Racine, Wisconsin – The summer of 1964. I’m at a party in North Bay, where the wealthy families lived. We just had a cookout with Usinger bratwurst… I was more the Oscar Mayer type. We also swam in the lake, off a rocky beach, without buoys or lifeguards. My mother would have been so angry and unapproving had she known.
Jay & John, the handsome twin hosts of the party, decided we should all walk to Douglas Park to end the party. It had an enormous slide and gigantic swings, plus three lengthy teeter-totters and a large merry-go-round. I’m not sure if today’s teen would find this a worthy finale for the end to summer, but for us, in 1964, it worked.
We all walked there. The night itself was soft and sweet and very mellow. The breezes carried the slightest hint of autumn. The air was still lush with the smell of summer flowers, and the sky sprinkled with salty stars. The moon was blue and romantic and nearly full.
The night held absolutely no fear. Though it was well past ten, we strolled down Main Street, then some side streets before getting to Douglas Park. We were twenty plus laughing, shouting, flirting, fidgeting teenagers who would be returning to Horlick High School in two days. We were a mix of cocky, arrogant, sweet, good, naïve and loud adolescents who believed they had the world on a string.
Once at Douglas Park, we devoured the playground equipment with a child-like vengeance. We climbed and whooped our way down the slide. The merry-go-round was being spun furiously by boys looking to show off their strength, hoping to get someone sick. The teeter-totters did their best to bruise our butts, as the trick was to make those who were “up” come crashing “down”. The highlight was the swings, pumping our legs until our feet scraped the stars.
I closed my eyes and flew towards to stars. The dare devils would leap off mid-flight, sticking their landings like Olympians. There were several stolen kisses, and even a little more. The gathering broke up by 11:30PM, as everyone had a midnight curfew.
We all walked home. I was only a block away. Still not a lick of fear – I was almost skipping. I imagined how this story would be told in Horlick’s hallways, then laughed when I thought about how exaggerated and hysterical it would all become. It was such a beautiful, memorable night, and void of worry or anxiety of any kind.
Retirement is bloated by nostalgia. It is in many ways the subtext of retirement’s story. Being retired encourages the deep yearning for the way we were, a longing for a saner, simpler time. Mand of my retirement days are filled with a burning desire to have the world once again in my hip pocket.
As I wallow in nostalgia, I am often struck by a single sobering note of my childhood and adolescence – A lack of fear. We had a “Boogeyman” and “The Twilight Zone,” but other than that, Racine was pretty much a “Mayberry.” What a luxury! How good to have a time in life which was nothing if not enchanted. How amazing to walk the streets of Racine feeling as though the whole city was your neighborhood, and all the people your good neighbors.
I will spend some creative time and energy of my retirement in an effort to recapture some of that for today’s children. I know it will be a tall order, and the chances of success slim, but being retired is an opportunity to relocate my soul, and thus, my hope. It sure can’t hurt. We owe it to them. Just to be able to walk around town without a single care. Hometowns should at least try to be “home” for their kids.
Reverend William R. Grimbol has spent the past 30+ years helping people create and develop strong spiritual connections with loved ones and God. He is also a published author, with over a dozen books to his credit.