Don, his sister Deedee and I went to see All Shook Up at the Tacoma Musical Theatre. The energy, the singing, the dancing, the costumes, the sets, all of these reminded me of being a teenager: just waiting to be grown up enough to do more exciting things. The burst of feeling when a girl realizes a boy “likes” her, the first kiss, the first heartbreak, and the mad joy of going dancing and losing yourself in the beat, the lyrics and the pure joy. What’s not to like? But also, the first time your girlfriends ignore you. Mom was sympathetic but I realized it was just my turn. It’s best to be philosophical.
My older sister Pat and I are just a year apart so we shared all of this. When she got into Aquinas HS, her friends were doing more sophisticated things than I was able to do; I was probably too puppy-like and she wanted to have a life of her own. But I did enjoy the anticipation with my friends: “What are you going to wear?”, “Do you have a ride?” “How are you getting home?” And afterwards, “Are you sure you have a ride home?” “Wasn’t he cute? “Boy, you sure found a good-looking guy. “I wonder if I’m going to see him again.” Or, “He had clammy hands”; “He didn’t say anything to me.” “Why are boys so immature?”
One reason for the before and after questions is that more than once when Dad came to pick me and my friend up, some young girl would come up and ask, “Can I get a ride home with you?” Dad always said yes. He couldn’t stand to let a young girl stand around looking for a ride when God knows whom or what would say they’d take her home. It didn’t matter that we lived near Cheney Stadium and she lived in outer Spanaway, he just couldn’t risk something happening to her, the foolish girl that she was. (Thanks, Dad!) And, what were her parents thinking!
I did go to some dreary dances: at Bellarmine – all the boys stood around the rim of the gym looking gawky. They must have been the shy freshmen. At St. Martins, when I was a freshman, the boys were just as afraid as at Bellarmine. You could stand all night, get bored, and just wait for the bus back to school. However, this changed one night when the priest said, “We’re not starting the music until every single girl has a partner.” It’s easier when you can actually dance.
I met a really nice, funny, freckled-faced boy, Terry. He was more like a brother or a neighborhood kid, than a mysterious BOY. Terry and I stood around and talked and then he took me into the back, to the “No girls allowed area”. He played pool and I attempted to play pool. It was my first time and I tore the green felt. (It was a really old, worn felt and already had several other rips.) I had a great time until some older boy said I shouldn’t be there, or was it a priest? Terry was in deep doo-doo and I never saw him again. He was probably on “double secret probation” (reference Animal House) or sent home from the boarding school.
Dancing was a big part of our adolescence. Since around 5th grade, Pat and I would race home from school to watch American Bandstand and do a modified swing, or whatever the dance de jour was, in the living room, the jerk, the stroll, and myriad other dances. When we were in St. Leo’s HS my sophomore year, Miss Memmers came to the Sorority Room upstairs to teach us ballroom dancing. She was a former Arthur Murray dance instructor and she was a character. She had red hair (half way to the back, the rest was grey) and she always wore a nice wool skirt and sweater, all covered by an old mink coat. She had a handkerchief tucked into her watch band and she was a terrific teacher. We learned the waltz, polka, schottische, cha cha. rhumba, mambo, a Jewish circle dance and others I don’t remember off hand. But I could probably do them again if the right music came on. Miss Memmers had us all line up and the girls count off as one or two. The ones were girls; the twos were boys. I didn’t care as long as I got to be the girl sometimes.
When I was a sophomore, our California cousin David was stationed at Fort Lewis. He offered to take Pat and me to a dance at the Evergreen Ballroom. Pat danced a few dances and then a young guy came up and asked me to dance. We danced a few dances but he stayed with me and I didn’t know what to do. He went to get us Cokes and David asked me, “Why are you leading him on?” I said, “I’m only 14 and I don’t know how to get rid of him!” David took care of it and Pat and I danced all night.
When I was a junior, we moved to Wolsfeld, Germany, just outside Bitburg AFB because Dad was in the Air Force and we all got transferred. In our tiny village, we were introduced to Helga, a very nice German girl who got her beautiful older brother Peter to take all three of us Fasching (the German Mardi Gras) in another town. It was a great introduction to Germany. I danced with beefy, red-faced men and cutie pies; however, Peter was the cutest. That was the only time he took us out. However, Pat and I did go to a Fasching dance in Wolsfeld and danced with the villagers (talk about beefy red-faced men!) and we enjoyed ourselves. Dancing is dancing.
At the-on base high school, the first dance since we arrived was coming up. My favorite teacher, Miss Dubouy, who was very good at teaching American History (and had many resources for extra credit) asked if I were shy. I said, “Not particularly.” She recommended I attend. Pat didn’t come, but Dad dropped me off and was coming back to pick me up later. I stood around with all the other girls and then this nice boy named Tom came up and asked if I’d like to dance. Off we went and we had a good time together. After a few dances he asked if I’d like to sit down but there was only one chair left. Then he asked if I’d like to sit on his lap. There were huge numbers of kids and chaperones around so I said yes. I didn’t cuddle up to him but it still caused a sensation. (I was so immature.) Miss Dubouy came by and said, “I’ll say you’re not shy!” I didn’t know what to say.
My last fun encounter had been with Terry at St. Martin’s. So many boys were so awkward but Terry was like a friend or a cousin. I trusted that Tom would be, too. Later at school I found out he was going steady with a girl. She was furious and then broke up with him. We saw each other at school occasionally but since he lived and I didn’t, we couldn’t spend any time together. I remember if we ever kissed, but I don’t think so.
Towards the end of the school year, Bill Haley and the Comets came to the Base and Dad drove Pat and me to the dance. I don’t think I was asked to dance but it was fun to see a name band. In those days, girls didn’t dance together. When our daughter was in HS, she went with friends and they danced together, just not the same dances Pat and I did.
That summer we moved to Ramstein AFB near Wiesbaden. This was eye opener; it was like being in a big city to me. I did go to the Senior prom with Doug Alexander that was held in the Kaiserslautern Opera House. After the Prom, the officers’ wives put on a late-night breakfast at the officers’ club. Afterward, we went home to change. My date, Doug and I and his former girlfriend Darlene and her date went driving around the country. We went to Landstuhl, a small town with a hill with an Army hospital, now an important hospital where injured soldiers were air lifted to when injured in the contemporary Asian battles.
The Landstuhl Castle was all locked up but we climbed up the repair/restoration scaffolding that was there. Fortunately, we had a few flashlights and we enjoyed ourselves larking about. We ended up in the Snack Bar at Sembach AFB, had breakfast and went home. When I got home, I still couldn’t go to bed. I had to go to Mass and do the homework I hadn’t done before the dance. I was one tired girl, but still have great memories.
After HS, Pat and I could go to the Airmen’s Club as well as clubs in Kaiserslautern. I had a great time. This was when the Beatles were first becoming popular and many of the kids had Beatles paraphernalia but I was not impressed. Towards the end of my Senior year, Pat helped me pay my expenses and hers for the Senior Class Trip to London. I had some money saved but not enough. Pat went as a chaperone. She had missed her Senior Class Trip to Innsbruck, Switzerland, when at Bitburg. She didn’t have much money saved after the expensive move and she didn’t want to ask our parents to pay for it. After she graduated, she had been working as a bookkeeper on base. She had money and a wardrobe! We had a great time. Ever since, whenever there’s a chance to dance, I take advantage of it.
When I was out of HS, Pat and I joined the Young Adults group at the Base Chapel. We had many adventures, twice going to see the lighting of the Heidelberg Bridge and visiting an orphanage’s farm. It was in winter, it had snowed (but we hadn’t had snow on the ground at Ramstein) and I had no boots. Pat let me wear her boots. We left our pumps in the car. With the same group we did later go to Freiberg in the Bavarian Alps, in winter where I did buy some boots. It was much a more elaborate Fasching than in Wolsfeld. There were people dressed up in complex devil costumes and other scary beings. We wore our dress-up civvies and danced. Of course, we danced.
Pat and I had a great time in Germany. So many of my activities centered around school, reading and dancing. I still love to dance, but I’m older, much older, and I don’t have the breath for it anymore. But I still have great memories.
While at Ramstein after HS, I took classes at the University of Maryland extension service on base. When we came back to Tacoma, I went to UPS (University of Puget Sound) as a sophomore on a General Hap Arnold Scholarship. While there, I went to the end of the school year dance. It was held in the student center’s big room with a giant painting of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox over the fireplace. I went with my Canadian friend Penny. We were standing around the edges (so familiar to me) and this guy came up and said in our general direction, “Would you like to dance?” I looked at Penny and back at him, at Penny again and back and him and finally said, “ME?” Don and I chatted, laughed and danced the rest of the evening.
We made a date to meet for tennis the following Sunday. It rained so we went to the Bowlero Lanes in Lakewood where I showed him my non-prowess at bowling. We went to the pool room that had some game machines. First, we played pool and again I showed him my non-prowess and then we started playing a trivia machine. I crowed as I skunked him. He later said that he let me win. I denied that could even be possible but over the past 55 years since we married, I think he could have won. We danced at Jaycee events and, much later, when I had bad nighttime leg cramps, we did Midnight Dancing followed by a spritzer of Tonic Water. We still dance a little bit in the kitchen to the radio, but much less than we did in our youth. Mostly he plays the piano and we sing.
It’s been a wonderful life. I still watch the PBS Great Performances to see the dancing and singing and plays. I’ve been to the Pacific Northwest Ballet and the Seattle Opera and numerous stage productions in Seattle, Tacoma and environs. The enjoyment of music never decreases. All of these memories were dredged up simply by watching the stage production of “All Shook Up” at Tacoma Musical Playhouse with its numerous musical numbers, the singing, and the fantastic dancing going on just a few feet away beyond our seats. Dancing is such a joy and the live singing combines with long-ago days of being young with the movements and the echoes of our youth.
All Shook Up plays at Tacoma Musical Theatre. For info, tickets and your own trip down memory lane, go to TMP.com