It was last Saturday evening as I sat alone, staring at the street light on the intersection. What would I be doing if I were back in Greenwood Center, Maine, on a Saturday night back in the Fifties. Well, in the first place, I would be full of energy as a teenager and wondering “what was going on” that evening. Since we had no phone with my father declaring we would never have one in the house disturbing him, I had to rely on word of mouth.
At the time dance halls were “the thing!” My mother loved dancing more than anything , even after working long days in the mill all week. Saturday night was the night for her to “kick up her heels”. Fine with my father as long as he did not have to participate. There were times , though, when he gave up his western dime novels, changed his mill “dickies” for his “good dress” pants and off they went.
Sunday morning conversations were always a delight. Over the morning coffee would be the usual complaints from my father. The hall was too hot; the hot dog dry and too much noise. This , of course, made my mother just cringe having to listen to criticisms of her favorite pasttime.
In fact, the truth was the only dance my father wanted to do was the polka. He was not a tall man, but much taller than my five foot tall mother. As she told it, he always grabbed her and SLUNG her across one side of the dance hall and it was pure hell when they came to corners as she had no idea where his feet were going or where she would end up. She remarked that one day she felt like he might throw her through the side of the building simply because he had no clue himself. I think the fact that he threw in a few clog steps might have thrown her off as well.
The story goes..and I am not sure this is totally true…that one night at Abner’s dance hall, there were not enough polkas played resulting in my father becoming bored. Mother continued dancing, no matter the song but suddenly heard a strange sound from the orchestra seating. She looked up to find my father had taken a seat at the piano and had decided to become part of the band. He did not know how to play a piano nor did he care at that point. It is to their credit the band was very good natured about the sudden appearance of this addition and gracefully brought the tune to a closure, while my mother escorted him from the stage. That whole episode was credited to maybe a few too many “Old Narragansett” beers , if I understood the Sunday morning briefing correctly.
There was also the episode of my father’s “disappearance” as we referred to it in later years. Again, mother was so desperate to go dancing, she agreed to have him accompany her if he could “behave himself.” At the morning briefing, it seems she heard a polka start and couldn’t find him. Thinking it was unusual for him to miss the only dance he would tolerate, she started searching. Nowhere was he to be seen inside the hall. Finally, she ventured outside , looked up and my father was climbing a huge evergreen, being egged on by someone probably just as ill-behaved as he was at the moment. She left him there, went inside, found a polka partner and said for once she rounded a corner with both of her feet still on the floor. I really liked those Sunday morning briefings.
There was Abners in Albany, Benny’s or the Bluebird Pavillion down on Route 26 and over Hanover way was the Top Hat Pavillion. Those were the three hot spots..that is, until that big box with the picture showed up. Television started to make its mark and word was that dancers were staying home to watch one show or another. My favorite was George Goebel and I have to admit I spent a few Saturday nights at home to watch this new form of entertainment. My father divided his time between his western paperbacks and watching Lawrence Welk so he could see with his own eyes, the fabulous Myron Floren on the accordion playing…what else…polkas!
Meanwhile, my mother accepted the television, but in her heart nothing could replace getting out of mill clothes, putting on a pretty dress , her dancing shoes and heading for one of the local dances. Father sat in his morris chair, feet on the hassock, paperback balanced on one side and wished her a happy time.
His one constant remark was “Come in quiet and don’t make a lot of racket.” …which brings to mind the one occasion I accompanied my oldest brother to Abner’s..when I was probably sixteen years old. After the dance we rode around as teenagers did back then and ended up sitting and talking with some others. There was no such thing as a clock in our minds. We drove into the yard and let the car coast to keep as quiet as possible.
My father was not concerned about my brother as he was, by then, old enough to take care of himself, but his daughter was another issue. I tiptoed up to the door, reached out for the knob and my father was on the other side. He opened the door, looked at me and with a grand gesture of his hand straight ahead, remarked, “The sun is coming up over Moose Cove.” That was all he said; that was all he had to say. I went up the stairs to my bed in probably three leaps.
It was not mentioned in the Sunday morning briefing but I figured I had come pretty close to disaster. From that day on, I let Mama dance the polka.