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Northern Days Gone By: Do si do

Here I am at the dance, all dressed up and all smiles. The photo was taken by my mom.

What a shock! The Eighth Avenue East boys in Duluth were surprised. Entering grade 6 in Grant School we learned that we would be attending the 6th Grade Party in the spring. Having a party was one thing but our joy turned to worry since the real shock was that we would be dancing. Dancing? Our older siblings went to dances at the historic Duluth Central but that was over three years away. Our anxiety was heightened since dancing would involve girls. We played softball and dodgeball with the girls but to touch a girl in a dance, this frightened us. During recess we all chattered about this revelation and some were feeling embarrassed by the thought; only a few were eager for this grown-up activity. But “uneasy” is how everyone felt.

Soon the entire class went to the gymnasium. One hour a week the gym was used only to learn how to square dance. The 8th Avenue East boys all felt uneasy and foolish as we struggled. But our parents encouraged us. Our biggest worry was that we might look foolish.

During the lessons we listened to recorded square dance callers. First, we had to understand them. Assuming we got it straight, we would gather in circles; four boys and four girls to each circle. Our teachers had to be the most patient adults ever. We learned about promenade and allemande-left and sashay. The words were so fast that often the teacher slowed them down so we could get them straight and then perform the commands. We giggled and laughed as we struggled to carry out all the steps. The girls learned to curtsy and the holding of hands became easier. It was increasingly fun. No one was a know-it-all. We practiced week in and week out, striving to please the teacher and to please the girls. Mistakes were corrected and as weeks passed we looked forward to our dance time.

The day grew closer and my mother brought me downtown to a men’s store named, “The Big Duluth.” Boys were encouraged to obtain a sport coat, neck tie and white shirt. Fortunately we found some neckties with clips requiring no complicated knots.

Some of the boys in my class at the big dance. Contributed photo

The big day arrived for the 6th Grade Party. The girls all had fancy new dresses and the 8th Avenue East boys were wearing their new clothes, really odd for them. The hard part came in that the girls at the dance had to pin the boutonnieres onto our lapels. We had to put the corsages on the wrists of the girls. What a relief, no fumbling with pins by the boys. Our parents were in attendance that evening. My mother photographed the occasion.

After it was over, many of us walked downtown. We asked our mothers for money. My mother gave me a half dollar. We hurried to Bridgeman’s restaurant. My pal Chas walked next to me and Peggy and Patsy walked behind us. The four of us laughed all the way downtown and chattered away. We were proud of ourselves, elated. This party represented the closing of our elementary school days. Maybe becoming a grown-up would be less difficult than we thought. Bridgeman’s had our favorite ice cream, chocolate malt. A double rich malt was 45 cents and single malt was 25 cents. We knew we were growing up and this made us joyful and we actually felt comfortable with Peggy and Patsy. We laughed and talked all the way back to Grant School that evening. Could this whole event be classified as our first date? Some fun and a fond memory.

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