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June 27, 1993|M.H.

"Dear Son," the note began.

And to think I found it on Father's Day, maybe 20 years after he wrote it, 15 years after his death. It was nestled in a Glenn Miller album in a box of his old Big Band records--the heavy, 78 r.p.m. kind that break if you drop them, just as people do. (My mother's even more untimely death was what broke my father. Lung cancer only finished the job.)

I might not have found it at all if the Westside Jewish Community Center weren't sponsoring a free dance party for singles and couples over age 40 from 1 to 4 p.m. today at the West Side Auditorium, 5870 Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles. Kenny Sheldon and his orchestra will play swing, waltz, mambo and international society music of the Big Band era. Information: (213) 938-2531, Ext. 228.

"We'd better practice a little," I told my wife, "if we're going to dance--what is it? The jitterbug?"

"Didn't your dad have some of that music?" she said. "You might look in the attic."

So I did.

He wrote: "I know you never cared all that much for the music of the '40s, but I hope you save these records and maybe play them once in a while.

"Think of it this way: You once were just a gleam in your daddy's eye. And what put that gleam there was your mother dancing to Glenn Miller or Tommy Dorsey in her red, red lipstick and her bobby sox and curls.

"You might think we were a little elderly even then to be carrying on so. And you'd be right. By the time I got back from the Pacific and your mother stopped riveting in Howard Hughes' airplane factory, we were pushing 30. But it was a good time for dancing. Peace, prosperity, plenty of room, new houses selling for $7,000, those first postwar cars loaded with chrome. A good time to start a family.

"The main thing--the center of it all--was your mother. She was beautiful. You have no idea, seeing her now, so ill; you had no idea all those years when you were growing up and she was just Mom. You could look at her high school graduation picture, where she's peeking one-eyed from under her hair, like Garbo, and you'd probably just smile and think, 'What crazy fashions!' And you'd be right again. Fashion, at the time, always seems to enhance beauty to the final degree, but always ends up hiding it.

"Even if I had a photo of us dancing, say, to Glenn Gray and the Casa Loma Orchestra at the old Orpheum, even that wouldn't do it. We'd be frozen in our silly clothes and silly grins. You wouldn't hear the beat of the music or smell her perfume or feel the glow off her skin. And you'd go on thinking--as I'm sure you do--that nobody from my generation could be half as lovely as the women in yours.

"Well, son, it just isn't so. I know because these days, when I come home from visiting your mother at the hospital, I sit here and play these records and she appears to me just the way she was then.

"Maybe if you listen to them--if you can somehow forget how old-fashioned the music is--she'll appear to you too. You won't feel the floor vibrate underneath your feet or smell the cigarettes I wish now I never started smoking, but the notes that hit your ears will be the very same notes that hit mine.

"If not, I've got even stronger proof. When I say your mother was beautiful, Son, you can bet your life on it.

"You already did."

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