'Song and Dance Man'


November 25, 1998|By Karen Ackerman

Editor's note: When Grandpa opens an old trunk, and pulls out his bowler and gold-tipped cane, a vaudeville man suddenly comes to life, doing the old soft shoe for his favorite audience - his grandchildren.

Grandpa was a song and dance man who once danced on the vaudeville stage.

When we visit, he tells us about a time before people watched TV, back in the good old days, the song and dance days.

"Supper in an hour!" Grandma calls from the kitchen.

"I wonder if my tap shoes still fit?" Grandpa says with a smile. Then he turns on the light to the attic, and we follow him up the steep, wooden steps.

Faded posters of Grandpa when he was young hang on the walls. He moves some cardboard boxes and a rack of Grandma's winter dresses out of the way, and we see a dusty brown, leather-trimmed trunk in the corner.

FTC As soon as Grandpa opens it, the smell of cedar chips and old things saved fills the attic. Inside are his shoes with the silver, half-moon taps on the toes and heels, bowler hats and top hats, and vests with stripes and matching bow ties.

We try on the hats and pretend we're dancing on a vaudeville stage, where the bright lights twinkle and the piano player nods his head along with the music.

After wiping his shoes with a cloth he calls a shammy, Grandpa puts them on. He tucks small, white pads inside the shoes so his corns won't rub, and he turns on the lamps and aims each one down like a spotlight.

He sprinkles a little powder on the floor, and it's show time. We sit on one of Grandma's woolen blankets, clap our hands, and call out, "Yay, Grandpa!"

The song and dance man begins to dance the old soft shoe. His feet move slowly at first, while his tap shoes make soft, slippery sounds like rain on a tin roof.

We forget that it's Grandpa dancing, and all we can hear is the silvery tap of two feet, and all we can see is a song and dance man gliding across a vaudeville stage.

He says, "Watch this!" and does a new step that sounds like a woodpecker tapping on a tree. Suddenly, his shoes move faster, and he begins to sing. His voice is as round and strong as a canyon echo, and his cheeks get rosy as he sings "Yankee Doodle Boy," a song he knows from the good old days.

There are too many dance steps and too many words in the song for us to remember, but the show is better than any show on TV.

He spins and jumps into the air. Touching the stage again, he kneels with his arms spread out, and the silk top hat and gold-tipped cane lie side by side at his feet. His shoes are still, and the show is over.

We stand up together and clap our hands, shouting "Hurray!" and "More!" but Grandpa only smiles and shakes his head, all out of breath. He takes off his tap shoes, wraps them gently in the shammy cloth, and puts them back in the leather-trimmed trunk. carefully folds his vest and lays the top hat and cane on it, and we follow him to the stairway.

Grandpa holds on to the rail as we go down the steps. At the bottom he hugs us, and we tell him we wish we could have seen him dance in the good old days, the song and dance days. He smiles, and whispers that he wouldn't trade a million good old days for the days he spends with us.

But as he turns off the attic light, Grandpa glances back up the stairs, and we wonder how much he really misses that time on the vaudeville stage, when he was a song and dance man.

CREDIT: From the book SONG AND DANCE MAN by Karen Ackerman, illustrated by Stephen Gammell. Copyright 1998 by Karen Ackerman. Illustrations copyright 1998 by Stephen Gammell. Reprinted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.

Pub Date: 11/25/98

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