High Stepping


Her legs are not long, but when she was in her twenties they were as shapely as a pin-up girl’s. She has pictures to prove it. She’s lying on the beach, propped on elbows, one knee bent, white rimmed sunglasses cover her eyes, a wide, lipstick smile invites the camera in for a kiss. Bathing suits were one piece back then, and sex appeal was truth.

She was born in 1934 and Radio City Music Hall was built in 1932. They’ve both held up pretty well under the years.  Her physique is a bit more curvaceous than the Art Deco symmetrical lines of the theater, but both are stunning in their own right. They know how to shine. Both accessorize in crystal dangles, and drape themselves in gold silk.  The woman is small, standing one half inch over five feet tall. The theater is large, seating over six thousand, with a stage measuring sixty-six feet by one hundred forty-four feet. Its shape and style reflects that of the setting sun.  

Tickets to see the Rockettes are for the 11:30 matinee. She, the matriarch of the family now, has ridden all the way from Virginia, chauffeured through five states and multiple speed limits to the home of her niece, the one who procured the one hundred ten dollar orchestra seats for the show.

An alarm set for seven-thirty Saturday morning gives her and her progeny just the amount of time needed to awaken from their soft beds in a New Jersey suburb, don robes and slippers and sip coffee with cream over a toasted buttered bagel before having to bathe and dress for the event. Conversation is punctuated with soft laughter. She stops at one point, china cup in hand, and says, “It’s good to have my girls together again.”  The sun promises to be warmer than yesterday just because she’s visiting the city.  

She dresses in black wool slacks with matching flats for midtown walking. A soft gray cashmere pullover sweater is accented with a long knotted strand of vintage jet black glass beads. Their facets reflect light. Her short style of natural waves shines white atop her head.

Black has always been her favorite non-color. She remembers her brother’s funeral. He was buried in the family cemetery on a day hanging gray with clouds in 1944. It was war time and clothing was drab then, but even at age ten, she felt herself coming into her own. She sorted through her sister’s closet and found a simple A-line black wool dress. She wore it over a white cotton blouse with a peter pan collar. She found black tights to match the dress and slipped her feet into a pair of patent leather Mary Jane shoes. The eldest of her sisters admonished her to take special care of the strand of ivory  pearls she fastened around her little sister’s small neck that day. 

She pulls a tiny faded black and white photograph from her wallet to share. It was taken just before the funeral. She stands out amongst the members of her family, chin held high, gloved hands clasped together in front of her. The seriousness of her expression reflects the solemn occasion.  

She will not leave the house without lipstick.  She throws the charcoal gray wool cape over her shoulders, wraps the Blumen Tuch silk scarf from Germany around her neck, and pulls red gloves onto her hands. That and the lipstick are the only splashes of color she allows.

The seats are ten rows back from the stage. The lights lower and the curtain rises. Thirty sets of legs begin to kick in unison to the opening number. She reaches out to the niece sitting next to her, motioning her to lean in close. “As old as I am,” she says. “I can still kick up my heels.”

She is not to be doubted.  

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11 Responses to “High Stepping”

  1. Stephanie Says:

    Margaret, love this story as always but this one makes me think of my grandma who never left the house without her lipstick either…

  2. train-whistle Says:

    It’s something about that generation Steph. They never leave the house unless they look their absolute best. She dresses to the nines when she goes to the doctor too! Thanks for reading.

  3. Rebecca Bakhaus-Zdepski Says:

    What a grand day. Excellent recording of history MD, As usual. xo

  4. OldMack Says:

    My office is still a mess; as depressing as a funeral. A few minutes ago I tried logging on and got a persistent popup. So I went to the kitchen and nuked my latest soup invention: microwave-baked spuds, sauteed onions and celery, both chicken stock and chicken bullion, cumin, dill, salt and pepper, a quarter stick of real butter (the spuds are chunked up with their skins on and added to the pot. I’ve made the soup last three days by saving it for Midnight snacks. Good soup and a Train-Whistle tale were just what I needed tonight. At dawn I must go to the hospital; C has to be transferred to Largo for more ECTs. It’s her option. Having just shelved Kesey’s Cuckoo’s Nest, I’m reluctant to get involved, but the last series seemed to help. If I don’t take her shell go in an ambulance with paramedics fussing. So I’ll do it.

    Just before this episode began C bought makeup, including lipstick; she has been barefaced and beautiful for 39 years. Her decision to use makeup came shortly after putting photos of my mother and her five sisters–magnetized–on the side of our fridge.

    Excuse me, I let the soup get cold.

    • train-whistle Says:

      Hey Mack,
      Your recipe sounds like a great soup for colder weather. My Mama makes one similar with chicken or beef, cabbage, celery, potatoes, onions, butter, carrots, noodles and the all purpose salt and pepper. She’s not one for “fancy” spices like cumin (ha!), and in her estimation, dill is for pickling. I like to try different flavors though. I’ll give this a try and let you know how it comes out. Hope you, Chris, and AJ have a Merry Christmas. I think of you often.

      • OldMack Says:

        When the old microwave oven burned out, I got one with more power and a rotating glass base. It has program settings for heating beverages which work fine as does the Baked Potato; punch the button twice for two spuds, etc. I bake three spuds on a two potato setting, i.e. a tad underdone. I cut up the spuds with jackets on into bite size bits, douse them good with Chili powder, cumin, oregano, salt, DILL WEED and pepper and fry them in olive oil. After browning (red-ing actually) I add the sauteed onions and celery. Cover and simmer while you fry some eggs–this is breakfast food for the hungry man on a “frosty morn.” It goes good with ham, sausage or bacon, if his blood is too thin to clot. If you need more cholesterol, add butter!

      • train-whistle Says:

        Thanks Mack. I have the ingredients on my shopping list. It’s colder here than last week with a brisk wind blowing through Rockfish Gap. The mountains look bluer in winter. It’s good soup weather. I’ll be sure to get the dill weed 🙂 Will let you know the outcome.

  5. OldMack Says:

    I forgot the cabbage, and it is what made the soup!

  6. Steve Says:

    Good one Train.

    A favorite line: ‘Bathing suits were one piece back then, and sex appeal was truth.’

    This story was particularly strong with that aural quality I like so much in your work. Very nice.

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