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Karen Dalton-Beninato

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Dancing Under the Country Club Sprinklers

Posted: 11/09/11 01:39 AM ET

My mother, whom I'll never get used to writing about in the past tense, lived the American Dream trajectory. Raised on a Minnesota dairy farm, she was a student teacher in the bare schoolrooms of the Dakotas. Finishing her degree, she ended up teaching in the Prairie State. She fell in love with her landlord in Vandalia, a town where Lincoln is rumored to have jumped out of the courthouse to dodge an unfortunate vote.

There was only one telephone and it was in my dad's room. She got a lot of calls. Three months later they were married. My dad was a doctor and my mother always told me how just after I was born, they passed by a 40-acre tract of woods, fields and ponds at the edge of my hometown. They bought the whole thing.

Apparently I was the kind of post-zygote who needed a lot of space. Later they bought the town roller rink, complete with disco 45s and fat roller rink skates. We must have seemed like the kind of kids who needed room to work on their post-disco skate moves. It was a staggering level of abundance for a boy from the Great Depression and a girl who cashed in dairy credits when the family wanted ice cream. They did what anyone would do given the chance. They gave back.

My parents traveled the world doing mission work, and sometimes they brought us along with them. One of my favorite photos is my mother sitting on a camel with a Mona Lisa Smile. I read it as: "I'm totally sitting on this camel in front of the Sphinx." She never forgot where she came from, and was more defiantly individual than anyone I've ever known, given the time and culture she was up against. The best example is our Country Club Dash.

We lived near the country club, but never joined. It wasn't a great fit. But one night, my mother woke me up to walk groggily down one hill and back up another to the manicured golf club grounds. I wasn't sure what was going on until the sprinklers came on. My mother then grabbed my hand and we danced under the sprinklers beneath a small town starlit sky. Cold short grass sprang back beneath my toes. It was one of the most joyous moments of my life.

And it was against the rules. Before long, a groundskeeper shouted: "Who's over there?" My mom answered in a demure voice I had never heard: "Just me and my little girl," and we walked out from under the sprinklers. She came up with some shortcut story, and I lolled my head to the side thinking it would help us look confused. "Well, those kids throw detergent into the fountain and ruin it," he said, explaining why he had to patrol the course. Even though we were caught on private property meant for 1-percenters, before there was such a term, I felt relieved.

Clearly he was looking for vandals. Not dancers.

Rest in Peace, Lorraine.

 

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