Sept. 9 was Grandparents Day. I didn’t grow up with grandparents. They had passed on before I was born. However, I did enjoy being around the grandparents of my friends and neighbors. Along with these grandparents instructing us kids on good behavior, they also took time to play with us. Play included “high-water-low water,” jump-rope and hopscotch. Their playing with us delighted and tickled us. It made us feel really special when these adults considered us important enough to play with us. For whatever reason, we were more excited when men joined in the fun. Perhaps it was because men didn’t join in as often, and we kids considered their participation a rare treat.
When these older adults danced for us or with us, we kids couldn’t stop laughing. Their moves tickled us. Maybe because we knew the minister of our church preached against dancing – calling it a sin – we were amused to see these adults ignoring what the preacher said.
I was browsing through a collection of works by Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906, an African American writer who wrote in Standard English and patois), and came across his poem “Itching Heels.” It made me smile. The poem is about an old man who feels that he’s very religious and dancing is sinful. But … he can’t stop or resist the music, and so he dances. The jig ain’t up.
Fu de peace o’ my eachin’ heels,’set down;
Don’ fiddle dat chune no mo’.
Don’ you see how dat melody stuhs me up
An’ baigs me to tek to de flo’?
You knows I’s a Christian, good an’ strong’
I wusship f’om June to June;
My pra’ahs dey ah loud an’ my hymns ah long;
I baig you don’ fiddle dat chune.
I’s a crick in my back an’ a misery hyeah
Whaih de j’ints’s gittin’ ol’ an’ stiff,
But hit seems lak you brings me de bref o’ my youf;
W’y, I’s suttain I noticed a w’iff.
Don’ fiddle dat chune no mo’, my chile,
Don’ fiddle dat chune no mo’;
I’ll git up an’ taih up did groun’ fu’ a mile,
An’ den I’ll be chu’ched fu’ it, sho’.
Oh, fiddle dat chune some mo’, I say,
An’ fiddle it loud an’fas’:
I’s a youngstah ergin in de mi’st o’ my sin;
De p’esent’s gone back to de pas’.
I’ll dance to dat chune, so des fiddle erway;
I knows how de backslidah feels;
So fiddle it on ‘twell de break o’ de day
Fu’ de sake o’ my eachin’ heels.