Paul Lerner's feelings about the approaching Christmas season in his Northern California retirement community were similar to those he had about an impending dental appointment. Christmas meant going out, usually in the cold and fog, to lunches, dinners and parties, mingling with a lot of other old people, pretending to be jolly (ho, ho, ho), while, approaching 80 years old, he’d rather stay home in his warm house reading a good book, preferably with his big cat Rascalman, a comforting furry presence on his lap.
These feelings Paul tried to conceal from his wife Sally, five years younger, who still became excited when the holidays came, busying herself with baking cookies, sending cards, exchanging gifts with her women friends, and happy to go out to any event, no matter what it was. So far this year they’d gone to a bridge club potluck, an art club lunch and a travel club dinner. Now they were about to go to the singers party, Sally having been a member of their retirement community’s chorus for many years.
The singers’ party was usually a potluck in the community clubhouse, but this year someone had come up with the idea of having it at a nearby golf club and it was to be an elegant affair, everyone dressing up, with a sit-down dinner, to be followed by dancing to a real band. As Paul could have predicted, it was already getting foggy when they started out at six o’clock. Paul didn’t like to drive at night in the best conditions and he’d never been to that golf club before. The fog gave an unreal quality to the landscape, making it look completely different from the way it was in the daylight. He drove slowly and carefully, trying to give his full attention to the road while Sally obliviously chattered beside him. As it was, he almost missed the golf club entrance, which wasn’t very well lighted, and he was relieved when he finally parked their car.
Inside, a crowd was already in the club’s banquet room, chattering merrily away. Paul, who disliked crowds, stood by while Sally greeted her many friends in the chorus, women whose names he forgot from year to year. Finally, they were ordered to their tables and dinner was served. They’d paid quite a bit for their meals and Paul didn’t think his was that good, certainly not much better than at the potlucks. Dinner was followed by a raffle of door prizes. As usual at these events, Paul didn’t win anything; neither did Sally. Finally, the band came out, consisting of three performers, and the floor was cleared for dancing.
Paul had never been much of a dancer and now, with his arthritic hip and knees, preferred to be a spectator. But Sally was an enthusiastic dancer and when the bandleader announced they were having line dancing she jumped up and into the line. As it happened, Paul was sitting next to the husband of one of Sally’s friends, who was a golfer. While the dancing went on, he had to listen, or pretend to listen, to a lengthy account of adventures and misadventures on the golf course. He was more than ready to leave, hoping that the fog hadn’t already gotten too bad. He knew Rascalman would be waiting for him, ready to be stroked.
After one of the line dances, the band suddenly started on a slow melody. Sally came back to the table and held out her hands to him. “Come on,” she said. “Just one dance.” Well, thought Paul, at least he’d get away from the golf bore. They made their way to the middle of the dance floor and Paul did what he thought of as his shuffle, going a step or two back and forth. At the dance’s end, the band resumed its fast music and Paul went to the bar, thinking he deserved a drink.
From the bar, he watched the dancers, first Sally, then some of the others, a tall, thin woman who moved gracefully to the music, a still good-looking man with a full head of gray hair who knew all of the moves, two women dancing with each other, and suddenly he saw all the dancers as they were 50 years ago, in their teens or early 20’s, girls in short hair, plaid skirts, bobby sox, boys with duckass haircuts. A surge of compassion flowed through him, sadness and tenderness. They were all so young, so hopeful, so eager for the future. Paul shook his head and the youthful images were gone, replaced by the senior citizens they actually were, but now Paul saw them not as a bunch of futile oldsters but as a band of gallant warriors, bravely battling against the passage of time.
At nine o’clock, people finally began to leave. Paul told Sally they should be going and waited the usual half hour or so while she and her friends said good-bye to each other. He fully expected that a heavy fog would have settled in, but miraculously the fog had cleared, a few stars brightly shone and a full moon lighted their way home.