Spring is late this year. This morning is cold and wet, but memories of a warm, sun-filled springtime fifty-three years ago gather in my mind.
1962. I was sixteen, a sophomore in high school, and going steady with Jimmy Scott. The movie "Where the Boys Are" had been a box office hit the summer before, exalting Ft. Lauderdale's annual beach party to mythic proportions. My girlfriends Patsy Ferguson, Sandy and Bev Toney, and I decided since we couldn't go to Florida, we wanted to go to Splash Day weekend in Galveston, and we talked Jimmy into taking us. We'd only go for Saturday, but we needed to leave before sunrise so we could soak up every single ray of sunshine on the beach.
Of course no parent would give young teenagers permission to go without chaperones to Galveston for the official opening of the beach season, so we lied our way out of town. My folks were in New York, but we told everyone else's parents that we were going to Gary Hardy's ranch for the day.
When Jimmy drove his 1956 Chevy on to Stewart Beach, we rode bumper to bumper with the party crowd. Throngs of college-age youth shuffled barefoot on the sandy beach, or jumped from vehicle to vehicle, making new friends with a bottle of Jax, the aptly named "friendship" beer (bought out by Pearl Brewing Company in 1974, but Pearl, too, closed its beer production in 2000). Once on the beach, my girlfriends and I adorned Jimmy's car hood, making him crane his neck to see out of his side window to maneuver. Beer flowed among the crowd, no IDs required. Rock 'n roll blared from car radios on KILT (now a Country Legends station). Sea salt and Coppertone scented the air.
We paraded up and down the beach all morning long when, by some act of fate, we spied Gary B. Ashe and his best friend Randy Bailey, both high school seniors, in Gary's yellow '55 Ford convertible. (Some guys named their cars back then, and Gary called his the Tweedy Bird.) My friend Sandy had a big crush on Gary so we abandoned Jimmy's car and hurdled the winding lanes of cars to join them. Jimmy was not happy. But then a couple of college girls took our places on Jimmy's front hood and gave him a beer. The afternoon floated by in a hazy, lazy, giddy sort of way.
The year before, literally hundreds were arrested and jailed during night-time rioting, but I don't think we knew that, and if we did, we had that adolescent immunity called "It Won't Happen to Us." We also didn't think our parents would catch us in our lie, but...
Like every small town, Huntsville had a drive-in where teenagers congregated. Our place was the Tastee-Freeze, and as soon as we drove up, Gary Hardy told us that we'd been busted by a friend who wasn't invited to go with us to Galveston. She'd ratted us out to everyone's parents. Everyone's except mine, that is. She didn't have their New York hotel number, or I'm sure she would have called.
Because they had been sick with worry, the grownups were angry as hell. Sandy and Bev's dad forbade them to be friends with me anymore. That lasted, maybe, a day. But I think Patsy may still be grounded.
There is no Splash Day in Galveston anymore; the Galveston convention board voted to end the tradition in 1965. They say that Catholic Bishop Byrne finally won his long time fight against the "leg show on the sea wall." But the truth is, Galveston no longer needed an event to open the summer season. That island now rocks all year long.