It was the summer of 1964 in our Dewey Beach cottage on Rodney Street. If you’ve ever seen the now-vintage 1971 movie, “The Summer of ’42,” you can imagine what I mean. Dewey Beach was a stretch of mostly simple, old-fashioned cottages. Our street was a little busier as there were docks and a marina at the end.
You didn’t need air conditioning, so the windows were open and you could hear that ding-ding of ropes hitting the metal masts of sailboats, and the roar of boat engines when you woke up on a blue and gold summer morning. There’s no school, it’s summer, and there are no devices to generate homework or a summer reading homework list, thank goodness! Just the pleasure of free days to think and do what you want.
Maybe the Bond Bread traveler truck had dropped off donuts to go with the cup of coffee I’d always had since the age of 4 – Instant Taster’s Choice. My grandmother flirted with the breadman. His last name was Spicer, and he was as happy as his jelly rolls.
Then I was watching “I Love Lucy” on the black and white TV at 11 a.m. There was a box to rotate the antenna on the roof, but there was only one station, Channel 16 in Salisbury, Maryland, and it wasn’t. all reliable. After “Lucy”, I sat on the floor and watched “The Jack LaLanne Show”, an exercise program to work the jelly roll! Hula Hoops were more fun though.
My friend Georgeanne was my favorite summer friend. We laughed all night in the back bedroom, paneled in knotty pine wood covered in what looked like disapproving eyes. We shared laughs about the quirky boys and teachers.
One evening, a handsome blond man came knocking on the porch door. “Jim…Jim?” ” He called. “Are you home?” Georgeanne and I had been rocking on beach chairs making our plans for a night out on the Rehoboth Beach boardwalk and jumping from lifeguard stands, probably. But this man was charming and full of bull. “Jim, you have two beautiful daughters,” he said. Maybe Jack LaLanne’s sit-ups were finally paying off after all!
He was a dashing dust-buster, we learned. Our ears perked up when we heard he was hosting an early morning flyover with my dad. We raced for the marina pier, talking animatedly as we watched our crab lines twitch with the bait-wrapped sticks. We ran to the cabin with buckets of captive crabs.
My mother always fried them at midnight and served blackberry buckle, a kind of cobbler with an undulating crust that looked like buckles, as a crab hunter. The berries came from the bushes in the backyard and looked like beautiful red-purple jewels when cooked. Sweet dreams! But we didn’t sleep. We’ve been talking about Al Johnson, the handsome feather duster, all night. We learned that he was also a night bouncer at the Pink Pony at the north end of the boardwalk. We made it there and sat out front on a bench until he finally came out! “I’ll fly you girls tomorrow,” he said.
Delighted, we ran to Dolle and stood under the Big Red Sign light. “We have accomplished our mission,” we gasp, gulping down a glistening arch of water from the fountain. The next day he picked us up in his navy blue Wild Cat convertible with white leather seats. He drove us to the old Rehoboth airport while he was talking on the radio with Arthur Godfrey, the 1950s radio and television star, who was soon landing there. Al, Georgeanne and I met him on the tarmac; he was wearing sunglasses and a garish Hawaiian shirt, with a cigarette dangling from his lips. Celebrities flying in Rehoboth! Al knew everyone!
Then there was a popular song, “Blue Velvet”, bluer than the velvet were her eyes. We changed the lyrics to “Brown Velvet”, which was the color of Al’s eyes, and sang it all night. We overheard my dad talking to him on the phone. Al was dusting at dawn the next day. Georgeanne and I quickly made a plan. We did not miss the opportunity to see him again! He was obviously taken with us. He said we were beautiful after all!
First, we moved a duvet to the outdoor shower. Then we set an alarm clock at 3:30, but we didn’t need it, because we didn’t sleep all night. We got up at the convenient time and laid out pillows in our bed to make it look like we were still sleeping in case my mom checked, because our usual time to walk around for “I Love Lucy” was 11am. It would give us time to fly! Feeling a bit like Lucy and Ethel, we tried to quietly open and close the doors of my dad’s company car. We leaned into the backseat, covering ourselves with the duvet.
At 4 a.m. the cottage kitchen light came on and my dad slowly drank his coffee and read his book. Finally, he got into his car, slammed the door and started the engine. We tried not to sneeze all the way down Cave Neck Road before dawn. Finally, the car stopped in front of the Draper/King Cole factory. Lights shone in the darkness and the sound of treadmills carrying beans churned in the background. Standing, we jumped up and shouted, “Late morning, Old Bean!”
I should have been worried about my father’s heart, but he survived the shock and immediately called my mother. The ruiner of most fun things, she drove us around the hot dusty August fields all day in the back of my dad’s car, never seeing Al Johnson once!
She later arranged for him to fly low over the dunes while kissing a woman, as we sat on the beach crying to the sound of crashing waves! Ten years later, Georgeanne married Al Johnson, but they later divorced.
I’m glad I didn’t know this when I was singing “Brown Velvet,” but things have been going pretty well for me in the romance department, and a lot has happened since the summer of 1964. are like that!