By Teresa Swartz Roberts
30. Copyright 2020
I don’t remember when I got my first hula-hoop. I do remember looking down at my chubby belly undulating and making the hoop form its Spirograph circles around my middle. I do remember the sound it made, a unique fish-aquarium-gravel-in-a-pill-bottle rattle. I do remember the way my body felt when I hula-hooped.
Hula-hooping was a meditation, something I could do without thinking while I worked out the problems that made their home in a seven-year-old’s mind in the 1960s. Where was Vietnam, and why was my brother maybe going there? It didn’t look like a good place. We saw it on TV, a bunch of helicopter blades blowing back the head bandages of men who were being carried by other men who had rifles hanging off their shoulders.
When I was six, I had cried in my first grade class when we learned to make a capital G. My oldest brother’s name began with G, and I was afraid for him to become one of the bandaged men.
Then there was the Vietnam lottery we watched on TV when I was eight. Nobody seemed very eager to win the lottery, especially my second-oldest brother.
I worried that I had tattled too often on my youngest brother, and he would tell on me for eating the last of the fudge. Even though he was ages older than I was, he wasn’t old enough to be a marine or a soldier. But he was old enough that I was supposed to mind what he said if Mother left him in charge for a few minutes.
Thankfully, my brothers didn’t go to Vietnam. I still had plenty to think about.
I thought about Mother and the birthday present I had picked out for her at the Ben Franklin Five and Dime. It was an antique, which meant “pretty dish.” I learned that by listening to Grandma talk about her favorite belongings. The pretty dish I had chosen was red and had cherries all over it. I could see her face when she opened it, while my hula-hoop went shooo-shooo-shooo.
I imagined myself hula-hooping in the circus. I would be famous because I could twirl one hoop on my left arm and another one on my right arm in the opposite direction. I would have to borrow someone else’s hula-hoop to do it, though. I could even hula-hoop around my neck. I played talk show in front of the mirror and pretended I was the guest. I performed first and then sat on a stool and talked about how I had always loved hula-hooping and entertaining people, so my circus act was a natural career.
My big break came one Independence Day. I decorated the Radio Flyer wagon that had belonged to all of us for as long as I could remember. I didn’t have a bike, and I was too old to ride my red tricycle in the Fourth of July playground parade. The playground lady gave me streamers in red, white, and blue and told me that I could also sign up for the talent show if I could do something special.
I could! I worked out a choreography while I tied the streamers onto the wagon. It didn’t take much effort because I had dreamed of this moment for so long.
Before I knew it, I was standing in front of all the kids, even the big kids on bikes and the teenagers who had been playing basketball until we took over the court. I had just my hula-hoop, and it was my friend that day. It moved. It danced. It twirled one way, then the other. In my mind’s eye, I see the chubby little girl with the bad haircut, the horn-rimmed glasses, and the missing teeth moving awkwardly. Then I remember how wonderful it felt. And the people clapped.
So when my son mentioned that I had started hula-hooping, his way to describe the new dyskinesia that my Parkinson’s meds had given me, I smiled. I remembered how it felt to hula-hoop. Similar to what I’m doing now.
Here’s how my meds work: They replace dopamine and try to keep it where it belongs so that my brain can talk to my body. The major price I pay for that is uncontrollable movements—not tremors, but movements that seem to make me feel better. Hula-hooping seems to relieve the pain I feel in my back and legs. When I have dyskinesia, I make the people around me uncomfortable, but I feel better, not worse. I feel strong. I don’t feel like I’m about to fall.
So I trade one kind of weirdness for another, but it’s my choice. It feels good. It’s my talent. I am a hula-hooper. How about a round of applause?