Claudia Sternbach at a recent Grateful Dead-themed gathering.
Claudia Sternbach at a recent Grateful Dead-themed gathering.
(Via Claudia Sternbach)
Opinion from Community Voices

I’ve been dancing to the Grateful Dead for 50 years ... I just wish I could remember it all

When you can’t trust your memory, it’s time to whip out your phone and push the record button, says Lookout columnist Claudia Sternbach, who is in her 70s. Sternbach is growing frustrated by her memory gaps — and that “there isn’t a single person left who might be able to confirm or deny” what she does remember. Here, she recounts a recent memory she wants to hold — a celebration of 50 years of Grateful Dead shows — and the freedom she experienced on the dance floor. Luckily, her husband caught it all on his cell.

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There were pancakes cooked in a cast-iron skillet on a small grill in a picnic area on Mount Diablo. There was bacon sizzling in the frying pan next to the well-worn skillet. I can, if I try hard enough, still taste the flapjacks dripping with syrup.

There were eight of us — me, my two younger sisters, my mother, my aunt and uncle and my two cousins. It must have been 1957 or 1958.

I’m of the mind that it was a Sunday morning. My aunt and uncle, both of whom loved being outdoors, coordinated the adventure. I know we hiked, which I was not a fan of. We explored caves, which I did enjoy. We hunted for arrowheads and dinosaur teeth. I think.

I don’t know if this memory has stayed with me because this was an activity we did often, or if it is because it was so rare that it made a deep impression.

I woke up the other night and could not fill in the blanks.

I know my aunt and uncle were very religious folks, so would they have skipped church to head up the mountain? Or did we load up the cars and drive up to the park after church? Or perhaps it was a Saturday and not Sunday.

Or maybe the entire memory is a figment of my imagination?

This is one of the potholes on the road to getting older. I can’t trust my own memory and there isn’t a single person left who might be able to confirm or deny.

I am the only one on the planet who carries this memory. Or was it a dream?

Oh, to have had cellphones with cameras back then to validate everything we did and save the images in the cloud forever.

So when my husband, Michael, and I were invited to a party celebrating 50 years of Grateful Dead shows, I juiced up my phone battery so as to be able to record as much of the event as possible.

In 10 years I don’t want to have to ask myself if it really happened or not.

The celebration was to commemorate our friend Pete’s long love affair with Jerry Garcia and the boys. He attended his first concert five decades ago, and to mark the occasion he rented out Kuumba Jazz Center, hired a food truck which served up some excellent Mexican food, stocked the bar and then enlisted the band Rosebud to play the exact setlist Pete heard at that first, life-changing event.

The band Rosebud played the exact set the Grateful Dead played 50 years ago.
The band Rosebud played the exact set the Grateful Dead played 50 years ago.
(Via Claudia Sternbach)

It thrilled me no end to see so many gray-haired folks dancing until they were too winded to continue or until their knees gave out.

I am always anxious about being in crowds. Don’t know why, but my first inclination is to find a corner from which to observe.

But not this night.

Fortified with a shot of tequila before I left home, I joined right in once the music began and people hit the floor. Hair flying, lungs working overtime. I just kept repeating the mantra, “dance like no one is watching,” even though I could see that Michael was holding up my phone to capture the moment.

Looking at the recording now, I see I didn’t seem to care.

Was it the tequila? Or the fact that with age comes wisdom?

I am now much more relaxed in my body than I have ever been. What others may think doesn’t matter. And most of the time no one is thinking about me. There is such freedom in that knowledge.

There was one woman who managed to work her way to the front at every song. Her long white hair acted as her dancing partner. She twirled, it flew, and I would put money on the fact that this was not her first rodeo.

And the band was so good that if I had closed my eyes, you might have been able to convince me that Jerry had indeed returned from the dead. We partied like 20-somethings, but in fact many of us were in our sixth or seventh decades. This was more meaningful than any concerts I might have enjoyed as a kid. Because we are now much more aware of the time limit we are living with.

So much sweeter. So much more sentimental. The familiar music transported me back to my youth but also made me aware of how many years have passed and how short the time left might be.

So I danced like there was no tomorrow, proud of how baby boomers have decided to head off into the sunset. Dancing like the world is watching and happy to be seen.