The other day I was at Harlem City Hall for a swimming pool committee meeting. I don’t know how I got on the pool committee. I don’t know how to swim. I have tried numerous times to learn. The city has a great team of lifeguards this year, and they promised me that they can teach me to swim. I wouldn’t put money on it. But this is not about swimming.
“Have you been out to pick asparagus this year?” he asked.
“Well, no,” I admitted.
“If you’re going to get some, you’d better get out there,” he countered. I thought about that while I walked home.
Back at my house, I asked my guests, David and Vidya, long-time friends from Port Townsend, Wash., if they would like to go to Dodson to pick wild asparagus. Within minutes we were on our way. We quickly picked a nice mess. But this is not about asparagus either.
On the way home, the sky presented spectacular roiling clouds. “Let’s go to the Border Bar for a burger,” I suggested. We pulled into Harlem and headed north to Turner, entranced by the sky show all the way.
Kimber, owner of the Border Bar, took our order for burgers with heaps of grilled onions. “We are holding The Cruise on the 18th,” she told us. “Are you coming up?” She and her husband Jay and a few other good people from the north-country put on an annual car show, with new, vintage and muscle cars, one of the highlights of the summer.
“We were here last year,” David told Kimber. “It’s a shame we’ll have to miss this one. I loved the burn-outs and people lining up to smash that old car with sledge hammers. We left before the street dance. Next time we will stay longer.”
“Cars, food, fun and music; that’s what it’s about,” Kimber said as she headed to the grill to sizzle our burgers.
“I went to a street dance in Turner once,” I said. “It was the summer before my senior year in high school, a different era, the early ’60s. My dad let me have the car and that was a rare thing.
“Six of us girls went together. We were all ‘good’ girls. Nobody had to tell us right from wrong. We knew. Today we probably would be called ‘nerds.’ None of us were what you’d call ‘hot stuff.’
“In the old days when Turner threw a street dance, it was a hum-dinger. People came from all around the country. With the music, the dancing, the noise, and the free-flowing libations, nobody remained strangers for long. None of us girls were accustomed to drinking, but we each had at least one beer. We were having a great time but I had to have the car back by the witching hour, so we left around 11. On the drive home, one of the girls in the back seat suddenly felt sick. The other girls cranked down the window, scooted her over, and made her stick her head out. She vomited all over the side of my dad’s car.
“I dropped the girls off at their homes and rolled into my drive moments before midnight. I knew I had to clean the car before Dad came out for chores. So I set my alarm for 4:30, sneaked down stairs, filled a bucket with hot soapy water and scrubbed the car. When he came out at five o’clock I was rinsing it down. ‘What are you doing?’ he asked.
“Why do parents ask the obvious when they are standing right there watching. ‘Washing the car,’ I answered.
“My dad stood in silence for about three centuries. He looked from me to the car and back to me. He shook his head, turned and walked to the barn. I never went to another street dance.”
We ate our burgers, each of us contemplating misspent days of our youth.
It’s a new day. I think I’ll give the Turner street dance another try.
(Sondra Ashton graduated from Harlem High in 1963 and left for good. She finds, after recently returning, things now look a bit different. Join her in a discussion of her column at http://montanatumbleweed.blogspot.com.)