis, I had started asking why. Why couldn’t she remember our intimate conversations?  Why wasn’t she listening?  Why did she believe the housekeeper had stolen her wedding ring?  Why couldn’t she remember the names of the grandchildren’s friends when she’d met them so many times? Why couldn’t she follow the conversation? Why was my address so difficult to retain?

After the diagnosis, I started asking what could be done. Was there a cure? Should she do more puzzles, learn a language, take longer walks, play more Scrabble?

I asked my high school boyfriend, now a prominent neurosurgeon, about the drugs and the treatment options. He was kind but firm. “There’s really nothing we can do,” he said. “It’s not worth trying all the drugs. My mother had it too.”

A study in the December 2016 Journal of Nutrition, Health & Aging showed that drinking tea frequently is associated with a lower risk of dementia, especially for people who are genetically predisposed to the disease.

Researchers followed 957 older adults, average age 65, who were part of the Singapore Longitudinal Aging Study. Of these, 69% drank tea on a frequent basis. After a five-year period, the researchers found that the tea drinkers had a 50% lower risk of dementia. This is consistent with earlier findings that showed tea consumers scored higher on various cognitive tests.

So I went to Whole Foods and stocked up on tea. I told my mother, who was still living on her own in a one-bedroom apartment, that she should drink two cups a day of green tea or black tea or anything with antioxidants. I remember how she nodded, compliantly. She’d somehow lived on instant coffee with Sweet ‘n’ Low for decades. Now she would drink more tea, less coffee. She could do some crossword puzzles while drinking tea.

That day, I thought tea was the answer we’d been looking for.