Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Grand Rivers, Kentucky, 1956

I’ve been diligently working on a short story for days, so I decided to take a break and clean out my desk. My old diary was in the first drawer I opened, so I thumbed through the faded pages to see what I was doing on this date all those years ago.

I was in Grand Rivers, Kentucky.

It was August, 1956, and my cousin, Patsy Elsey, and I were both fifteen. When she and her family came from Indianapolis to Kentucky for their annual visit, they invited me to accompany them on a fishing trip to Kentucky Lake.

I was excited beyond words. Among the things I packed was my new outfit:  a white sleeveless blouse and a pair of bright red shorts. And my diary. I recorded everything back then, and I rarely spent a night away from home without it.
We stayed in Grand Rivers, a sleepy little town on Kentucky Lake.  Not much was there other than a grocery store, a rundown diner, an old brick schoolhouse and a small concrete motel, where we stayed for a week.

Patsy Elsey and I hurriedly unpacked and rushed outside where the only moving object was an elderly woman sweeping the porch of the grocery store across the street.
“There is nothing going on in this one-horse town!” I said.
“No boys anywhere!” said Patsy Elsey.
We could not have been more wrong.
The next morning, Uncle Terrell and Aunt Eva and the boys rose at the crack of dawn and headed for the lake with their fishing gear. Much later, when Patsy Elsey and I got up, we plopped down in folding chairs on the motel lawn, sipping our coffee and mourning our fate.

“What are we going to DO all week in this hick town?” said Patsy Elsey.
It was then that we spotted two teenage boys sauntering down the road directly in front of us. Across the street, three boys were exiting the grocery store. Several more were milling around in front of the diner.
All were staring at us.
After that, boys were everywhere. When we walked out the door each morning, two or three were perched on the steps of the grocery, others ambling up and down the road. When we took long walks each day, several tagged along. When we went swimming, they were there. Always at a distance.

We often strolled down to the diner where we sat on saggy stools at the counter sipping Cherry Cokes, munching on potato chips and chatting with Joyce, the waitress. It seemed Don’t Be Cruel or Blueberry Hill was always playing on the jukebox.

It wasn’t long before one boy after another began sidling in. Some sat at tables pretending not to notice us; others played the pinball machine, sneaking looks every now and then.
Joyce popped her gum and winked at us: “Looks like y'all got a followin.’”
One day, two more boys appeared. And they weren't too shy to talk to us. They just walked right up and introduced themselves.

Bud was a handsome, muscular boy with a deep tan; Richie was thin and pale, with freckles and the brightest red hair I had ever seen.
We were both interested in Bud, of course.

“He’s a dreamboat,” whispered Patsy Elsey.

I thought so, too. But she had the upper hand. She knew how to flirt.

“You chicks wanna go out sometime?” said Bud.

Patsy Elsey batted her eyes and gave him a coquettish smile. “Depends on what you’ve got in mind.”
As luck would have it, little red-headed Richie liked me. And every time I turned around, he was at my elbow.
“My dad’s got a boat, Brenda. Want to go for a ride?”
“No, thank you, I get real bad sunburns.”
They were not deterred.

They showed up as we were having our coffee each morning and accompanied us on our daily walks, Patsy Elsey and Bud flirting endlessly; Richie and me laughing and kidding around. He was from Michigan, he said, and had been vacationing on Kentucky Lake with his family since he was a tot. He planned to be a chemist, and he didn't laugh when I said I wanted to be an actress.
Soon the four of us were zooming across the lake at breakneck speed in the big blue-and-white boat, Richie at the wheel. We all went swimming together. He bought my Cokes and chips at the diner and sat gazing into my eyes, fascinated by anything I had to say. And he kept me laughing all the time.
On our last night in Grand Rivers, Bud invited us to a dinner at the schoolhouse, just across the street from our motel. Uncle Terrell forbade us to go, but relented after a little coaxing from Aunt Eva: "Oh, come on, Doc! It's just across the street!"
It looked as if the whole town of Grand Rivers had turned out; the place was packed. And when we arrived, men were bidding on box lunches the women had prepared. Just like in the olden days.

Richie bid on one and shared it with us. Afterwards, there was a beauty contest.

“Come on, all you guys,” yelled the master of ceremonies, “Bid on your favorite ladies, just a nickel a vote!”

Suddenly, Richie jumped up and waved a ten-dollar bill in the air. He pointed to me. "All the votes this can buy for that girl there!"
As everyone looked at me, I scrunched down in my seat. “Richie! Don't do that!”
“Why not? You're the prettiest girl in the place!”
My heart did a flip-flop.
As it turned out, a six-year-old girl beat me out. But Bud and Richie walked us across the street to the motel that night; Bud's arm around Patsy Elsey; Richie and I walking along side-by-side. (I was a prude…wouldn’t even let him hold my hand!)

“See y’all tomorrow,” Bud called as they took off into the starlit night.

Richie turned and waved. “We’ll take another speedboat ride!”
By the time the sun rose the next morning, we were headed home.

I couldn’t get Richie off my mind, sorry I didn’t let him put his arm around me. Or tell him goodbye. I looked over at Patsy Elsey, wondering if she was thinking about Bud.  She was fast asleep, head back, mouth open. 

About half way home, we pulled into a gas station.  A tall, thin teenage boy, ducktail hair greasy with Brill Cream, loped out to fill the tank.

Patsy Elsey, suddenly awake, jabbed me with her elbow.  “Well, hubba, hubba!" she said, "Where has HE been all my life?”

I didn't reply. I was busy writing in my diary.
August 12, 1956:
We left Grand Rivers today…we had a GREAT time! It was WONDERFUL there! We met all the boys in town and went to a box supper! Richie put my name in a beauty contest and paid $10.00! Me! In a beauty contest! Fun, fun, fun!!!


Suzanne said...

Ah, the boys of summer. Great post.

Patience-please said...

The memories you just brought back! I was envious of your diary, but as I read, the scenes were so well set that it triggered my own synapses to fire..


DWYAB? said...

Excellent! As was the nod to Patsy E., Uncle Terrell and Aunt Eva....

Stephanie said...

“No, thank you, I get real bad sunburns.”
I love that line. Makes me giggle...

Suzanne said...

You should totally open your diary (if you want to share) and scan a page, or a part of a page, of your handwriting.

Pat @ Mille Fiori Favoriti said...

This made me smile, Brenda. Life's focus was so different then wasn't it?

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

I love this post. You bring words to life.

Rhonda Hartis Smith said...

I love this story, life was different then and you have such a way with words. I used to have a diary but wasn't very good about writing in it--usually "nothin happened today" LOL.

All words and pictures © 2008 Brenda G. Wooley