Dancing to Disco in Fred Astaire’s Shoes is a memoir about the joys and challenges of growing up with older parents and losing them too soon.
I’m a Gen Xer who was born to parents of The Greatest Generation. My first celebrity crush was Gene Kelly and then Shaun Cassidy. Growing up with older parents taught me to see things from a different perspective early on. I appreciated their dedication to the core values that their generation is known for like loyalty, commitment, duty, and responsibility.
But I also loved so many things about their culture. I’m a bit of a vintage geek. I’m addicted to screwball comedies from the 1930s and film noir from ‘40s. I brake for estate sales, vintage clothing and furniture shops and prime examples of period architecture.
I hope that if you’re here reading this it means that I’m in familiar company. I love technology. But sometimes, in our fast-paced modern world, I feel like I’m the only one who misses simple things from the past like dinner parties without cell phones or the intimacy of opening a letter from a loved one and seeing the nuances of their handwriting. I believe the path to a richer life is through building on the past instead of destroying it or forgetting it.
When I was growing up I quickly learned to embrace the culture of my parents’ era because I was afraid of running out of time with them. I understood that I couldn’t ignore death. It became my gauge for pursuing a meaningful life. So while other kids were going to see Star Wars on a Saturday night I was at home in front of the TV learning to dance with Fred Astaire and Lawrence Welk. I indulged my father’s passion for California history and desert mining towns, which meant attending the Coachella-like historical festival he organized in costume. I spent every November exploring ghost towns dressed in sunbonnets and pioneer dresses.
Despite being the youngest person in the room by nearly 50 years, I gravitated toward my parents’ salon-style dinner parties that featured a round table of historians where I often learned about historical events before I learned about them at school. I was living a very different life than my friends. And I secretly liked it.
When I lost my parents I found myself grieving for them as well as the end of a generation that was never really mine, no matter how much I longed to be a part of it. I tried to stay connected to their generation by seeking out like-minded souls and experiences related to the 1940s. I joined a vintage group to try and find women my age who shared my interests. When I met a transgender member who looked better in his vintage ensembles than the women in our group, I decided to book a retro photo shoot to learn how to pose as a 1940s “pinup girl.” But it turned out I was no Betty Grable.
Eventually I realized that the only thing that was outdated was the way I saw myself.
Dancing to Disco in Fred Astaire’s Shoes is a poignant celebration of the past and the present and of the people who influence us the most in our lives. It’s also about learning to accept that we never really stop trying to find a place for ourselves in the world.