by Nick Young

Dancers, photo by Samantha Weisburg
Photo by Samantha Weisburg@Unsplash

When Ruth Tremayne died, she was sitting in a recliner in the living room of her cramped apartment over a used furniture store in Chillicothe, Illinois. It had been her home for twenty of her seventy-two years. She appeared to be napping, her head canted slightly to the right and bent forward. Her gray hair, yellowed and thinning, hung lankly. Her face, careworn as it was, bore an expression of wistfullness. In her wrinkled hands she clutched a record album to her breast.

And when she died, as she had done countless times, she was watching a videotape, a black-and-white relic recorded fifty-five years before, late on a Saturday afternoon in a Peoria television studio. And just before she died, she was transfixed once more by seventeen-year-old Ruth Tremayne boogalooing to Arthur Conley’s “Sweet Soul Music.” Lissome in hip-huggers and tight sweater, she swooped and shimmied from side to side, arms and hands gliding, serpentine, through the air. Her face glowed beneath blonde flip hair, her every movement in sinuous rhythm with her handsome partner. And in those moments before she died, Ruth saw deejay Lou Ventri step before the camera as the song faded out and declare:

“Alright! Groovy! We’ve got our champions! Are you ready? By your votes out there, Peoria, the winners of the Rock-A-Rama dance contest are…couple number three—Ruth Tremayne and Pete Goodrum!”

And through dimming eyes, Ruth watched her young self clasp both hands over her open mouth in surprise and delight, while her partner shifted from one foot to the other and dropped his crewcut head self-consciously.

“And we’ve got prizes,” Lou Ventri hyped on. “For you, Pete,a twenty-five dollar gift certificate from the Men’s Shop at Bergner’s…and for you, Ruth, the brand new album by the Strawberry Alarm Clock specially autographed by all the guys in the group.”

And as she watched, Ruth was exultant once more in the consummate moment of her life, a magical alignment of the cosmos that would never happen again. The exhilaration she felt banished all that had followed—her love for Pete and their dream of a future together shattered when he stepped on a landmine in Vietnam, her descent into a depression so profound that she never fully recovered, caught in a vortex of self-negation that led to long and torturous years of running to the refuge of drugs and alcohol, stumbling through one mediocre job after another, barely getting by. What family she had turned from her in dismay; friends moved on with their own lives, unable to recognize the woman once at the center of their social universe, their beloved “Baby Ruthie.”

As old age and infirmity set in, amid the haze of gin that enveloped her, Ruth sought out the balm of the long-ago video more and more often. And, at the end, it was there in that studio, young and alive, losing herself in the sweet soul groove with the boy she loved that she found heaven, she found peace, and she left this world.

This piece first appeared in Pigeon Review

Nick Young

Nick Young is a retired award-winning CBS News Correspondent. His writing has appeared in more than thirty publications including the Pennsylvania Literary Journal, The Garland Lake Review, The Remington Review, The San Antonio Review, The Best of CaféLit 11 and Vols. I and II of the Writer Shed Stories anthologies. He lives outside Chicago.