When I went to sleep last night, I took a journey, drifting tranquilly through the world of long ago, when I was a teenager. In that dream, once again, I met Christine, and Helen, and Mary Lou, and Betty, and Blondie, and Hope and yes, there was a Beverly, too.
For these were the girls of summer.
We all lived in a small New England factory town, Stamford, Connecticut, located about 35 miles from New York City, population in 1934, about 30,000.
We all attended Stamford High School (colors: orange and black). Some of us, like me, were on the football team. Others were cheerleaders or members of the band. The girls filled the wooden, slatted grandstand for the home games at Halloween Park, sweltering in the early autumn heat (we called it Indian Summer), and then freezing as late fall became winter and the bitter wind off Long Island Sound bit deeply into our bones.
It was then that the girls, stomping up and down in unison to keep warm, shouted this song which, in today’s parlance, would be regarded as incredibly corny, but then we regarded it as incredibly cool.
“Beer, beer for old Stamford High
Shake up the cocktails
Bring on the rye
Send the freshman out for gin
Don’t let a sober sophomore in
We stagger on
But we never fall
We sober up
On wood alcohol
When we’re drunk
We fight like hell
For the honor of Stamford High”
On Sundays, we went to the Methodist Church. It didn’t matter that some were Catholic or Jewish – we just went. Why? Because the Methodist Church had:
1. A bowling alley in the basement
2. A basketball court one flight up
3. A young Pastor, barely out of Divinity School, with wildly progressive ideas about religious tolerance.
4. And last, but of prime importance: great back pews where we could huddle with our individual girl friends while the gigantic pipe organ boomed encouragement.
Then after Sunday services were over, we headed down Main Street to Hatch’s Ice Cream Parlor. There we probed the gooey delights of Hatch’s Sunday Special. It was called, appropriately enough, a “Dusty Sundae”.
2 large scoops vanilla ice cream
Pour on chocolate sauce
Sprinkle with powdered malted milk
Cover with a dollop of fresh whipped cream
Garnish with Maraschino cherry
Price: 25 cents
Many was the time we boys would pool all our change, and when we came up short, we would feel the sweet breath of summer as the girls helped us out secretly under the table, slipping us a dime or a quarter to meet the bill.
When World War II devastated our town and all the boys went off to war and the bugles blared, the Girls of Summer were there for us:
They were there for us when Pearl Harbor was attacked.
They were there for us when they prayed for us at the Methodist Church, the Catholic Church and the Jewish Synagogue.
And when we died at places like Guadalcanal, Attu, Kiska, Normandy, Bastogne, Anzio, Cassino and Berlin, the girls of summer were there for us again. They followed in the wake of the Western Union boy on the bicycle who delivered that terrible laconic telegram:
“The Secretary of War regrets to inform you, your son Myron Mantell, killed in action, 6 June 1944 in Normandy, France.”
They were there for us when they visited our bereaved parents and their families, and held them to their bosoms, sharing their grief. They brought food and little cakes of sympathy, remembrance and love.
And when it was finally over, we came marching back. And although the girls of summer greeted us warmly, it was not the same. It was never the same again.
The Methodist Church had been razed. Hatch’s Ice Cream Parlor burned to the ground.
They were gone. And we were gone too; our faith; our naiveté; and our innocence.
Win Goulden is a writer living in California. This story and more can be found in his book Glimpses.
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