My worst date was my first date. It was 1941, and I was 10 years
old, and if not for my great interest in girls, I might never have had another after that one. Her name was Dorothy, and she lived in the next block on N. Wisconsin Street in
Racine, Wisconsin, with her parents and her two younger brothers, Sam, who was in my
class at Janes Elementary School, and Bill, a year younger. Dorothy was a year
older than I and in the sixth grade. In spite of her black hair, and being half Italian like me, she had freckles on her nose which made her even more attractive to me.
One day after school when Sam and Bill and I were playing with my trucks in our basement, Sam asked me, “Are you gonna go to the Venetian Friday night?”
“Why, what’s on?”
“I don’t know what the movies are, but the WLS Chicago Barn Dance is gonna be on the stage at 8 o”clock. We’re gonna go, Bill and me.”
My mother and I listened to the Barn Dance most every Saturday night, and all us kids loved the comedians particularly. “What about Dorothy? Ain’t she goin’, too?”
“Midge ain't got no money to go.” Her brothers always called her Midge, her family nickname from being so small when she was born, that they brought her home in a shoe box. “She bought a scarf or somethin’ with her allowance, and now she’s broke.”
“I could pay her way. I got some money in my bank.”
“But we’re gonna stop after the show at the White Tower for a hamburger and a coke, too. Can you pay for her for that, too?”
Now a hamburger and a coke at the White Tower on Main Street at that time cost a dime for the hamburger and a nickel for the coke. That plus the 15 cents for the movie ticket times two for everything would total 60 cents which was about all I had saved up, but I didn’t deliberate long. “Sure! You think she’ll go with me?” The Great Depression had supposedly ended with the start of World War II, but the economy hadn’t improved enough yet for my Dad, a house painter, to get much work.
“I’ll ask her. I know she really wants to see that show because that big fat guy who plays the little three year old girl on the Barn Dance is gonna be there, and she thinks he’s really funny, and she wants to see what he looks like.”
The next day at school, Sam whispered in my ear, “Midge says you can pay her way to the show. We’re gonna leave about six-thirty. Come on over to our house and pick us up.”
Wow, was I excited! I thought about holding her hand as we walked downtown and then sitting with her at the movie and eating our hamburgers together later, and I could hardly wait until Friday.
Friday night when I arrived at their house, they were already waiting outside on their porch, only there was someone else there, too, Ennis Andersen from my class. His Dad was a commercial fisherman on Lake Michigan. Ennis was big for his age, even bigger than I, and I was pretty big for my age, too. He sat next to me in Miss Hein’s room, and we were always pretty good friends. But now he was sitting next to Dorothy on the porch, and she was looking up at him as I’d hoped she’d be looking at me.
We started walking towards downtown, and Dorothy and Ennis were out in front of us, and I was left behind walking with her brothers. I tried to catch up but Ennis always outmanuvered me. I was sure when we got to the theatre that she would sit next to me though. I bought two tickets, and we all went in together. I was used to sitting about half way down, but they all ran to the very front row and before I knew it, Dorothy was sitting on the center aisle with Ennis next to her. Then came Bill and Sam, and I got the seat farthest away from her.
The first movie started, and I could hardly see the big picture because we were so close to the screen, and my neck soon got stiff from looking up. After the first feature, the lights came up, and our favorite Barn Dance characters came out on stage; Uncle Ezra, Lulu Belle and Skyland Scotty, and Little Georgie Gobel who later had his own TV show. They sang and played up a storm, and the skits were really funny, but I kept looking over at Dorothy and Ennis, and my smile turned into a frown.
After the show was over, and we got to the White Tower, I kept my promise and paid for her hamburger and coke even though we all again sat in the same order as at the movie house. We walked home in the same fashion, and at their house, Dorothy sang out, “Thanks, Gil, for buying my ticket and hamburger!” and disappeared into the house. I slunk home feeling very misused and powerfully abused.
It was a long time before Ennis and I were friends again, and I wasn’t too chummy with Sam and Bill either, but I had learned something. I was sure I wouldn’t chase an older woman anymore. And I didn’t. Not until the next time!