She heard the sounds of the piano stridently rising above the restaurant chatter and began to squirm in her seat. Whenever the music started it was hard to sit still. She looked at her parents busy with their menus, then over to her brother who was attempting to make a paper airplane from a cocktail napkin and slowly slid off her seat and ran toward the dance floor.
She loved music and the sound always made her want to move and swirl and swing around the floor with her arms open wide. She couldn’t help it. Something inside of her four-year old self just made her do it because it was fun and made her happier than hugging the cat or eating ice cream. Swinging and dancing and moving to the music until she was dizzy was out of her control. It was just what she loved to do on Sunday afternoons at The Lotus.
It was 1943 in Washington, D.C.. The Lotus restaurant was popular among military and government personnel during the war years. The Washington Daily News called it “a sort of a poor man’s Stork Club where the average Joe can put on a dog without pulling more than a five spot out of his billfold.”
The restaurant occupied the top level of a two-story 1926 building and her little dancing legs looked forward to those stairs each week when her family lunched at The Lotus. It was not the food for which she had visions in her head, it was the music. Most of all it was the music that made her love those stairs.
In movies of the 1930s and 1940s, supper clubs were portrayed as places where big stars and popular bands such as Glenn Miller’s played, but far more common were the sort that hosted local musicians. Still, patrons dressed up and enjoyed a time out, dining and dancing, and maybe a floor show, without spending a fortune.
Located in the capital, The Lotus got the best bands of the era and she got to dance out on that shiny floor with them all. Twirling in and out between the soldiers and their girls taking that last dance of leave, or when she was held in her daddy’s arms, the thrill was always there. Music was in her heart and she just had to move and be a part of the magic she felt.
This particular Sunday she had the dance floor for a few minutes all by herself and she swirled and dipped to the live music with her curls flying in the air and was just having the best of time before her father interrupted her short solo by leading her back to the table. It was also on this particular Sunday that her life could’ve gone in another direction. A talent scout from Hollywood just happened to be lunching at the Lotus that afternoon and thought that this little dancing girl should go to Hollywood for a screen test. After all Shirley Temple was a big star and he thought he saw something with the same star quality in this little curly haired girl who loved to dance.
Her parents said politely to the Hollywood gentleman, “Thank you very much, but no.” They didn’t want their daughter to be in the movies. That was the end of that, as far as her parents were concerned, but certainly not the end of her love for music, or dancing, or just being herself.
The author Virginia Woolf once said, “Every secret of a writer’s soul, every experience of his life, every quality of his mind is written large in his works.”
And so, my friends, that was my life during the war when I was four. And in the end, it turned out, I did it anyway. All by myself. My way. Written large.
Copyright Sandra Hart 2015. All rights reserved.