The Marriage Dance


October 13, 2014 by Paula Reed Nancarrow

I did not tell a story for the October Story Slam “In the Doghouse” – my second skip of the season. This, however, is a vignette that emerged from the material I worked with. It’s very much a work in progress, and feedback is welcome.


The bar was open until eleven.

The reception ended at midnight. It was my youngest sister’s wedding – the baby of the family – and the booze had been flowing since six.

My dad has never been much of a drinker. Not that he doesn’t drink. He just isn’t particularly good at it.

Oh, he and my mother would split a bottle of wine at home in the evenings, while watching the ten o’ clock news. My father would pour burgundy into 16 ounce tumblers – pebbled green glasses they got from the Marine Midland Bank – so he would have fewer trips back up the basement stairs.  My mother would fill her teak salad bowl from the tin of Charles Chips, and bring down a plastic tub of Crowley’s dip.

The tumblers were emptied, the chips and dip consumed, while New York City entertained them with its crack epidemic and its Subway Vigilantes, its closeted Jewish mayor and its Gotham crime. By the time Leona Helmsley, the Queen of Mean – “Taxes are for little people” – gave way to Crazy Eddie – “His prices are in-SANE” – they were primed for the local news: Channel 18 with Bruce Flaherty and Carl Proper, WETM’s answer to Walter Cronkite and Dan Rather. Then my parents would end their day, as God intended, with the Chemung County Junior Miss Pageant, the Gypsy Moth invasion, and the high school sports scores.

But today my father has been drinking in small glasses, and he has lost count.

He tells the hotel caterers he wants the bar open another hour. “I’m good for it!” he shouts over the music.  My mother does not look happy.

The DJ announces that the bar will be open until midnight. Then he puts on “Wipe Out.” A couple of my brother-in-law’s groomsmen assume the position – they lie face down on the dance floor, and their girlfriends doff heels to surf dance on their backs.  My brother and his wife get up to dance. They’ve not been out of college that long.

“C’mon Dorie,” my father says.  “Let’s show ‘em what ya got.”

From the table where my husband and I sit with our champagne – mine untouched – I can see my mother’s lips moving. What she’s got, I can tell, is her own business. “I bet Trish will dance with me,” I hear my father say. Trish is one of my sister’s bridesmaids, blonde and buxom and friendly.  My mother gets up. She pretends to be a good sport.

Not My Mother... but she does come up on an image search for

Not My Mother… but she does come up on an image search for “dowdy”

I cannot remember the dress my mother is wearing.

It was one of those mother-of-the-bride things, some pastel hue with a Crayola name like Cornflower or Periwinkle – a prom gown in almost every respect. Normally my mom, an elementary school teacher, favors classic, professional looks from Talbots or Ann Taylor, clip on earrings, Naturalizer shoes.

But a mother-of-the-bride dress is a tough call, and she would have spent forever choosing this last one, making sure it went with the theme of the wedding, appealed to my sister, didn’t upstage the mother of the groom or look too much like the bridesmaids, getting the right shoes and clutch. If the dress was dowdy, it was dowdy in good taste.

It is this mother who is about to dance on my father’s back.

My husband of six years grabs one of the disposable cameras on the table, prepares to point and click. I give him a look, one I learned from my mother.  He puts the camera down.

“You know what your mother always says she wants?” my father will ask me later. Much later, when he’s trying to figure out why I would ever want to get up on stage and tell stories. “She wants not to be noticed. She wants to blend in. Why can’t that be what you want?” But on that night, my father’s idea of blending in is very different from hers.

To tell the truth I have no memory of actually seeing my mother and father surf dancing.

My sister, however, is pretty sure that they did.

I do remember crossing the dance floor near evening’s end, through clumps of recent college grads jerking spasmodically to “Love Shack” – or something very much like it – and finding my father in the midst of them. He is the textbook definition of shitfaced. “Fuggit,” he says. “Doeshn madder.”

I find my mother with my uncles.

“You’re going to have to help me get him to bed,” I hear her say to one. We were staying at the hotel. “He can’t pass out in a rented tuxedo.” I see her writing out checks for the DJ and the caterers. “Do you know where your father is?” I point to the roiling arms and legs. She sends the uncles in.

The Wedding Dance by Peter Bruegel the Elder. Not much has changed...

The Wedding Dance by Peter Bruegel the Elder. Not much has changed…

8 thoughts on “The Marriage Dance

  1. This is fabulous Paula, I wanted to read more!

    You set the scene so well i felt I was there :)

    Kimmie x


    • Thanks, Kimmie. Originally this was intended to be a story contrasting two “in the doghouse” moments for my father – before and after her Alzheimer’s diagnosis. My mother very rarely got angry with my father in public; she was very strongly conditioned, by society and by temperament, not to do so. However, now that the filters are off, and she is becoming very dependent on him for security, things are changing. But a slam story is best at about 750 words (rather like a blog post) – and I found I needed that much time just to present the first story. I really, really appreciate your encouragement. This is a tough tale to tell.


  2. Annecdotist says:

    Some lovely lines in this:
    Not that he doesn’t drink. He just isn’t particularly good at it.
    It was one of those mother-of-the-bride things, some pastel hue with a Crayola name like Cornflower or Periwinkle.
    He can’t pass out in a rented tuxedo.
    I’m looking forward to the audio version of you reading your work ;)


    • Anne: Thanks for reminding me that I really need to order the audios The Moth has done of my work; unfortunately, I have to pay them for the privilege, and having just lost one of my two part time jobs, now might not be the best time. I am very grateful for how you picked out lines you liked. I do know that there is material in here that probably does not belong – I spent a long time yesterday back in Internet nostalgialand finding out more about our local news broadcasts, for example. I suspect I left it in as a bookmark, till I find a better place to use those things.


  3. I wasn’t present at the part of the reception when this happened & no one would tell me what had went down. I just assumed that it was one of those drunk unbuckled pants oopsies that happen. You could add that! Oh, and that wild girl Trish had bright fire-red hair.


  4. Love the picture you’re using there. Although your words paint the picture extremely well too.


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