Brother Dave Haffly is the only man who ever really wanted to dance with me. On long ago weekends the two of us would link arms on the stone hearth at my first old cabin, crank up Aretha’s “Respect” and spend hours in a private line dance, socking it to anyone who’d listen.

We were young then.

Last night, Dave’s younger brother, Steve, turned 60, and there we were again, Dave and I, on the dance floor, doing what he always called “The Re-Re.” Re, re, re, re – just a little bit. R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

We had to bribe the band, who at first protested they couldn’t do Aretha justice. We also had to have a little liquid courage ourselves and deal with various body aches to try to duplicate what I remember as once being physical poetry. At least we tried.

I think both of us were a little stunned that Steve was 60. “My little brother,” Dave said with a sigh. It happened so fast.

When I first met the Hafflys, Steve and his brother Dave, we all were in our 20s. Steve was living with several of us newspaper reprobates on the wrong side of the tracks in a Jackson, Mississippi, rental, so big it accommodated first four, then five people.

Steve was skinny and merrily single and working as a bill collector for a band instrument store. He was so poor that for Christmas the rest of us in the “Smurf House” bought him a warmer jacket than the one he usually wore when tracking those in arrears for a clarinet or trumpet.

One weekend on the Gulf Coast, Steve met a much younger woman, and we laughed when, smitten, he brought her home to meet the Smurfs. This was serious. “She’s too mature for you,” we joked. It would never last.

That was 33 years ago.

Steve and Cindy married, then followed us to Pickwick Lake, where we briefly shared another house, till they bought their own. Both got jobs as band directors. Brother Dave visited every chance. And, then, mostly because of my divorce and their natural preoccupation with a new baby, we went our separate ways.

The dancing ended.

The Hafflys were on a professional track in education. Degrees and promotions were part of the drill. They gained respect, the kind Brother Dave and I sang about.

But they also built a ladder to the stars and climbed on every rung, as Dylan wrote. They spent summers on the water and taught the baby to waterski.

Now both Cindy and Steve have retired. Dave sometimes thinks about it. So do I. But, at the party, the music was loud again, and nobody seemed to mind. I almost felt the rhythm of youth, that core of invincibility and unbowed optimism. That time before so much loss.

I couldn’t decide if I was deliriously happy to be part of the old crowd again, or devastated at how quickly time had evaporated.

It seemed like last week when we needed jobs and rented a dwelling and walked across the street to the Po Folks restaurant and waited for the hostess to call matter-of-factly, “Smurf. Party of five.”

This morning I am a little sore from the dancing, and my head hurts a bit. But my heart was joyful, and I feel, well, forever young.

RHETA GRIMSLEY JOHNSON is a syndicated columnist who travels the country in search of stories, frequently reporting from her native South. Readers can contact her at

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