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Two Sisters by Barbara Padgorski

When I was about ten, the local YMCA was starting tap dancing lessons. The “Y” was just down the street from our house and several of my school friends were joining. I thought it quite odd for my mother to approve the weekly lessons as money was tight and I knew that the 50 cents could be used for other things. She left the task of finding tap shoes to me and luckily a neighbor had an old, used pair. They were worn and crinkled but with a little Vaseline on the black patent leather to create a shiny gloss, those tap shoes made me feel like a star! I just knew that those exquisite shoes could make me twirl, kick high and tap just as Ginger did when she danced with Fred.

As much as the dark, cold basement frightened me it was the best place to practice my weekly lessons. My mom had a wooden pole she used to hold up the clotheslines out in the backyard that doubled as my practice bar. Balancing the pole on top of the cast iron wash tubs and the washing machine left about a four foot space to practice my moves. My “studio” was nearly complete except for the large mirror over in the dark corner. I carried it over to the tubs and hung it on the wall between the two small winders. Now I had achieved the ideal setting. Each evening while practicing, the sound of the large metal cleats against the bare cement was divine and the echo to every beat of a tap was a symphony to my ears. Of course not all ears felt the same.

The lessons were fun for many years but unfortunately dance was not my gin to fame as it was for my mother and her sister. Mom had never mentioned her dancing career and I was surprised when she told me the following story: Their delicate Scandinavian complexions and fine features along with their talent made quite an impression on Mr. Perry. The girls were growing taller and more attractive as the weeks and months passed by. Mr. Perry had a cool eye for business and had a number of ideas for the leggy girls to start a career in show business.

My mother and her sister were taking tap lessons from Mr. Perry for several months and enjoyed dancing immensely. At this time they were about eight and ten years old. They hadn’t any idea of his planes because he hadn’t said a word. He was trying to find a way to propose the idea to my grandparents.

Mr. Perry tried to be persuasive in a gentle manner. After a lengthy chat if was decided that Mildred and Clarice could be in the entertainment business provided that one parent accompanied them on their dancing dates.

The “Perry Sisters” were in demand. Mr. Perry could have booked the pair several nights a week but there was school work to be done and my grandparents insisted the girls get the proper rest to continue their demanding schedule. Three nights a week would be plenty.

Most places where the pair performed had piano player who was familiar with all the tunes in their act. They would tap to all the popular songs of the 1930’s and when the routine was ended the audience would whistle and applaud for the girls to continue. Mr. Perry was very proud and even prouder to pass the hat around for donations. The Perry Sisters” would curtsy and be whisked away by the two men they trusted most, eager to get home. As the loose change was counted it was divided equally between the two men as they scheduled the next week’s dates.

After a few years of being in the lime-light, Milly and Clair had grown tired of the schedule and longed to be a part of the parties and outings of their school friends, the normal crowd The girls made it know to their family that they would rather be off with their friends, joining in school activities and so “show biz” came to an end for the “Perry Sisters.”

Milly and Clair were relieved and happy to return to normal life and would look back fondly at the six years of their brief career and enjoy telling their children and grandchildren about how famous they were.

Clarice met Joe and married at seventeen. A few years later my sister was born and then I came along. They were married over twenty-five years when my father died. My mother lived a long and happy life until two years ago when cancer took her from us. I remember her stories well and my children loved hearing Grandma tell takes of how famous she was. In my special treasure box I have a newspaper clipping of the “Perry Sister” that she showed my many years ago. Mom often said that those days were so long in the past that it was like they happened to someone else. We really miss her.

Auntie Milly is nearly eighty and my only remaining link to the past. As Mother’s only sister her place in my life has always been loving and significant. Antie Mil has a way of making you feel special whether you are just stopping in for tea with her special pecan rolls or whether she hand sewed a scarf for you. Fifty-five years ago she married Herb, had two sons, a career in retain and real estate but is mostly recognized as the finest seamstress one can find. Aunt Mil can be found each and every day sitting at her sewing machine, which by the way, was more expensive than some cars I have owned. There hasn’t been a fabric invented that intimidates her! She once told me, “amateurs built the Ark and professionals built the Titanic.”

These two women were very different in their lifestyles throughout their years but the ride they were on when they briefly were the “Perry Sisters” had to be a blast.

Originally Posted (Jul 02, 2002)

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