Dancin' wit' My Momma

Delta Winds cover 2009Delta Winds: A Magazine of Student Essays
A Publication of San Joaquin Delta College


Dancin' wit' My Momma

Bella Quintanilla

My grandmother ran around the house getting everything ready. She looked like a chicken that just had its head cut off by the farmer and was now running around for the remainder of its little life. She may be our grandmother, but she's momma to my brother and me. Her short curly wig stayed in perfect place amongst all the chaos. I wondered if it was permanently attached like my Barbie's hair. Her flawless crayon brown skin glowed brighter than the stars out in the countryside at night, and her potato shaped body moved around as lightly as if she weighed a fraction of an atom. She turned to Ronnie and me, the soft silky features removed from her face; instead we got the Medusa's scorn. I was surprised we didn't turn into stone! "Yawl go-on in da room now!" she yelled, with that peanut-butter-thick southern tone, words pushing and running into each other like a collision, begging to come out. We looked on with amusement and mischief in our eyes before heading to my room. I was about eleven or twelve and my brother a year younger.

My momma was always getting into an uproar when my grandfather came to visit; they had been separated for years, but that didn't stop him from coming to see us. My brother and I waited and listened for his truck to pull up; we could never miss it, especially since we could hear it coming from the freeway. The truck sounded like a death rattle, but who knew death could make someone feel excited to hear it come? The time we sat there felt like we just waited through an ice age. Finally, I heard death pulling up in the driveway. I gasped and looked at my brother. Whenever I saw the sun kissed color of his skin I felt warm; the long pepper black hair my mom always put in a ponytail made him look like my sister instead of my brother. His facial expression reminded me of the look I had when my grandmother told me my dentist appointment was cancelled: pure joy.

Click, click, click; the noise of my grandfather's cowboy boots seemed to match the clock of my life ticking away as Father Time collected the seconds. My breathing slowed as if I was waiting for the last bit of air to escape from my lungs. I jolted out of my room as I heard the doorknob turn; I was a sprinter leaving my block and heading for the finish line. "Papa!" I shouted, running for his open arms. In that moment we were a picture from Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel: Adam and God. There was my grandfather, "God," reaching out his loving arms to me, and I was "Adam" reaching back and yearning for the touch, but unlike the painting there was no suspended space between our bodies keeping us from each other; in his embrace I was complete. I closed my eyes and took in his scent. He always smelled like cigarettes and whiskey, unlike my grandmother who smelled like peppermint and brandy. Letting go, I looked up into his rough face. His face was more like worn leather: smooth, but rough, and yet takes years to wear down. With his thin, branch-like frame I am surprised he could pick me up into his lap. I felt the prickly porcupine stubble of papa's beard on my young cheek.

Before my grandmother could tell me to go back into my room, I turned around sadly and walked the last mile back to my cell. My brother and I decided to wait until they were "full" (meaning drunk) before we would head back out to the living room. Thirty minutes later I heard laughs drifting into my room echoing in my ear; the sea nymphs were beckoning me yonder. We crawled down on the floor towards the living room; we were soldiers going through the trenches, ready to attack. I peeked my head around the corner to see what our "enemy" was doing, and I smiled when I saw them.

There was momma, papa, and their friends dancing, their bodies moving and swaying as if they had invented how the wind moves; I was watching a tribe doing a magical dance only they knew. Suddenly, my grandmother looked right at me and said, "Com' on and dance wit' yo momma." I just looked at her frozen, with complete confusion, my expression saying she really just told me Jesus was going to cook dinner. "Well, baby, let momma see what you got," she called. Should I go and embarrass myself in front of this tribe and attempt to do their sacred dance? Should I dance wit' my momma? I moved to the middle of the living room and stared at the natives as they waited for me to imitate their ritual. Then I started to move, and let me just say jello in a bowl could dance better than me. My grandmother chuckled and said, "Oh shit, now that ain't how you 'pose to mov'." I watched her; as I closed my eyes and let my body listen to the music, Johnny Taylor howling that blues in the background. "I'm sending you a kiss baby, put it where you wanna and you don't need a candy man and you'll always have a friend."

My arms moved away from my body while my legs tried to keep up, as my feet lifted up and coordinated the circus. I was dancing wit' my momma and smiling the last real smile known to mankind. It's genuine, loving, and hard, a reflection of my grandmother. We danced until the rooster sang. I was so happy that night I know I made love jealous. The memory pops up every time I hear someone sing the blues, especially that good ol' Johnny Taylor. To me it wasn't just partying with my drunken relatives. It was a gathering of old and new, an embodiment and physical act of love, but most importantly of all it was a dance wit' my momma.