I Guess They Don't Play "Cowboys And Indians" Any More Either
Her name was Mary Smith (honest) and she was the first girl I ever danced with in something other than a mandated classroom situation where partners were assigned by teacher fiat and not student choice.
It wouldn't have happened without a huge assist from the Sheboygan Department of Public Works.
I was in eighth grade at Urban Junior High School, and it was a cold winter night in the early 70's. I was doing what I did every Friday night back then: watching "The Brady Bunch" and "The Partridge Family", waiting to see who was going to guest star on "Love American Style".
There was a school dance going on, preceded by a boy/girl open skate at the ice rink across the street but I was no social butterfly. The ladies didn't actively seek out my company, at least not outside of school. I always thought of myself as a decent lab partner and a guy you could rely on to pull his weight whatever study group I was assigned to, but my dealings with the fairer sex were strictly academic. I wanted no part of the rink that night, knowing it would be full of other kids coupling up and me literally standing alone in the cold.
Then, the door bell rang.
There stood Mary, at the front door of our rented duplex, wearing figure skates. She and I were in the same geometry class, taught by a dour man who knew isosceles from acute, obtuse from equilateral, but who had absolutely no people skills or personality. We ridiculed him behind his back, and I'd even drawn a crude comic book "Scrooge" take-off with said teacher in the starring role.
I don't know if was my drawings that did the trick or my rapier wit. Maybe Mary was just lonely. Whatever the case, she came all the way across the street and rang my door bell, mustering the guts to ask me if I wanted to skate with her. I hemmed and hawed and then caved like a $2 tent, cramming on a couple of extra pairs of socks and strapping on my blades. I told her that I'd only come to skate, that going to the dance afterward was a non-starter. I don't remember a second of what happened at the rink except for the part where she took me by the hand and walked with me the four or so blocks to the junior high school gym where we danced to every slow dance. The night seemed like it lasted about ten minute before the chaperones flicked on the lights and sent us home, "Color My World" being the final song of the evening.
Nothing more ever came of Mary and I. My other buddies weren't dating and I think I allowed the budding relationship to die, the cause of death being peer pressure.
The point of this "Wonder Years" tale: this night doesn't happen without a Sheboygan Public Works employee standing in that empty park each frosty winter morning, patiently flooding the rink. The one across the street from my home was one of several that dotted the city, giving kids something to do in the dead of winter besides watching Marcia Brady and the hot Patridge daughter. We didn't have a whole lot of organized sports, certainly not in the winter. We made our own fun, much of it at the city-provided rink. The rink was the center of our winter lives outside the classroom. It's where the guys met to play 'black cat" and "crack the whip". You could easily blow a week's allowance in a single night on Snickers bars pulled from the candy machine in the warming shack. But it's where Mary wanted me to be.
I'm shocked and disappointed to find out that kids in Sheboygan today get no such opportunity.
An article on "The Sheboygan Press" website touts the anticipated arrival of a new outdoor rink in the city in the Blue Harbor neighborhood. Cool, I thought. A town can't have too many outdoor rinks, I thought.
Especially a town THAT DOESN'T HAVE ANY.
"There hasn't been outdoor skating in Sheboygan since 2008," the Press story says, "as the Public Works Department stopped flooding rinks at Roosevelt and Cleveland parks last winter due to budget cuts. "
I guess I should be impressed that the rinks lasted THAT long, and I should be cheered by the fact that it wasn't disinterest that doomed them but rather a lack of funding. That poor bastard holding the hose each winter morning fixing the divots and skate marks must've been knocking down some pretty decent coin, not to mention the kid behind the counter in the warming shed who turned dollar bills into quarters for us candy machine customers. These are austere times, and outdoor skating is probably seen as something a city can live with out when nickels are tight.
I remember that night 40 years ago as if it happened yesterday and still look wistfully at the park where the rink once was whenever I take a ride through my old Sheboygan neighborhood.
I wonder what kids in Sheboygan do on a cold winter night. I know they can't watch "The Brady Bunch", "The Patridge Family" or "Love American Style".
And, for the last couple of years, I sure as hell know they couldn't ice skate.