The “oompah-pah-pah” of the polka band’s tuba announced the small-town music festival long before my husband Arnie had parked our car. The music festival with all day baseball games and carnival rides drew folks from a wide radius in Central Wisconsin. Following the music, we discovered that half of the huge beer tent was devoted to the band and a make-shift dance floor. The band was playing the “She’s Too Fat for Me Polka” and a large crowd of energetic dancers filled the floor.
Moments later, Arnie and I waded through the large crowd gathered around the wood-plank beer bar. Several of Arnie’s high school classmates were leaning against a section where a clear glass pitcher had only enough golden pilsner for Arnie’s glass. One of the young men held the pitcher high over his head and bellowed for a refill over the din of the crowd.
One of the young men said, “Kathy can dance with me while we wait for more beer!” My heart sank. I’d never learned to dance while growing up in the Stratford area. However, most of the young people who lived between Auburndale and Stevens Point where Arnie had grown-up, had their polka and waltz moves down pat.
Feeling the stiffness of my body, the young man shouted over the music, “Just relax and go with the beat.” I hopped when he skipped. He bobbed when I skipped. The couples around us flowed gracefully with synchronized steps and twirls. Getting a firmer grip on me, my partner instructed, “Follow my lead.” Horrified and embarrassed, I felt like a fully loaded H & S gravity box, being pulled around a wet corn field, by a 1949 model M John Deere tractor.
My dance partner refused to give up. He doggedly continued dragging me around the dance floor. My healthy farm-girl weight repeatedly mashed his toes flat. I felt ashamed, but not just for myself. My poor showing reflected on Arnie. His classmates would think he had picked a real dud for a wife.
As I tried to dance, I had a flash of philosophical intuition. Hell was an actual place; a dance floor. And eternity was how long it took for a band to play a polka. The young man finally led me back to the wooden-plank bar. Sweating profusely, he grabbed a large stein of beer and downed it in one gulp.
My self-confidence and pride took a tremendous hit that night. After that experience, I liked dancing even less. In the years that followed, Arnie and I would sometimes dance one or two waltzes at weddings. Somehow, I managed to learn to clumsily follow his lead. A strange little Bohemian hop in his dance steps, possibly for resetting our timing, rendered me completely unable to dance effectively with anyone else. We decided that my problem boiled down to one thing; I had absolutely no sense of rhythm.
I didn’t think much about dancing or keeping time with a beat as I busied myself with raising children. Niki was easy-peasy. Potty training was a breeze. She did all of the work. When I wanted her to nap or go to bed, she fell asleep. For each of her milestones, I cheered. But I started to take the easy time for granted.
Then came Tammie. There were problems every step of the way. We started off with the birth defect and went directly into colic and other intestinal problems. She also didn’t like sleeping; or at any rate, not when I wanted to sleep. The problem continued into her toddlerhood. Even when I tucked her in at ten pm, she’d show up at my bedside at midnight or one in the morning to tell me she couldn’t sleep and was scared.
When Tammie was old enough to read, she wasn’t as scared, but when I asked how long she read, she’d answer, “Until the birdies started to sing.” I guiltily admitted to my pediatrician that my very young daughter was in the habit of reading until dawn. He commented that her circadian rhythm was probably just different than mine. Seeing my perplexed look, he explained that everyone has a circadian rhythm. That it was a natural, internal process that regulates our twenty-four-hour sleep-wake cycle.
I’m happy to report that Tammie survived her night owl habits and even earned a master’s degree. Thankfully, the college she attended offered afternoon classes.
A few years ago, Tammie and I attended a music performance in a large outdoor theater. When the singer invited the audience to clap in time to the music, I began to clap with everyone else. Or so I thought. After a few minutes my daughter turned to me and hissed under her breath, “Mom! You are not clapping in time with the beat!” I glanced around. Unlike me, everyone around us were effortlessly, blissfully clapping to the music’s beat. After all these years, I still had no sense of rhythm.
Tucking my hands under my knees, I enjoyed the music sans clapping, but smugly acknowledged to myself, “At least I have a circadian rhythm.”