Hello Yesterday: The summer of 1963
1963: Between my junior and senior years in high school. I was 16, liberated by having a driver's license but confined because I had no car. It turned out to be a summer of enlightenment and independence and my last year of living with my family. We lived in the country just north of Sturgis as the crow flies about one mile, however, a fairly tall hill made it a two mile trip. From the top of Sly Hill, as it was called, you could see all of Sturgis. At the base of the cliffs was the beautiful green park and football field where I had spent every fall Friday night. The football games were social events for me; I didn't understand anything about football until I was married to an NFL fanatic but at that age it didn't matter. It was all about bonding with friends.
That summer I could use the family car if it was home by the time Dad went to work at 11:00 pm. I didn't need a curfew because the car had one. If I couldn't use the car Mom would chauffeur me off to a friends as our house wasn't conveniently on the way to anywhere. I had been dating a senior with a car all of my junior year and he had moved out of state so I was enjoying the independence of being single even if challenged by transportation.
I had come of age to attend the Friday night dances at nearby Spearfish Park Pavilion which was a draw for every teenager from miles around. Although, I never dated any of the young men I would spend those evenings dancing with, it was a wonderful night of dancing to live music. On one particular Friday night there was a crazy guy at the piano that I thought was pretty wacko. His curly blonde hair bounced wildly as he pounded the piano and danced around. During one of his crazy songs he screamed "Goodness Gracious, Great Balls of Fire." Years forward we would learn he became famous as Jerry Lee Lewis.
If any of the other bands became famous I would not know because I never remembered their band name only that their music was good and fun to dance to. Dances had morphed from jitterbug and the stroll, to the twist, watusi and the pony. Always a heart throbbing moment was getting to dance the slow dance with a really cute guy. Slow dances came with any variety of styles and steps; the only criteria for the girl was to be a good follower and I tried hard to be just that.
Two big events were held in the Black Hills each summer. The first was the Days of '76 in Deadwood famous for the authentic historical parade and professional rodeo. For young people it was the carnival on main street and the big street dance. The difference between this street dance and the Spearfish Friday night dances was the age group and further distances from which young people came. With the drinking age 19 at the time, college kids from even other states would come to party at "The Days." Tents popped up all over the hills as young people took up weekend residence for the festival. I only have "festival" type memories of the event as having been a great deal of fun and laughter.
The next event was the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally which in the 1960's was still pretty much a professional race with street dance. Today it is a massively commercial event that lacks the atmosphere it used to have. There were no big gang presences yet nor huge organized camp sites. It was a small town venue that was simple fun. One particular evening three of us had been out to the Bear Butte Swimming pool and met three Minnesota boys. The pool was the offshoot of Bear Butte Lake and at that time highly cared for and popular. There were no gates so if you were there after swim hours you were there at your own risk. Many tent camps were set up around the pool during the rally and all were free. We were not risk takers and trouble was pretty much non-existent then. The boys were clean cut high school age or early college. I remember the girl conversation as we were being cased by the boys. I get the handsome dark headed one, was one comment. The other girl picked another of the three and I, not being an alpha type, figured the third young man was just fine. I never considered myself pretty as I was never flirted with by many boys and had few just random dates. When the handsome boy chosen by my friend had no such intention and came right up to me and started up a conversation I was in shock. My impression was not that I was great but that "I wasn't that bad after all." Interesting how your opinion of yourself is based upon all of the negatives you have heard over your lifetime. I had a wonderful evening with that young man who returned to my parents house two years later to see if I was still around. A big loss for me as I wasn't. He was interesting, friendly and so very polite.
Towards the end of that summer I would fall in love with a wonderful young man four years older than myself, much to my parent's dismay. I think my mother may have come close to ulcers over this relationship but I was totally in love and the attraction was stronger than defying my mother which was something I rarely ever did. He did not go to college but worked for the US Postal Service as a letter carrier. That winter he joined the National Guard and went to boot camp. When he came back he started dating someone else. Today I still feel the pain of that parting as I don't think I have ever felt that deeply about another. Three years later on the night before my wedding he saw me in town and gave me a ride. As we sat in the car and talked he begged me not to get married and said that he wanted to marry me. The sadness of something so broken yet a memory of such a deep love just couldn't be overcome.