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That one last waltz taught him the romance of dance

If I could wave a magic wand and be granted a single wish, my choice would be an easy one. I'd simply ask to be a good dancer. No, I wouldn't seek to be a Gene Kelly or a Fred Astaire; not even a modern-day genie could pull off that miracle. I'd be happy just to be given the ability to glide around the dance floor without stepping on my partner's feet or bumping into other couples.

Learning to dance has been as elusive for me as the presidency has been for Harold Stassen or a World Series championship for the Boston Red Sox.

From time immemorial, females from the very young to those of senior status have cruelly and heartlessly walked away from me on the dance floor merely because I actually tripped the light fantastic.

Believe me, if it were possible to measure the distance traversed by all the disappointed damsels who frantically sought to escape the clutches of this faulty fox-trotter, I'm sure it would stretch from here to the Roseland Ballroom.

It's ironic, then, that one of my most treasured memories pertains to dancing or, specifically, one very special dance.

My grandparents came to this great land of ours more than 100 years ago. Like millions of others, they were determined to find success and happiness in this wonderful new world.

They settled in a small community in Massachusetts where my grandfather got a job in a shoe factory. He would remain with this company his entire working life, beginning as an apprentice leather cutter and eventually becoming a shop foreman. He and my grandmother had three sons, one of whom was my father.

In those days, a 60-hour work week didn't allow much time for recreation, but the Saturday night dances at the Town Hall were always jammed to the rafters.

My grandparents were the unofficial leaders of these gatherings, probably because they were recognized as the best dancers. The mantelpieces and cabinets in their home were filled with trophies and prizes offering ample evidence of their proficiency in the pastime they loved so much.

I remember my grandparents as people who always spoke softly and smiled a lot. They enjoyed being hosts for large family gatherings, especially on holidays, and took particular delight whenever a new grandchild was added to the family circle.

One poignant memory has stayed with me through the years. My parents, brother and sister and I would visit my grandparents every Sunday morning after church.

My grandmother delighted in preparing a breakfast that would more than satisfy a crew of Maine lumberjacks _ pancakes, sausages, sweet rolls, the works. We'd sit around and talk and, like grandparents from the beginning of time, they'd fuss over us children as if we were the only ones in the world.

My grandfather became seriously ill shortly after retiring from his job at the factory, and he and my grandmother were no longer able to attend the dances. His condition became worse as the months passed and he was confined to bed almost all the time.

Our weekly get-togethers continued, but the giant breakfasts were replaced by quiet talk sessions with my grandmother. Occasionally, when he was up to it, there would be short bedside visits with my grandfather.

One summer Sunday morning as we approached the house, we were surprised to hear the faint sound of music coming from inside. A glance through the window revealed a remarkable sight.

My grandparents were dancing!

Yes, dancing. Grandpa, in his nightclothes, was being supported by Grandma, and although they only swayed back and forth in one spot to the beat of the tinny music coming from the gramophone, they were, indeed, dancing once again.

My father, not wishing to disturb the reverie of the moment, decided we should go home and return another time.

It was the last time I would see my grandfather. He passed away peacefully in his sleep less than a week later.

Surprisingly, my inability to dance has not diminished my interest in this beautiful form of art.

Graceful dance routines continue to fascinate me, and it matters not whether they are performed by the cast of a Broadway musical or members of a local amateur production. The beauty and symmetry exhibited by participants at all levels of talent are always a joy to behold.

Still, for sheer enchantment and charm, I often think of that morning long ago when, for a few magnificent moments, an ordinary living room was miraculously transformed into a glittering make-believe ballroom.

I can almost see it again in precious memory _ Grandpa and his bride of 53 years dancing to the tune of a gramophone recording in what was truly their Last Waltz.

It has been said that some memories never go away. I'm sure the magic of that shining moment will remain with me forever.

Frank Barnicle lives in Clearwater.

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