Summer Dancing


Rick Scheideman

Each summer Doc organized a trip to the ocean. After all, Colorado is a desert and what lakes are here are reservoirs that shrink by mid-summer. So Doc, our Skipper and a pediatrician besides, made all the arrangements to take twenty-three boys to the Pacific. We are Sea Scouts, land locked, and yet passionate about boats and water and all things Navy. We boarded a Greyhound charter bus at the downtown Denver terminal just after the group picture was taken; a photograph of boys 13 to 16 years old holding a long banner between us: ďSea Scout Ship 2Ē. Our uniforms resembled the summer whites of the Navy, in fact, we knew they were identical.

At Long Beach, we board the USN Shawnee; an LSM bound for Santa Catalina Island for some naval business I never understood. The two-hour voyage was full of adventure. Halfway, two sailors shot rifles at sharks. Then San Pedro Channel grew rough and several boys vomited. I acted as if the motion meant nothing to me, an old salt. But inside, I knew that Iíd be heaving soon if things didnít settle down. They did. We spent three days in the Avalon Harbor. We pretended to be regular Navy, but now in retrospect, Iím sure we looked exactly what we were, young adolescents on a chaperoned trip.

The most memorable adventure occurred in church. After the cruise, somehow or other we were invited to a party hosted for us by the young womenís group of the First Methodist Church of Brentwood. June was soft this evening. The sunlight glowed bronze on the gray cinderblock siding of the church. We emerged from the bus uniformed. Our faces scrubbed pink and among us wafted the mingled scents of Wildroot Hair Tonic, Old Spice after-shave, Mennenís Aqua Velva, and Colgate toothpaste. We stood clumped and posturing. Our white uniforms glowed iridescent in the sunset. Here and there the white was blazoned with an insignia and the slash of a blue neckerchief tied with a reef knot.

We felt nervous. We knew that girls waited inside. And they did. The Fellowship Hall was festooned with crepe paper twisted and hung across the ceiling. Chinese lanterns with soft light bulbs lit the room. At the far end, three tables held punch and cookies and small sandwiches and a giant bowl of potato chips. Two knotted circles secretly looked at each other across the shuffleboard-tiled floor. Doc introduced us and thanked the Pastor for the invitation. The Pastor spoke a little. I donít remember a word. All I felt was excitement surrounding fear. The record player stacked with 45 rpm discs began to play. Immediately, two of our number, the most confident of all, strutted across the vacant space and chose a partner.

My face felt red. It was red, both from sunburn and anxiety. I desperately wanted to meet a girl and felt just as deeply unable to walk that space. In a few moments, like taking a dive into a cold swimming pool, I impulsively trod the floor and asked a young woman whose face is, now, long forgotten. I carry no memory of her dress or hairstyle. But the flower near her shoulder smells today as vivid as it did than evening. So, too, the intoxicating touch of my fingers along her waist.

But for me, it is the light, the lingering light through the windows, the colored lanterns and the heat of my body that remain clear. I dabbed at my forehead with a napkin after each dance. We danced each dance the entire evening. Just once, through the final song, her head rested on my shoulder and she lightly kissed my neck.

There is no snow in Southern California like there is in blustery Colorado winters. No cold. I cannot imagine even wind. In my mind, it is always summer. Glowing summer, summer on the shuffleboard-tiled dance floor. Smitten by sensation, I suppose. I continue to romance that moment; the enchantment of holding tight to a flower-scented girl grown into a woman by my imagination.